Report recommends reform of coastal zone regulations, establishment of environment restoration fund
The committee set up by the environment ministry to inspect the contentious port and special economic zone (SEZ) project in Mundra, Gujarat, has found clear evidence that developer Adani Enterprises has violated certain environmental norms.
In a report submitted to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan today, the committee has stated that Adani Enterprises has circumvented certain environmental procedures and not complied with environmental clearance conditions. Natarajan received the report and assured that the recommendations would be looked into.
The Adani Waterfront and Power Plant project has faced public ire over alleged environmental destruction and non-compliance with norms, including distortion of the high tide line and low tide line that determine the declaration of coastal regulation zones. To investigate these allegations, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) set up a five-member committee headed by environmentalist Sunita Narain, and including MoEF officials as well as experts on coastal ecosystems and disaster management.
Violation of norms
Using remote sensing technology, the committee has found that that over the last decade, 75 hectares of mangroves have been destroyed in Bocha Island, a conservation zone. Satellite imagery indicates deterioration and loss of creeks near the proposed North Port due to construction activities. The company has also neglected to inventory its utilisation and disposal of fly ash, and has not ensured that storage tanks, seawater inlets, and discharge outlets are lined to prevent increase in salinity and contamination of water. The report also states that the Adani group has been less than serious about reporting on compliance with the conditions set at the time of clearance. In many cases, non-compliance with reporting conditions has been observed.
The committee also noted that there have been instances to circumvent statutory procedures by using different agencies, at the Centre and state, for obtaining clearances for the same project. The public hearing procedure, which is a critical part of project clearance and helps to understand and mitigate the concerns of local people, has also been bypassed on one pretext or another. The fisher community, which depends on the coasts for their livelihood, is the worst hit by the changes brought on by land acquisition and construction for the project.
The committee’s report suggests several measures to safeguard the interests of the local fisher communities, including a plan to provide them with basic facilities and a dedicated fishing harbor. It also recommends the establishment of an environment restoration fund, which will be 1 per cent of the project cost or Rs 200 crore, whichever is higher. The fund is to be used to remediate any environmental damage incurred, and to strengthen regulatory and monitoring systems. The committee also recommends the complete cancellation of the North Port to preserve the area’s ecological balance. Other recommendations include steps to conserve mangroves, manage and dispose of flyash, control salinity, and prepare for disasters that affect coastal zones.
The report also stresses on project clearance conditions, and monitoring their compliance post-clearance. “If monitoring was rigorous, public and credible, there would have been no need for this committee. Which is why we have recommended that there is a need to create a monitoring system to ensure that corrective action suggested by this report is taken within a time-bound manner,” says Narain.