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MoEF panel slams govt agencies for shoddy work over APSEZ

The Minitsry of Environment and Forest (MoEF)-appointed committee has detailed in its report various discrepancies in the works done by a handful of government and government-authorized agencies for the Adani Port and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ),a controversial project,which also includes a township and hospital.

Written by Adam Halliday | Ahmedabad | Published: April 20, 2013 5:29:32 am

The Minitsry of Environment and Forest (MoEF)-appointed committee has detailed in its report various discrepancies in the works done by a handful of government and government-authorized agencies for the Adani Port and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ),a controversial project,which also includes a township and hospital. The committee had earlier found the APSEZ in Mundra,Kutch,guilty of violating several environmental norms. The agencies under scanner include the Gujarat Maritime Board,Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority,the CSIR-affiliated National Institute of Oceanography,the MoEF-recognised Centre for Earth Sciences Studies,Thiruvananthapuram,and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board.

The committee,headed by environmentalist Sunita Narain and comprising two ministry officials and two other experts,had submitted its 96-page report to the Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Thursday. The role of the agencies as spelt out by the report,reviewed by The Indian Express,are detailed below.

GMB evaded truth

When the committee looked at the Google Earth maps of the Bocha Island (which lies within the project area),it found mangroves,in 2005,near the area where a proposed North Port is to be located,but had completely disappeared by 2011. During the January 2013 site-visit,the company said the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) had done the reclamation work which cleared the vegetation.

When the committee sought the GMB’s explanation and expenditure sheets for the work,the GMB did not provide the latter and said there had not been much vegetation there in the early 1990s and may have grown later. It then offered to make up for deforestation by planting elsewhere. The committee charged the GMB of evading the truth and contradicting itself.

GCZMA,NIO,CESS

The discrepancies related to these three are partly interlinked,and some concerns “confusion” over where exactly a river called Bhukhi flows,important because the distance from the water body determined whether or not APSEZ’s Samundra Township and Sterling Hospital are legitimate constructions.

When an MoEF team visited the site in December 2010,it found the township did not have required Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances and the hospital was built 20 m away from the river bank (clearances had stipulated it was to be at least 100 m away as per CRZ rules).

The MoEF issued show-cause notices to the APSEZ later that month,and asked the GCZMA to report about the two projects and submit new CRZ maps. A GCZMA team visited the area and reported both the hospital and township were at least 100 m from the river bank (but did not include coordinates in the report).

The company,meanwhile,said it hired CESS to prepare the CRZ maps,which would also specify where Bukhi flowed as well as the High Tide Line (HTL). When the MoEF committee reviewed these maps and marked out coordinates,it found “coordinates given as the location of ‘development sites on the banks of River Bhukhi’ are… not in the vicinity of the river. In fact,in some cases,not even close to the river.”

It turned out the CESS had relied on layouts of APSEZ’s structures provided by the APSEZ itself and never verified these. In its reply to the committee’s letter asking for clarification,the CESS said “there was no reason for the CESS to disbelieve the layout of buildings provided by M/s Adani.”

The CESS report,maps and coordinates used to demarcate the High Tide Line (HTL),crucial for granting approvals for coastal projects,is also cause for what the committee referred to as the NIO’s “poor application of scientific procedures”.

In short,both the NIO and the CESS used earthen bunds found near the proposed project sites as the HTL because these stopped the tide from flowing in further,but both admitted they did not verify who had built these bunds and when.

In a case particular to the NIO,a map of the HTL shows a setback line inland from the earthen bund moving eastward and “abruptly ending” at the boundary of the Adani Group’s Thermal Power Plant. The NIO said the “exact location of the power plant was not known at the time of the survey (2005)” although the map shows a line demarcating the plant’s boundaries. The institute told the committee in a clarification it could not ascertain the reasons for this since the scientist who prepared the report has since retired.

The HTL,interestingly,has been marked out in different coordinates by seven different reports prepared by four different agencies,including the Survey of India,ISRO’s Space Applications Centre,CESS and NIO. Due to these conflicting demarcations,the committee has recommended “Project-level HTL/LTL demarcation that is paid for by the proponent should be replaced by state level exercise funded by the government.”

GPCB didn’t check environmental nod

The committee notes that while the Gujarat Pollution Control Board did investigate locals’ complaints about disposal of fly ash from the power plant in 2011,it never subsequently checked if the company complied with its directives in spite of the investigation having revealed more than 27,000 tonnes of fly-ash was dumped in low-lying areas,breaching Environment Clearance conditions.

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