National Green Tribunal reprimands environment ministry for casual evaluation
The National Green Tribunal recently criticised the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for giving clearance to a port expansion project in Gujarat without proper evaluation.
On June 5, 2012, the ministry (MoEF) had given environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance to Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd for the expansion of its port in Pipavav in Amreli district. The port was expanded on three occasions earlier, following clearances granted in 2000, 2003, and 2006.
Chetan Vyas of Gauchar Paryavaran Bachav Trust of Rajula in Amreli challenged the environment clearance (EC) granted for the expansion. Hearing the appeal, the tribunal (NGT) said that the EC “does not reflect independent evaluation” by the authority. The bench remanded the matter to the MoEF and its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for reassessment and reconsideration, while ordering that the EC be kept in abeyance for six months.
In his petition, Vyas alleged that EAC has assessed the project in a casual and improper manner. His petition highlighted that the company did not comply with clearance conditions accorded to it during previous expansions. Vyas said since the company has violated EC conditions on previous occasions, it should not have been given clearance for the latest expansion. However, EAC “did not apply its mind” to comprehensively evaluate the expansion proposal, noted his petition.
The Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd denied any violation of conditions set out in earlier ECs.
Impact on the environment, people
According to the petition by Vyas, the proposed expansion and modernisation would affect the mangrove forest, migratory bird habitats and the wild fauna in the area. It would also affect land salinity and groundwater conditions and availability, in turn affecting crop production. For expanding the port, the company has encroached grazing land, affecting the livestock and livelihood of people in nearby areas. Moreover, coal dust generated during the movement of carriage vehicles would affect the health of people living nearby, alleged the petition.
Ritwik Dutta, counsel for the appellant argued that “the Central matter in the case involves non-compliance with the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the project by the company while preparing EIA. The EIA reports were not adequate on several matters such as traffic monitoring studies and impact of increase in vehicular movement, study on ship movement, ship waste management, coal dust management, road carrying capacity study and dredging locations”. Dutta questioned how such an EIA can be regarded as complete when there is blatant non compliance with the ToRs stipulated by MoEF.
MoEF in its affidavit submitted to NGT, said EAC recommended clearance on the basis of available study reports and information. But Dutta argued that MoEF has granted EC without giving reasons. This raises doubts about its validity.
P S Narasimha, counsel for the project proponent, contented that as per the EIA Notification 2006, EAC is required to recommend the authority concerned either for grant of prior EC on stipulated terms and conditions, or rejection of the application for prior EC, together with reasons for the same. It is only when the application is resolved for rejection, the EAC gives the reasons.
NGT noted that what appears from the clearance order of June 2012 is that “MoEF reproduced a part of the letter of recommendation of the EAC, as it is”. The order “does not show independent evaluation undertaken by the ministry”. NGT considered such evaluation on part of the regulatory authority to be important because an assessment of the EAC meeting minutes indicates that the committee did not correctly evaluate the responses given by the project proponent with respect to the written representations made during the public hearing. It referred to an issue raised by the residents of Shiyalbet, a small island village in Pipavav. Because of the project, the islanders were being denied access to the road connected to the highway. But there was no satisfactory answer given to this.
NGT also pointed out that the EAC has been slack about earlier inspection reports that indicated violations of the clearance conditions by the project proponent. For instance, a visit to the project site by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board officials in June 2005 revealed that the company was removing sand from government wasteland without paying appropriate royalty. It was later noticed that the project proponent had not taken care of existing mangroves, nor was there any new plantation of mangroves. However such violations were not appropriately addressed during EAC deliberations. The bench strongly noted that in instances “the presentation made by the project proponent was accepted as gospel truth”.
Calling for action by MoEF, NGT has directed it to “relook into the matter and have objective appraisal of the project on the basis of the available material and by comparison with expansion of other ports in the country”. A decision of approval or rejection should be given only after such perusal.
Lalit Kapoor, director at the ministry’s office, said EAC will reevaluate the matter as per the directions of NGT.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.