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Adani group gets relief from public hearing on Mundra

By Jayashree Nandi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 14, 2020 11:45 PM IST

New Delhi

The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) has gone back on norms it laid down and accepted the Adani Group’s plea for exemption from conducting a public hearing on the Mundra port waterfront development project, much to the concern of the 30,000-odd people from the fishing community in the area.

The EAC on infrastructure and coastal regulation zone (CRZ) projects took the decision during a meeting on January 28. The panel decided that the project will not require a public hearing in line with a clause in the 2006 environment impact assessment notification and subsequent amendments made to it.

But according to the terms of reference (TOR) for the project, issued by the environment ministry on May 17, 2019, and uploaded on the green ministry’s Parivesh website, the EAC directed Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ) to conduct a public hearing for expansion.

“Public hearing to be conducted and issues raised and commitments made by the project proponent on the same should be included in environment impact assessment/ environment management plan (EIA/EMP) report in the form of a tabular chart with financial budget for complying with the commitments made,” the TOR said.

Initially, the EAC also asked for a certified compliance report by the environment ministry’s regional office or Central Pollution Control Board or member-secretary of the respective State Pollution Control Boards for the norms stipulated in earlier environmental clearances of the project along with an action taken-report on issues that were partially complied with or not complied with.

A study on the impact of dredging and dumping on marine ecology and a management plan, an elaborate biodiversity impact assessment report and management plan conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography were also included in the TOR.

It isn’t clear why the EAC approved an amendment of the TOR and exempted the Mundra project from a public hearing that the panel itself had originally recommended.

Professor T Haque, the chairman of EAC and a renowned agricultural economist, said, “I am busy with something else, and won’t be able to comment on this project.”

APSEZ carried out a Cumulative Impact Assessment Study (CIA) for the 2030 master plan of the Mundra port and SEZ, according to the minutes of the January 28 meeting. APSEZ made a detailed presentation on the CIA to the EAC last year. Details of this presentation aren’t in the public domain.

Kamlesh Gadhvi, the sarpanch of Sadau group gram panchayat in Mundra, and several other villagers wrote to Professor Haque on January 26, demanding that their concerns be heard before any expansion work is carried out.

“We have noticed that our complaint hasn’t even been recorded in the minutes of the meeting. We are stakeholders in this. We will write to EAC again demanding an explanation,” said Gadhvi.

Around 30,000 families are involved in fishing in Kutch and many of them are impacted by the SEZ project, according to Bharat Patel, general secretary, Machchimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, which represents the fishing community. Concerns raised by the fishing community include loss of common grazing land in Navinal gram panchayat, damage to their boats and nets, lack of a conservation plan for creeks and mangroves and apathy towards the protection of their livelihoods.

A senior executive at Adani Group refused to comment on the EAC’s decision.

“The EAC has retracted its own precautions and safeguards cited in the ToR. The public hearing could have been a golden opportunity for the EAC to understand past conflicts, current non-compliance, and future impact before taking a considered view on whether the expansion work should be allowed. Now, the documents provided by the proponent of the contentious project holds the key,” said Kanchi Kohli, senior legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.

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