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Bench questions commencement of work without environmental clearance
The Gujarat High Court ordered halted work at the Mundra multi-product special economic zone (SEZ) in Kutch district. The court questioned commencement of work at the project site without environmental clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The SEZ is being developed by Adani Enterprises which has started building roads and flyovers; a joint venture company, Alstom SA Bharat has started construction work for its power project in the SEZ.
“When the SEZ's environment clearance is still pending, how did they start construction?” asked acting chief justice Bhaskar Bhattacharjee and justice J B Pardiwala on May 9 while ordering the proponents to stop work with immediate effect.
The court gave the order on a petition filed by fisher people of village Navinal near Mundra. The village comprises 1,500 families. The fisher folk say their daily fish catch has been affected by the construction activity at the Mundra port; the port and the SEZ are part of an integrated project. Right To Information replies and other documents show that most of the Mundra SEZ is situated on village common land used for grazing.
On February 11, 2011, responding to a public interest petition by Mundra’s farmers, the Gujarat High Court served a notice to the Adani group and the revenue department of the Gujarat government for illegally taking 93.48 hectares (ha) of Navinal's pastures for the Mundra SEZ. Navinal is just one of 23 villages whose sarpanches sold grazing land for the project, spread over 18,000 ha, by allegedly keeping the gram sabhas (village councils) in the dark.
During the Vibrant Gujarat summit in January 2009, the Gujarat government, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, signed MoUs, allowing the Adani group's Rs 15,000 crore expansion plan for the SEZ over the next 15 years. It has been further alleged that public hearings to obtain consent from the project-affected people was held in 2010, five years after the Adani group started construction of the SEZ, whereas such meetings are supposed to precede construction (see 'Mundra SEZ skirts rules' ).
MoEF issued show cause notices to the Mundra SEZ developers in January 2011. In its survey along with Coastal Zone Management Authority, the ministry reportedly found the SEZ violated the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) notification. The location of the SEZ was found to be vulnerable as it was being developed in the high tide zone.
The Adani group, however, went ahead and signed MoUs and contracts with industries such as Alstom SA Bharat Forge to set up their units inside the SEZ. After the court's order, the Adani group issued a media statement, saying the court decision will have no impact on port operations and port development activities at Mundra, for which the company has the requisite environmental clearance.