The recent public hearing for Adani’s ship-breaking facility near Mundra West Port in Gujarat’s Kutch district has brought to light many shortcomings in the project.
People attending the public hearing accused the company of furnishing false or wrong information in the environment impact assessment (EIA) report of the project. For instance, the company maintained there is no habitation and school within five kilometre radius of the project; residents said a school does exist in close proximity to the site and called the EIA report false.
The company assured that the EIA report will be updated after the public hearing. The company also clarified that the project has “nothing to do with the (controversial) Mundra SEZ”. The company said the area proposed for this project has been approved as per environmental clearance granted by Central government in January, 2009, “under a waterfront development plan”. It added that as per the approval, the land is being reclaimed through dredging.
The claim by the company that it has already received approval from the Centre raises an important question—if the project has already been cleared as waterfront development in January 2009, then what is the need for a separate environment clearance (EC) for which the public hearing was held on July 30?
Gautam Adani-led Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZL) was formerly known as Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Its proposed ship recycling facility in Vandh village of Mundra Taluk, would require 40.7432 ha of land and the facility’s main components include beaching and storage area of steel, machinery, electrical items and scrap. The facility is proposed to handle ships weighing 4,000 – 16,000 tonnes.
EIA omits ship recycling
According to the EIA report of the waterfront development project the following components were listed to be developed:
- Four cluster ports (West, South, North, and East ports—two of these, the West Port and South Port already exist)
- Two identical shipyards on the west and east. The proposed shipyard was to assemble and repair ships
- Supporting infrastructure, including road, rail utility for all ports
- Desalination plant to serve both waterfront projects and SEZ
- Sea water intake
- Common disposal site for disposing rejects of power plant, desalination plant, other treated effluents
- LNG storage & re-gasification facility at South Port
- Fire fighting facility
- Accordingly, reclamation and other permissions were sought from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
The ship recycling unit is not mentioned in the EIA report. This is also supported by the company's admission at the public hearing—“reclamation is going on as per the permission for setting up ports, ship yards and West Port under the Water Front Development Plan. There is no permission for ship recycling as on date but we are in process of getting permission”. Clearly, there is confusion created by these two conflicting statements of the company at the public hearing—one stating that the area under the proposed project is cleared under waterfront development project granted EC in January 2009 and the other stating that this EC does not have any component of ship recycling unit.
Needless to say, the impacts of a ship recycling unit as part of the waterfront development have been left unconsidered while appraising the waterfront development project. The EIA report of the proposed project says, “the proposed project is located within the port limits”. This means the project forms a part of the waterfront development project. Now the company has approached MoEF, saying the recycling plant should be considered as a separate project which will be located in the waterfront development project’s reclaimed area.
The executive summary of the EIA report of the proposed ship recycling project mentions that “land for the project is being created by dumping of dredge spoils generated on account of development/ expansion of West Port”. This further adds to the confusion whether there is an expansion of West Port which is happening in the area. This has been repeated at various places in the EIA report: “As part of the Adani Group’s growth plan, a new ship recycling facility has been envisaged adjacent the existing Mundra West Port, which is being expanded.”
Illegal port expansion?
If the West Port is being expanded then the other question is: was a clearance received for this expansion, especially, since the January 2009 EC does not mention anything about expansion? In that case it looks like the company maybe carrying out the West port expansion without the necessary clearances.
The company has admitted in the public hearing that their project area falls in the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), partly in CRZ IV (seaward area) and CRZ I(b) (intertidal area) category. The Sunita Narain committee report on the Adani project has already pointed out several discrepancies on distortion of high tide line/low tide line (HTL/LTL). Considering the fact that there have been various discrepancies pointed by the committee in terms of scale and period of HTL/LTL maps, MoEF should take a careful call on understanding whether the proposal falls in the right CRZ category as mentioned by the project proponent.
During the public hearing, one of the questions posed by a participant was why no cumulative impact assessment has been carried out for the various projects, as recommended by the Sunita Narain committee. The company’s response was short and crisp—it has not received any instruction/suggestion from MoEF on this.
The piecemeal clearance game
According to the report of the Sunita Narain committee, set up in September 2012, Adani has been applying for and getting environmental clearances (ECs) in piecemeal fashion for its activities at Mundra from MoEF since 1995. The company started operating in the area with an EC in August, 1995 for handling general cargo, LPG and chemical storage terminal. The company received another clearance for port expansion project, including bulk cargo container, railway link and related ancillary and back up facilities in September, 2000. In July, 2004 it received a separate clearance for single point mooring; crude oil terminal and so on, and it received a clearance for multipurpose berth 2 terminal in February, 2007.
Simultaneously, the company applied for EC for a thermal power plant in the area and received clearance for its first phase in August, 2007, for second phase in October, 2008 and for the third phase in May, 2010. The company also received clearances for its airport/aerodrome, township, hospital, common effluent treatment plant and so on, during this period.
Interestingly, the company applied for a multi-product SEZ project, including waterfront development in 2007. In a sudden change of the project, the company informed the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) in April 2008 that it now proposes to develop only the “foreshore” facilities (waterfront development) and will take up the onshore facility development later. The waterfront development project of the company, comprising of north, south, east and west ports and associated activities including a shipyard, was granted EC in January, 2009. The SEZ project of the company, now de-linked conveniently from the waterfront development, resurfaced in EAC discussions in January, 2009 after two weeks of the waterfront development having received EC. EAC recommended the EC for the project in June-July, 2012 but the same is pending owing to a legal case in court.
In the mean time, the company continued to apply for approval for different components under waterfront development, thermal power plant and SEZ. For instance, it made numerous changes to the outfall and intake locations of effluent from thermal power plant. The company also changed its name a number of times during this period from Gujarat Adani Port Limited to Mundra Port and SEZ Limited to Adani Ports and SEZ Limited.
Clearly, the company has tried to and succeeded in breaking its extremely large scale project spread over a huge area in Mundra into smaller components. It has also received ECs for these smaller components individually. This points to the fact that either the company has been extremely non-strategic in planning its development activities in the area or it has deliberately broken up the project into small components to get around the law.
Equal accountability lies with MoEF for clearing these projects as and when the company applied. In addition to setting a bad precedence, such piecemeal approvals ensure that a proper and complete impact assessment is not conducted at any stage of the project appraisal.
MoEF should also be more proactive in keeping a note on the latitude-longitude of the areas granted for clearance and the specifications of the project to avoid such cases of piecemeal clearances in future. And it should also demarcate the HTL/LTL lines for the country and define CRZ zones and put them in public domain to avoid confusion in future for such projects.