CONSTRUCTION activities at Mundra special economic zone (SEZ) in Gujarat’s Kachchh district had begun even before the project’s public hearing, the procedural step towards environmental clearance for a project where affected people give their verdict. More than 1,000 hectares (ha) of mangrove have been destroyed by the Mundra SEZ, which is one of India’s largest SEZs.
At the October 5 hearing, affected people exchanged angry words with district officials, accusing them of favouring the project’s promoter, Adani group (see ‘Public dissent’, Down To Earth, October 15-31, 2010). Activists said the hearing was a farce. “The hearing was a meaningless exercise because the company has started construction at the site as per its own submission in the High Court of Gujarat,” said Bharat Patel, secretary of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti, a fishworkers forum of Kachchh. “The environmental clearance is just a formality it is undertaking to prevent controversies,” he added.
Apart from forest and coastal areas, the company was allotted land from Tunda, Navinal, Siracha and Zarpara villages in Mundra. Devendra Ameen, president of communications, Mundra SEZ and Port Limited, said, “Each industry inside the SEZ has to take its own clearance.” The public hearing was only for the project’s infrastructure like roads and housing, he added.
An affidavit submitted by the company in the high court on October 6 in response to a public interest litigation by Ghadvi Karman Seda of Zarpara stated that Adani constructed arterial roads and a parallel railway line from the Mundra Port to the SEZ’s western part. Ameen denied this, saying, “The railway line was already present. We didn’t build it.” Construction of the first phase of a 600 MW power plant in Tunda is complete, electricity sub-station and transmission lines from the Tunda plant to the SEZ have also been set up, stated the affidavit. “The development of SEZ as a whole is at a very advanced stage,” it added. In the petition, Seda had said since the company had made no progress on the land acquired from the government within two years of its approval in 2006, it should be returned.
During the public hearing, Dharmendra Singh Jadeja, a resident of Samaghogha village in Mundra, had shown Google satellite images of destroyed mangrove areas. Malay Mahadevia, a company official, dismissed them citing “misrepresentation of images”. Ashwin Zinzuwadia, a journalist, pinpointed: “Between 1992 and 1998, two excavators worked round the clock to uproot mangroves. I have photographs to prove that. Anybody can see that the Mundra coastline, which was 6 km from the main town before 1991, has now gone beyond 14 km. This is a cyclone-prone area.” The mangroves acted as buffer during the cyclone in 1998 and 2000, he added.
Adani wants to set up the entire project on 18,000 ha. The company had shown 8,481 ha for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). Till date, 6,478 ha have been acquired. Manshi Asher, a researcher-activist, said the company has created confusion about the project by dividing it and taking separate clearances.
“There is a port, an SEZ and a power plant, all owned by the same company. After the Gujarat SEZ policy of 2000, four more ports were added to the project. Instead of one comprehensive environmental clearance for the ports, the company opted for four,” Asher added. The Ministry of Environment and Forests then asked for one comprehensive EIA for all the ports. Asher added, the Ministry of Commerce had said in 2007 that all units are parts of the Mundra SEZ.
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