The Adani group has managed to secure “in principle” approval from an expert panel of the environment ministry to divert 1552.81 hectares of forest land” for the development of port-based multipurpose Special Economic Zone in Mundra coast in Gujarat’s Kutch district. The SEZ had earlier justified diversion of forest land by stating that “contiguous blocks of lands are required to facilitate proper area planning”.
The Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ), which runs the Mundra Port, one of India’s biggest commercial ports, had requested for 1576.81 hectares. However, the panel excluded 24 hectares of reserved forests in Dhrub village. The port recently came under the scanner when Supreme Court in November 2017 appointed a committee to probe whether the company violated environmental norms by levelling sand dunes that act as natural defence for coastline and seaside biodiversity.
Minutes from the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting on January 25 states that the FAC “deliberated on the fact that establishment of port based SEZ is necessary for development of the country.” “On analysis by DSS it is observed that most of the forest area and revenue areas are under non forestry use and some patches of forest areas are available inside SEZ.” The Forest Management Decision Support System (DSS) is a satellite-based system used by FAC to assess conditions of forests.
The Mundra port and SEZ project has courted controversy over the last decade, and over the last twenty years, it has undergone several changes and modifications. The efforts to get forest clearances can be traced back to June 1998, as per the minutes, with the proposal to divert 2400 hectares of forest land which was submitted by M/S Adani Chemicals and rejected on the grounds that the area contained 19.42 lakh mangrove trees and was ecologically fragile.
However, the FAC in its January 2018 meeting noted that in view of the clarification submitted by the state government in December 2017, it recommended the grant of “in principle” approval for the diversion. The state government had said that an “undertaking had been given by the user agency that all formalities as per the guidelines of Forest Rights Rules, 2006 of Government of India will be completed before final approval.”
The FAC, however, has set specific conditions. It noted: “The diverted forest land measuring 1552.81 ha shall be maintained as green area within the APSEZ and the diversion for non-forestry purpose will be considered only on case to case basis by the ministry for the purpose required for SEZ.” It also prohibited use of the diverted forest land as a golf course, beach resort, park or for residential purposes or for construction of a private aerodrome as demanded by the user agency. The forest land may be considered, in future on merits, in case a commercial airport is developed with the approval of DGCA, it said.
The minutes also instructs that a complete compliance of Forest Rights Act 2006 be done, and of Coastal Regulation Zone regulations be ensured, a 100-m wide green shelter belt along the coast be included in the Master Plan of APSEZ and compensatory afforestation land be surveyed at the cost of the user agency and pillars and barbed wire fencing or trench be put in place with consultation of chief conservator of forests in Kutch circle.