Residents protest directive allowing ports in Dahanu eco-sensitive zone
At around 3pm, more than 250 protestors -- a majority of them women -- marched from Dahanu railway station to the tehsildar’s office
Mumbai Fisherfolk, adivasis and other residents of Dahanu taluka in Palghar on Tuesday organised a morcha (protest march) against the union environment ministry’s recent move to allow the construction of ports and harbours within the boundary of the Dahanu eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), paving way for the controversial Wadhavan Port project at Rewas.
At around 3pm, more than 250 protestors -- a majority of them women -- marched from Dahanu railway station to the tehsildar’s office.
The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) was expected to rule on the permissibility of the project on Wednesday, June 8. The hearing was postponed to June 23 at the last minute on Tuesday, as various stakeholders in the matter are yet to formally reply to the DTEPA. The Authority’s decision in the matter will be significant, in effect either maintaining prohibition on the port, or sanctioning it despite the DTEPA’s own prohibitive order from 1998.
Environmentalists have criticised the MoEFCC for passing such a direction while the matter is sub-judice. “This OM is an attempt to negate the NGT’s stay on the port’s construction, but the DTEPA’s original 1998 order clearly prohibits the port on ecological grounds. That order has not been challenged by any party before any court, and that stands final,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust, and an invitee of the DTEPA.
Bhushan Bhoir, a Palghar-based fisherman, professor of marine biology, and one of the organisers behind Tuesday’s protest, said, “Before the DTEPA’s next hearing takes place, we want to make it absolutely clear that local communities are opposed to the project. The environment ministry’s recent OM should be rescinded. The Supreme Court is yet to pronounce further orders in the case.”
A senior official with the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA), which is administering the Wadhavan Port project, clarified under anonymity that the MoEFCC’s decision to allow the construction of ports in Dahanu is not unconditional. “All requisite safeguards will have to be taken, including environment and social impact assessment, coastal regulation zone clearance, and the Dahanu environment authority’s permission,” the official said.
Notably, the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) has “reclassified” the list of permissible, regulated activities in the Dahanu taluka eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), to allow the construction of ports and harbours. The ministry issued an office memorandum (OM) in this regard on May 26. HT was the first to report on the same, on June 1.
However, environmentalists and local communities alleged that this move is a “backdoor attempt” to revive the currently stalled, ₹65,000 crore Wadhavan Port project.
The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) had in 1998 prohibited work on the Wadhavan Port project. But in April 2020, the Central Pollution Control Board declassified ports, harbours, and jetties as “industrial activities’’. Two months later, the MoEFCC issued a clarification stating that these activities may be permitted in eco-sensitive areas, including the Dahanu ESZ, which was notified in 1991.
This move drew the ire of local communities and environmentalists, eventually leading to a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in June 2021, staying any further work on the port’s planning and construction. The green court also directed the MoEFCC to form an expert committee to reconsider the issue of whether ports and harbours could be permitted as non-industrial activities within the ecologically fragile areas
The order has been challenged in the Supreme Court by the National Fishworkers’ Forum, the original applicant in the matter, and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), which is administering the Wadhavan project.