Contentious infra projects in Goa, Gujarat get green nod

TOR forms the basis for grant of an environmental clearance in future. Environmental law experts say violations have been recorded in various government and legal documents pertaining to the projects.
Contentious infra projects in Goa, Gujarat get green nod(Bloomberg)
Contentious infra projects in Goa, Gujarat get green nod(Bloomberg)
Published on May 03, 2019 01:37 AM IST
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New Delhi | ByJayashree Nandi

Two projects widely seen as test cases of environmental regulation in India have received approvals from the environment ministry in the face of concerns among green activists over suspected irregularities.

On April 23, the ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) granted environmental clearance to development of a greenfield international airport in north Goa and granted terms of reference (TOR) to the expansion of a waterfront development plan for Mundra Port by Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd (APSEZ), according to the minutes of the meeting published on the environment ministry’s Parivesh portal on Thursday.

TOR forms the basis for grant of an environmental clearance in future. Environmental law experts say violations have been recorded in various government and legal documents pertaining to the projects.

“In both cases, there have been or are incomplete environmental assessments, legally recorded non-compliance, pending resolution of court and administrative directions and ongoing litigation. With existing and potential impacts clearly established, the EAC should have had an additional responsibility to uphold rule of law and the precautionary principle,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

Apart from standard TOR granted to the main project, the ministry asked for the inclusion of other issues.

These include the importance and benefits from the expansion, a certified compliance report by environment ministry for the conditions stipulated in previous environmental clearances, the impact of dredging on marine ecology, and a biodiversity report and management plan for aquatic species.

“Granting of TOR is a significant step on determining how the project will be assessed,” said Kohli.

The Navinal Gram Panchayat in Mundra, in Kutch district of Gujarat, had urged the EAC on April 22 to assess all previous violations committed by the project before considering expansion. “We would like the committee to take this and the fact that no remediation measures have been taken till date, into account while considering the expansion proposal,” said the gram panchayat letter.

It added that the environment ministry had earlier found instances of destruction of mangroves, sand dunes, and blockage of creeks in the APSEZ area.

The developer disputes this. “Sustainable development has been the growth mantra of the Adani Group and the Mundra port has been an ideal example of this philosophy. Till date, the group has planted mangroves across 2,885 hectares along the Gujarat coastline with a survival rate of 85%. On April 23, the EAC heard our proposal for grant of Terms of Reference (TOR) with regard to the Waterfront Development Project at Mundra Port. Environment ministry has published minutes and thereby recommended TOR for the project,” said a spokesperson for the Adani Group, on May 2.

The ministry issued show-cause notices to the project on 15 December 2010; 30 September 2013; and a report on status of compliance on September 18, 2015.

In its 2015 report, the ministry asked for a detailed conservation plan that would monitor disappearance of mangroves and the condition of creeks to be implemented by the Gujarat Coastal Management Authority and said the grazing land of villagers should be returned.

“The ministry should have first verified whether the company had complied with the conditions of the earlier environmental clearance that was granted to them. How can the ministry proceed abruptly without verifying what’s happening on ground? We haven’t got access to our grazing land neither have they to restored the mangroves,” said Gajendra Jadeja, a member of the Navinal village panchayat, which has sent Google Earth images to the ministry showing continuing construction on creeks.

There are also legal cases pending against the APSEZ project in SC and in the Gujarat high court.

About 385 million tonnes per annum of multipurpose (MTPA) — liquid, gas and cryogenic — cargo will be handled after expansion of the SEZ, in addition to the existing approved capacity of 225 MTPA. The expansion of water front development facility will involve 5170 ha, which will be utilised for the multipurpose cargo handling costing over 56,000 crores.

“No unauthorised construction is carried out in the creek area. As a responsible corporate, we have been regularly submitting compliance reports to all concerned authorities including the environment ministry. The same applies to the project for proposed expansion of waterfront development in Mundra,” the Adani Group spokesperson added.

In the Mopa airport case, the Supreme Court on March 29 suspended the environmental clearance already granted to the project. The SC found that important details of the ecology and natural features of the region had been omitted in the environment impact assessment (EIA) report. SC noted that the EIA failed to capture the fact that ecologically sensitive zones of the Western Ghats are located within a 10km radius of the project. It ordered that the EAC revisit its decision to grant environmental clearance to the project in the light of environmental impact.

On revisiting the project, the EAC found seven reserve forests within 15km of the airport project. The area falls in the Western Ghats and has four rivers and several wetlands in the vicinity. There are 10 ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) near in the vicinity of the project on the Maharashtra side.

These details were missing in the first EIA report, based on which the project proponent had got clearance. The project executors have felled over 54,000 trees against which they have promised to plant 550,000 trees.

“The project proponents had lied and concealed several facts. It’s obvious from the EAC minutes. They haven’t disclosed the fact that Mopa airport is located extremely close to reserve forests and wetlands. They said 55,000 trees may have to be felled only after they received the environmental clearance. This time I think the project should be assessed after a fresh study. There is no study of impact,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer who is representing the petitioners in the case in SC.

The petition was heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) but in August 2018, the tribunal declined to quash the environmental clearance granted to the project.

Mopa airport is being developed by GMR Goa International Airport Limited, a subsidiary of GMR Airports Limited, and has a capacity to serve 5 million passengers annually.

An email sent to GMR on April 29 and another on May 2 seeking a response remained unanswered.

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