The expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for Infrastructure and CRZ projects of the Union Environment Ministry has deferred the proposed terminal and capacity enhancement of berths operated by the JSW Group’s South West Port Ltd at the Mormugao port, citing concerns of air pollution raised during a week-long public hearing.
Noting that the concerns have not been addressed satisfactorily, the committee said it has kept the proposal for “reconsideration for environmental and CRZ (Coastal Regulatory Zone) clearance”.
According to the minutes of an EAC meeting held on October 30 and 31, the committee said it has also taken note of a letter written by the Goa government on public opposition to the “proposed increase in handling of coal” and the levels of air pollution around the Mormugao Port Trust and Vasco town.
On October 25, The Indian Express reported the findings of its ongoing investigation into the transport of coal by rail, road and water across Goa, which showed that it is being moved at the rate of 25 tonnes per minute, raising concerns over pollution levels. And that much more coal is on the way from the port — an estimated 51 million tonnes every year by 2030.
Scores of residents near these evacuation routes told The Indian Express that largescale transport of coal through the state to steel plants in Karnataka is leaving in its wake a trail of environmental damage, affecting their homes and lives.
Last week, the Environment Ministry asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to provide the air quality status at all port cities. Speaking to The Indian Express, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said the Railways has started exploring a design change to see if coal can be carried in covered wagons.
In its meeting, the EAC noted that air quality monitoring reports of the Goa State Pollution Control Board indicate that “particulate matter is exceeding the prescribed limits for the present handling capacities” at the port.
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Keeping the proposal from South West Port Ltd pending, the minutes state that “specific point-wise replies to the concerns expressed during the public hearing shall be provided”. It has asked for a detailed response to the letter sent by the Goa government, too. Further, the project proponents have been asked to specify redressal measures for all concerns raised.
Port records accessed by The Indian Express show that JSW, Adani and Vedanta have at least a berth each for themselves at Mormugao. They also show: JSW imported 10.11 million tonnes of coal in 2016-17 for its plant in Toranagallu, Karnataka; Adani has an awarded capacity of 5.2 million tonnes for its clients in Goa and Karnataka; and, the coal berth allotted to Vedanta has a capacity of 6.99 million tonnes, to be utilised for its proposed plant in Bellary, Karnataka.
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In its proposal to the EAC, the minutes show, South West Port Ltd listed “Capacity Enhancement at Berth 5A/6A of Mormugao Port for Handling Coal And Coal Products, Iron Ore And Limestone including Unitised and Steel Products at Mormugao Port Trust, Mormugao”.
Its proposal stated that the unloading system, stockyards and rake loading system are “operating at much reduced efficiency”.
“SWPL is handling cargos like coal, limestone and steel products at berth 5A & 6A by cranes, ship unloaders and wagon loading system. After modernisation, the consequential capacity enhancement shall be achieved by deploying highly mechanised and efficient environment friendly material handling system, and by enhancing the existing conveyor speed, and improving the rake loading turnaround time through operational efficiency, thus, making the evacuation and despatch more efficient,” it said.
“Consequentially the total cargo to be handled is expected to go up to 12 to 13 MTPA of bulk (consisting of coal, iron ore, lime stone, dolomite, bauxite, mineral ores and other miscellaneous cargo), and about 2 MTPA of unitised cargo (consisting of steel bars, coils, flats and plates, and other steel products). The total cargo handling capacity hence is expected to increase to about 14 to 15 MTPA,” the proposal stated.
When contacted by The Indian Express, a JSW spokesperson said: “JSW remains committed to compliance on all regulatory requirements.”
Referring to the company’s proposal to deploy an “environment-friendly material handling system”, the spokesperson said: “With better utilisation of existing resources and overall net reduction in the pollution level due to retrofitting material handling systems with latest dust entrapment systems and barriers, an increase in capacity of the terminal will be achieved without change in the stockyard area and waterfront area… We are in the process of responding to the appropriate authorities on all information requested.”
Meanwhile, Goa Against Coal, an umbrella outfit involving several NGOs, human right activists and lawyers, met Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar Friday to convey their concerns against growing coal imports and against river nationalisation. The delegation handed over a letter highlighting issues concerning health, air pollution and impact on rivers and the ecosystem.
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“The CM’s first demand was to change the name of our outfit to Goa Against Coal Pollution as he says the existing objective is wrong. He stressed that coal is for the thermal needs of the nation,” said Abhijit Prabhudesai, an activist.
“He acknowledged that coal pollution is on the rise around the port premises and Vasco. He said he has written to the Environment Ministry citing health concerns and asking it to not allow coal berth operators to expand,” said Cyril Fernandes, a human rights activist.
The members said Parrikar has assured that they would be briefed before any Memorandum of Understanding is finalised on expanding the state’s rivers to inland waterways.