Nirma’s dream hangs in balance
The fate of Nirma’s proposed cement plant in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat continues to hang in the balance. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on September 26 deferred its decision on whether the project area is a waterbody and whether Nirma should go ahead with its project to October 28-29.
The NGT, which has been hearing the case for one-and-a-half years, is supposed to give its verdict on the basis of a report submitted by its experts committee following their post-monsoon visit to the plant site on September 8. The expert committee of NGT has submitted its report assessing the complete and comprehensive situation with regard to whether the site is an wetland and the likely damage that the cement plant might cause to the water body.
Dushyant Dave, counsel for Nirma, appeared to be upset about the adjournment. He prayed before NGT that given the gravity of the matter, the case be heard within a definite time-frame. Justice Swatanter Kumar took heed of the request and said that he would like to give adequate time to counsels for all parties appearing on the matter.
Additional solicitor general Indira Jaising who appeared for the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests requested that in the meantime the counsels would like to review the site visit reports, which as per NGT is not a public document. The bench agreed to Jaisingh’s request but noted that no objections can be filed in response. However, the counsel can argue any issue arising from it during the next hearing.
The tribunal had earlier passed orders for a fresh site inspection by its experts in view of contradictory reports submitted by previous expert committees. An order passed on May 28 by the bench chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar directed that two expert members of the tribunal, D K Agarwal and G K Pandey, shall visit the site from June 7 to 9. The site inspection, as noted, was necessary “keeping in mind the fact that four experts’ reports have been filed on record of the Tribunal and there are contradictions in the said reports. It is necessary for the Tribunal to know the exact state of affairs on the site, particularly with reference to wetland, water bodies, bundhs/bandharas and adverse effect of the project on them, if any.”
Following the first site visit in June, the pre-monsoon period, a post monsoon site visit was directed by the tribunal in August. The bench noted that the “expert members who had visited the site earlier, would also visit the site in monsoon season so as to assess the complete and comprehensive situation with regard to wetland and likely damage to the water body”. The second site inspection was conducted on September 8.
During the second visit in September, the expert members were accompanied by the counsel of the farmers' body, representatives of Nirma, and the Gujarat state government officials from the irrigation and revenue departments. Abhimanue Shrestha, counsel for farmers’ body Mahuva Bandhara Khetiwadi Paryavaran Bachav Samiti, told Down To Earth that the expert members considered the site visit to be worthwhile. “Though the specific area where the Nirma plant has been raised has been filled up and elevated, the surrounding regions that lie within the boundary of the project area appeared to be submerged,” he said.