THE High Court of Bombay at Goa on Tuesday heard Vedanta Limted and South West Port Limited (SWPL) in an urgent appeal seeking judicial intervention to get their coal cargo moving at Mormugao Port Trust.
In a resolution on January 8, Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) had revoked the ‘consent to operate’ awarded to SWPL due to “gross breach” of coal handling consent conditions at the port.
The GSPCB also pulled up Mormugao Port Trust for importing coal through mooring dolphins without consent to operate, and with no pollution control measures at sea.
This impacted Vedanta, which imported all its pet coke cargo for its plant in Goa through mooring dolphins.
Last October, The Indian Express had revealed findings of its ongoing investigation into the transport of coal by railways, road and waterways across Goa, which showed that it is being moved at the rate of 25 tonnes per minute, raising concerns over pollution levels.
It showed that the JSW Group, which handles its port operations through SWPL in Goa, is exceeding its import capacity since 2012, getting 10.11 million tonnes in 2016-17 against an awarded consent of 5.48 million tonnes.
On July 21, 2017, GSPCB had written to SWPL that it was reducing its permitted capacity by 25 per cent – to 4.125 million tonnes annually.
Advocate Subodh Kantak, representing both firms, made an “urgent appeal” for Vedanta, as eight international vessels ferrying its cargo are stranded. “The operations at our plant has been stopped as the cargo is stuck. We have been operating from the mooring dolphins since 2003 and no one objected. Our immediate concern is 1,000 employees at the plant; we also generate 30 MW power after our production and supply it to Goa government at subsidised rate.
“Our eight vessels are stranded, and two of them are at the port’s entry. We need permission to download cargo,” Kantak submitted.
He added, “In our case, concern of GSPCB is not pollution but consent.”
Justice Shantanu Khemkar asked whether the company was informed of GSPCB’s order by the port trust, to which they replied it was done “over the phone”.
Justice Khemkar pointed out that while the Board’s resolution came on January 8, the ships had sailed from their foreign destinations on January 18 – a good 10 days later, “when they could have been stopped”. The judge said, “What you cannot achieve directly, you are trying to achieve indirectly.
Kantak replied, “Even in the mining matter, where Supreme Court asked 88 mining leases to be revoked, it gave a relief period of a month. Here we are told to shut operations and we do not even have relief. It’s unfair – this is a 15-year-old operation and we are being asked to stop bringing coal cargo in a day.”
Advocate Norma Alvares moved an application on behalf of Goa Foundation, the NGO that had filed the petition in which 88 mining leases were revoked, to be made a party to the case where JSW’s SWPL as a petitioner. “We are opposed to the operations of this habitual offender,” Alvares told the court, seeking permission to submit documents.
Earlier, SWPL had moved the court calling for intervention to direct the ministry to allow terminal capacity expansion at their coal (import) and steel (export) berths at Mormugao port.
While the Vedanta matter has been kept for Wednesday, SWPL and Goa Foundation will be heard together in two weeks.
Mormugao Port Trust has been asked to respond why it had not informed Vedanta officially “on such an important order”. The port trust’s counsel has sought time to respond.
SWPL has informed the court that the ministry must consider the minutes of the expert appraisal committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which has cleared the expansion plans.
Previously, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed governments of all coastal states to submit Coastal Zone Management Plans under the 2011 CRZ notification to the MoEF by April 30, 2018 “without further default and delay”. Goa is yet to approve the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority.
The green tribunal also included MoEF’s suggestions, where states were asked “not to grant any environmental clearance for development activity which falls within the permissible area/regulated area” till the coastal management plans come through.
“We are now asking for clarification, as our licence to operate at the port dates back to 2001,” said advocate Kantak on behalf of SWPL.
“We are presenting the court with similar projects which are now in progress in Maharashtra,” Kantak had argued last week.
On Tuesday, he had asked the court to help again, as he said, “For now, we are asking the MoEF to process our proposal as the NGT order doesn’t apply to us. The port has existed for long and will continue. This order does not in anyway apply to our operations. We will prove it to court. For now, we are also asking for relief as our operations are shut, and interim order has helped in few ships coming. But for now, the port has stopped allowing new ships.”
The High Court will now wait for MoEF’s response, as the ministry is waiting for the NGT to review on February 15 and get back to the court.