INDIA. MUMBAI: Despite over two-decades-long struggle by environmentalists and local people opposing a mega port at Vadhavan in the Palghar district of the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra, the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change ( MoEF) has now granted clearance to the project.
The Dahanu Taluka Environmental Protection Authority (DTEPA), set up by the Union Government, as per Supreme Court directions in 1991, had passed an order against the setting of a port in Vadhavan and had put it under the “red” category applicable to highly polluting industries.
However, the MoEF’s notification (No 25/120/2015-ESZ/RE dated May 26 signed by Dr. Veenu Joon ( Scientist “D,” Joint Director), stated that “Construction of ports and harbor, jetties and dredging operations can be considered as “non-industrial activities” under the Dahanu taluka ecologically fragile area notification 1991 and can be treated as a permissible activity under CRZ notification 2011.
This is subject to a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)/ Environmental Management Plan (EMP) study as per the EIA notification of 2006 and other relevant statutory regulations, and obligations, including clearance from DTEPA”. The notification added that this notification supersedes the office memorandum dated June 08, 2020.
The Dahanu taluka was notified as an ecologically fragile area under MoEF’s order (No. SO/416 E dated June 20, 1991). The clearance for the project has been given based on the report of the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), Chennai.
The expert committee set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on June 15, 2021, has examined the NCSCM’s report in its meeting held on April 28 and has cleared the project, the ministry stated.
Vadhavan Port is the 13th major national port and the third major port of Maharashtra. The project will be executed jointly by Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB). It is an ambitious part of the Sagarmala Program of the Union Government, which focuses on enhancing and promoting the Indian ports as a fundamental contributor to the nation’s GDP.
The port, estimated to cost Rs.65,500 crore, is built on 5,000 acres of land reclaimed near Dahanu. It will be implemented by Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
But the Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti (AMMKS), the fishermen’s apex organization in Maharashtra, has objected to the re-classification of the activities in Dahanu Taluka, based on the report of the Expert Committee, which has recommended the construction of Ports, Harbour, Jetties and dredging operations as a permissible activity, thus giving unconditional clearance to the port.
Speaking to the Transcontinental Times, AMMKS President Devendra Tandel said that the local people, including farmers, fishermen, and tribals, have objected to the project. The ministry’s notification is full of ambiguity and factually incorrect, and the integrity of the expert committee’s report is doubtful.
The NGT had set up the expert committee and instructed it to reassess and revisit the directions of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Office Memorandum to evaluate the project’s impact on the overall ecology of the area. The committee was to comprise at least five renowned experts, including experts in Marine Biology/Ecology and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) representative.
But not a single person in the district was informed about the committee’s visit, and no public hearing was held. As such, the committee’s report is questionable, and the MoEF seems to destroy the region’s fishing community, Tandel alleged.
The project covers the ancient Shankhodhar Shrine, said to be visited by Lord Ram. As per the Hindu mythology, Lord Ram had conducted the Pitru Dan rituals of his deceased father, King Dashrath, at this place. As such, this shrine is revered as a place for local people. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a mission to protect Hindu temples, the ministry is out to destroy this historically significant shrine.
The Dahanu region is ecologically fragile and sensitive, and the species found here are protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972. It is surprising how the expert committee overlooked this fact by recommending setting up the port to destroy the protected species.
The construction of the port will lead to the generation of services like loading, unloading of goods, harboring ships, etc. Hence, the committee defining the Ports & Harbour as non-industrial activity is contentious and ambiguous. The committee has recommended the setting up the port subject to a detailed EIA/EMP study following the EIA Notification, 2006, and other relevant statutory clearances from DTEPA. This shows that the committee is not confident about its recommendation.
The NGT’s order of June 15, 2021, directed the ministry to reassess the environmental impact by a group comprising experts. But, the resident farmers, local fishing community, tribal community, and people involved in the small-scale industry like dye-making, etc., are the real stakeholders. But they were never consulted.
Four to 5 experts deciding the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 people is ridiculous. We want the expert committee to interact with the general public and amend its recommendations. We are sure that the committee will not accept this challenge. As such, we demand that the ministry should cancel its notification of May 26 and should issue a new statement after organizing a free and fair public hearing, Tandel added.