MoEF clears Gujarat Pipavav port expansion

Activists say project's impact on the environment and people has not been given due consideration

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Thursday 05 December 2013

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has cleared the controversial Gujarat Pipapav port expansion project, which people and non-profits have been opposing, saying it will impact mangroves, birds and wildlife and people's livelihood. The expert appraisal committee (EAC) of MoEF cleared the project during its most recent meeting held in November-end. The port has been expanded on three occasions earlier following clearances granted in 2000, 2003, and 2006.

The environmental clearance (EC) for the project had been shelved following an order of the National Green Tribunal of August 22. Noting the failure on part of the ministry and EAC under it to properly assess the impact of the expansion project on the environment and the residents of the area, the tribunal bench chaired by V R Kingaonkar remanded the matter to MoEF for reassessment and reconsideration. It also ordered that environment clearance be kept in abeyance for six months.

The project has been re-evaluated by a newly constituted EAC, informed Lalit Kapoor, member secretary of the committee. “The company has provided all the necessary documents and clarifications that were sought, and in cases where ‘small gaps’ were found, conditions have been stipulated to address them,” he added.

Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd was given environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance for the expansion of its port in Amreli district on June 5, last year. The ministry’s decision was challenged before the green tribunal by two local non-profits, Gauchar Paryavaran Bachav Trust and Gau Raxa Hitraxak Manch, Amreli. The petition raised concern over the impacts the project will have on the mangrove forests, migratory bird habitats and the wildlife of the area, pollution from coal dust and ballast waste water. The petition also said the port expansion would increase salinity in soil, affecting crop production, and that it would encroach on grazing land, affecting the livestock and livelihood of people in nearby areas. Residents of Shiyalbet, a small island village in Pipavav, objected to the project, saying it would deny them access to the road that connected to the highway. Petitioner Chetan Vyas of Gauchar Paryavaran Bachav Trust of Rajula in Amreli alleged in his petition that EAC has dealt with the matter casually and “did not apply its mind” to comprehensively evaluate the expansion proposal.

According to captain Dinesh Lokapure of Gujarat Pipapav Port Ltd, “the company has addressed all concerns that were raised to the satisfaction of the EAC committee.” The minutes of the EAC meeting note that the company has assessed all likely impacts that the project might have after taking into account objections raised during public hearing and that a suitable environment management plan has been prepared. It also notes that the issue of use of grazing land had been settled in favour of the project proponent following directives of the Gujarat High Court last year and subsequent observations of the Supreme Court. Concerns of the residents of Shiyalbet have also now been addressed by the company.

However, it remains unclear from the meeting minutes to what extent, or if at all the concerns such as ballast water management and salinity increase in soil in the nearby areas has been addressed.

Clarity regarding such issues is important as they can have serious ecological consequences. The discharge of ballast water (the water carried by ships in their ballast for stability and structural integrity) may pose serious ecological and economic threats to the aquatic environment as indicated by International Maritime Organization.  During intake of water through ballast ports and pumps, a multitude of marine species including bacteria, microbes, small invertebrates, eggs, cysts and larvae of various species are transferred through the water into the ballast. These may survive to establish a reproductive population in the host environment by multiplying into pest proportions out-competing native species and becoming invasive. Therefore, if the water containing such species is not properly treated before discharge, it may have severe effect on the native marine environment.

Vyas is taken back by the decision of EAC. “We did send a notice to MoEF just before the meeting last month, informing them that the company has done little to address the concerns that we have raised,” he said. He said the community has been sidelined by the committee while deciding the matter.

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