Tata Mundra power project blamed for falling fish catch

Project yet to become fully functional has already destroyed creeks and mangroves, says report 

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Wednesday 04 July 2012

Once considered a hot spot for fishing, the coast of Mundra in Gujarat is reporting dwindling fish catch. Reason: increasing sea temperature and sea water contamination, caused by the economic activities, mainly power projects being developed in the area. A new report on the impact of Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) by an independent fact-finding team, released in New Delhi on July 3, shows that the fishing community in Kutch is paying too high a cost to meet the country's power requirements. The project, which will eventually generate 4,000 MW power, has an installed capacity of 800 MW at present.

Funded by World Bank's financing arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a host of Indian banks, Tata's project is considered to be the first of the 11 UMPPs for meeting power requirements of at least five states, including power-surplus Gujarat. Situated near the sea coast, Tatas were importing low-ash coal from Indonesia till recently when the Indonesian government imposed heavy export duty on the fuel. 

Environmental clearance terms violated

The independent team was led by retired chief justice of Sikkim High Court, S N Bhargava, who visited Mundra twice in the span of one year along with other members. The report, titled The Real Cost of Power, says the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) being developed by the Adanis in Mundra in the vicinity of Tata's UMPP, along with a few other big multinationals such OPG, are causing hardships for the local fishing community. The local fishing community alleged that contaminated warm water from the thermal power plants (of OPG and Tata) are dumped into the sea. This coupled with factors such as lack of dissolved oxygen in seawater, intake of large amounts of water from the creeks to run the plants and destruction of biodiversity-rich mangroves are forcing the valuable fish to migrate out of Gulf of Kutch. Further studies and visits by the independent team confirmed the claims of fishers. The fact-finding team members are: former ministry of Earth sciences advisor Varadarajan Sampath, journalist and author Praful Bidwai, former chairperson of Commission for Women in Arunachal Pradesh, Jarjum Ete, and convenor of Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha, Soumya Dutta. 

The team found that Tata is operating an open-cycle cooling system, instead of a closed-cycle system, for the installed capacity of 800 MW. Cooling systems are installed in thermal power plants for cooling the condensers. Closed-cycle systems are said to be better as they recycle coolant water instead of dumping the warm water into the sea as in the case of an open-cycle system. According to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of Tata for the Mundra power plant, the seawater requirement is about 15.12 million cubic metre (mcm) per day of which 14.99 mcm will be for condenser cooling and 0.1278 mcm for producing freshwater. “The seawater will be pumped at the end of an inlet channel, connecting Kotdi Creek in Mundra. The spent cooling water warmed to about 7°C above ambient sea water temperature, will be discharged back to the sea through a discharge channel opening to Mudhwa Creek,” states the EIA.

The team fund that Tata was violating the terms and conditions of EIA granted to the power plant on March 2, 2007. “There was no document available to show that the Environmental Clearance given by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), in which a closed cycle cooling system was a pre-condition (to limit the discharged warm water's temperature to 7°C), was amended,” states the fact- finding team.

Fish mortality may increase 400 times

Varadarajan points out destruction of creeks and mangroves around Mundra, which are nurseries for marine life. “Both the Kothdi and Mundwa creeks have been damaged badly by Tata's dredging, widening and denudation,” he says. Incidentally, a study supported by Sir Jamshedji Tata Trust, titled Kutch Coasts – People, Environment, Livelihoods, considers the mangrove and creeks as highly significant for the fishing community. “Mangroves are critical to the marine coastal soil ... As per estimation, just 100 cubic metre of mangrove area shelters 54,600 prawns. Kutch district has been declared the most important mangrove area in the state of Gujarat,” the study states.

High intake of seawater—15,142 litres 4,000 gallons a day—may have further contributed to the large-scale deaths of fish seedlings. “Unless high technology filters are used, such an intake, when the plant will become fully operational will lead to a mortality rate of fish more than 400 times,” Varadarajan adds. Similarly, during the test conducted on June 2, this year, by the fact-finding team, the pH value of the sea water was found to be 6.8. “The highly salinated brine, discharged from the desalination plant of the power project, is increasing the salinity of water and changing the pH values in the water, which is driving the fish away,” states the fact-finding committee's report.   

Fisher from Bhadreshwar, Ayub Haji, who was also present during the release of the report says that people hardly reflect on the EIA  conducted by Tata for their plants. “We were told that the development is going to reach the villages but things went the other way. First they blocked all our approaches to the sea by building roads, then they systematically removed the mangroves, and when they started the power plants, they dumped contaminated water into our seas. This is not development, this is destruction,” says Haji.

Director of the local fisherworkers' organisation, Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti (MASS), Bharat Patel, told Down To Earth that since Gujarat State government never encouraged fishing in these areas by making the people beneficiaries to various schemes of the state, the fishing community is suffering from major losses. “The state government runs various schemes for poor people, but it has never been extended to the fishing communities here. Now as Gujarat plans to develop 22,000 MW electricity in its coastal belt around Kutch, the fishing community will have nowhere to go,” Patel says.

Appeal to World Bank to reassess funding to Tata

Now Patel and others have moved Coalition Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) of World Bank for the reassessment of the funding received by Tata to develop the power plant (See IFC's green claims ring hollow). “The decision is still pending and we are hopeful that keeping in mind the sustainibility measures adopted in funding such projects, they say. “The decision is still pending and we are hopeful that keeping in mind the sustainibility measures adopted in funding such projects, they take a serious note of the violations and environmental damage caused to the communities. We demand a moratorium in the construction of the plant till the reassessment is done,” adds Patel.

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