Courting controversy

Ram Naik passes a death sentence for Dahanu's fragile ecology

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

union petroleum and natural gas minister, Ram Naik, stands accused again for mocking at the environment at the expense of public health. As his attempts to derail the Supreme Court's orders on cleaning Delhi's air continue, in Maharashtra's Dahanu he made a statement to disband the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (dtepa). Interestingly, dtepa was set up by the apex court in 1996 to save the fragile coastal ecology and to protect the livelihood of its predominantly tribal population. Naik's statement has already stirred the state's west coast as environmentalists gear up to fight against any move to disband the dtepa .

Reportedly, local politicians of Dahanu had complained to Naik against dtepa citing that it hampered industrial development thus resulting in unemployment and poverty. Immediately, Naik issued a press note saying that the Union government would approach the Supreme Court to wind up the dtepa .

The dtepa , one of the few local environment protection groups in the country, was constituted in 1996 to implement a Supreme Court order in response to a writ petition to prevent industrialisation in this fragile ecology. "The main reason for this move seems to be that the dtepa along with its chairperson, Justice C S Dharmadhikari, a retired justice of Bombay High Court, is taking a tough stand on the implementation of the Dahanu notification of Supreme Court," says Debi Goenka of the Bombay Environmental Action Group, a non-governmental organisation based in Mumbai.

The dtepa has been successful in stalling the Bombay Suburban Electricity Supply's (bses) new 2,000-megawatt (mw) coal-based power plant at Dahanu. "The alternate site selected by bses is at Saphale, which falls under Ram Naik's parliamentary constituency. But local farmers and fisherfolk have opposed the Saphale location. As Ram Naik would hate to lose votes in his own constituency, he has made a move to denotify Dahanu, which continues to be an environmentally fragile area," says Nergis B Irani, honorary secretary, Dahanu Taluka Environmental Welfare Association (dtewa), an association of environmentalists based in Dahanu.

Environmentalists also contest Naik's allegation that stopping industrialisation has caused unemployment and poverty. "Dahanu is almost surrounded by major industrial townships like Vapi and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, thus giving enough opportunities for employment to local people," says Katy Rustom, an environmentalist who is closely involved with the Dahanu campaign. She explains: "Even these industrial areas are closing down due to recession and workers are taking up farming for livelihood. So where is the need for another industrial area?"

However, the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef), under which dtepa functions, is unaware of any such statement by the minister. "We have not taken any action to disband the authority," says Anand Kumar, director, mef , who looks after the dtepa . What's even more surprising is that officials at the petroleum ministry are also unaware about any such press note attributed to the minister being circulated.

"The minister might have issued a statement in his constituency in Maharashtra, but no directive has been issued from the petroleum ministry," says an official at the petroleum ministry.

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