OPG flouts environmental laws again

Begins construction without taking forest and CRZ clearance

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Friday 20 April 2012

How many times can a company turn a blind eye to environmental laws? Chennai-based power producer, OPG, which has proposed a 300 MW coal thermal plant in Bhadreshwar village in Kutch has already done it twice. It has again been caught flouting rules.
When a team of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Gujarat State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) reached the plant site on April 10, the team members found the construction was already underway though the company was yet to obtain the necessary Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance and forest clearance. The applications for these clearances are still under process.

The company was caught flouting rules earlier on two accounts. First when it quoted its capacity wrong and second when it did not include the river bank in its project site map.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a judgement  on February 8, 2012, had clearly stated that any construction activity for the plant could only take place if the terms and conditions pertaining to environmental clearance are followed. NGT’s judgement was the result of a petition filed by fishermen from Bhadreshwar village, who have been opposing the plant saying it will affect their living and reduce fish catch.

The plant was given a conditional clearance in 2010. Gujarat SEIAA had placed 121 terms and conditions to be followed by the project proponent before it could begin work. “We found that the construction activity was recently stopped before the visit of the team, which is clearly a violation of the basic terms and conditions stated by SEIAA,” says a member of the team who visited the site.

Bhadreshwar is one of the largest and oldest fishing villages along the Arabian Sea coast of Kutch. About 6,000 fishermen and saltpan workers have been dependent on the sea for their living for the past 200 years.

The fishermen in their petition to NGT in 2011 also appealed that the environmental clearance granted to the project be cancelled.

While, hearing the appeal, NGT observed that the environmental clearance becomes redundant if CRZ clearance and forest clearance are still pending.

However, during the court proceedings the counsel of OPG had stated that they are looking for alternate processes for the plant cooling system that will not require seawater or forestland. The counsel thus contended there was no need for CRZ or forest clearance.

 The team which visited the site observed that while the company has applied for a change of technology for the cooling systems of the plant, construction of foundations, boilers and turbines were in progress. The team also found out that the company started pumping out groundwater for the construction purpose by digging borewells. The team recommended that OPG should withdraw requests for forest clearance and CRZ clearance if it is opting for change of technology.

Meanwhile, response to a RTI application, filed by the petitioners, has revealed that the OPG submitted a proposal to MoEF for the expansion of 300 MW plant to 2,600 MW plant.

Repeated attempts by Down to Earth to contact OPG for a clarification failed.


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