Appeal challenging state EIA authority's decision to amend conditions of environment clearance dismissed
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thurday cleared the way for OPG Power Ltd's 300 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant in Kutch region of Gujarat.
Upholding the decision of the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) of Gujarat, the bench chaired by Justice V R Kingaonkar noted that the state authority had given a considered decision while evaluating the viability of the OPG power project and granting a clearance to it. The bench dismissed the appeal against the SEIAA decision, and slapped a fine of the Rs 10,000 on the appellant for “exhibiting continuous litigative mind” and doing so with “impunity”. The bench said had the appellant not been a villager, they “would have put burden of heavy costs” on him.
The appeal was filed by Husain Saleh Mahmad Usman Bhai Kara against SEIAA and OPG Power Gujarat Private Ltd, challenging SEIAA order of May 15, 2012, amending conditions for Environmental Clearance (EC) to the power plant. The amendment involved the adoption of an air cooling system instead of water cooling system for the exhaust steam cooling of the plant. The argument also extended to matters relating to Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Clearance and Forest Clearance granted for the project.
Bharat Patel, general secretary of MachimarAdhikar Sangharsh Sangathan of Kutch, who has been closely involved in the case, sounded upset with the decision. A fine of Rs 10,000, he said, is too stiff for the fishing community. He said the order has not addressed the issue of commencement of construction activity without a CRZ and Forest Clearances have also not been properly addressed.
Environmental concern addressed
The bench observed that initially there were two major contentions raised by the appellant, which the company has addressed through the proposed change in cooling technology. The concerns involved the discharge of hot water into the sea and increase in salinity of the sea water, affecting aquatic life; and laying down of pipeline through forestland, affecting flora and fauna. The bench noted that the proposed change in technology from water cooling to air cooling system is much more friendly to the marine environment.
The air cooling system for a power plant requires much less water than a water cooling system, and also there is no discharge of hot water into the sea. The bench further said that the technology that will be used by OPG power is reliable one, developed by an international company having expertise, and which had been tested across the world. Moreover, since the technology does not require the laying of pipeline, forestland diversion for such purpose will not be required.
On the contention on land requirement for the air cooling technology, and also increase in noise pollution because of use of fans in the new system, as contended by Raj Panjwani, counsel appearing on behalf of appellant, the bench brushed aside both issues, saying there will be less land requirement and also that there would be no significant noise pollution, which will be below 70 dB.
Rahul Choudhary, advocate for the appellants, however argued that such issues of land use and increased noise pollution has not been clarified properly, and that the observations are incomplete.
Nod to change in technology
The bench also rejected the appellant's argument that the project involving change in technology, is a “new” one, requiring a fresh review and a clearance process, as it is not operational. The bench noted that the project is an “existing” project, and, therefore, the proponents are eligible to apply for amendments in EC conditions. “An existing unit does not only include the units which are functional in all respects, the phraseology also will include those projects which are cleared by the competent authority and are at the stage of take-off position. It will also include those projects which are non-functional due to some technological problems or labour problems but are to be made functional by change in the technology,” the order read.
On the issue of amendment to the conditions of EC, the bench noted that the meeting minutes and other deliberations on part of SEIAA, clearly “show the application of mind by the members of SEIAA” on the matter. The authority evaluated the impact of the air cooling system in place of the water cooling mechanism in detail. It was noted by SEIAA during their meeting on March 31, 2012, that waste water generation will reduce significantly from 62,750 KL/day to 326 KL/day. It was noted that 99.5 per cent reduction of waste water generation would be achieved due to adoption of air cooled condenser in place of water cooled condenser.
The issue of ash generation was also considered, and it was noted that there will be no change in the ash generation quantity. The observation was in line with the clarification provided by Hardik Shah, secretary of Gujarat SEIAA, who said that all decisions by the authority have been taken after review and consideration of all documents.
When contacted, Samson Suza of OPG Power Ltd said the proposed change in technology is more environmental friendly and that the company will work to start plant operations soon.
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