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Explained: Why are villagers in Maharashtra’s Dahanu objecting to the Vadhavan port project?

The port project, estimated to cost Rs 65,544.54 crore, is part of the Centre’s Sagarmala initiative that aims to make Indian ports major contributors to the country’s GDP.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: December 6, 2020 12:52:51 pm
Dahanu protests, Dahanu protest against JNPT, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Indian ExpressVillagers in Vadhavan protest the construction of the port. (Express Photo)

For two days — December 2 and December 3 — villagers in Vadhavan in Maharashtra’s Dahanu taluka, about 131 km from Mumbai, came out in protest against a biodiversity survey commissioned by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) for the construction of the Vadhavan Port that received in-principle approval from the Union Cabinet in February.

Amid heavy deployment of police in the village, some of the estimated 1,500 protesters on Wednesday formed a human chain on the Vadhavan beach; about 2,500 joined in on Thursday, chanting “Ekach jidduh, Vadhavan Bandar rudduh (Only one demand, cancel Vadhavan Port)”.

Why are the villagers in Vadhavan opposed to the construction of the port?

Locals including groups of fisherfolk, tribals, farmers, and residents of Vadhavan and nearby villages came together under the Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (VBVSS) to protest against a biodiversity survey undertaken by officials JNPT and scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography for the construction of a port at Vadhavan.

The protesters, including men, women, and children raised slogans against the construction of the port that they believe will be detrimental to the environment and their livelihoods.

Dahanu is one of the eight talukas in Maharashtra’s newest district of Palghar, which was created in 2014. But over two decades prior to that, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had, under the provisions of The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, declared Dahanu an “ecologically fragile area” and imposed restrictions on setting up of industries that have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Stressing on the ecological sensitivity of the area, the locals have said that the construction of the port will not only hurt the flora and fauna of Dahanu, but will also disrupt allied activities like fishing and farming.

Dahanu protests, Dahanu protest against JNPT, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Indian Express Locals including groups of fisherfolk, tribals, farmers, and residents came together to protest against a biodiversity survey. (Express Photo)

The working president of the VBVSS, Aniket Patil, said that Dahanu was only one of three places in India where live conches can be found, and which gives the seafront of Vadhavan the name of “Shankhodar”. The rocks, moss, and corals in the sea, he said, are favourable not just for fishing but also for fish seeding.

The protesters also said that the survey team of five, including two scientists, could not have carried out the survey without informing the Gram Panchayat of Vadhavan that passed a resolution against the proposed port in 2014.

The protesters and environmentalists say that the survey should have been carried out with permission from the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority, or DTEPA, formed in 1996 following orders of the Supreme Court. The MoEF had last year urged the court to dissolve the authority, and the matter remains pending.

Terming the survey carried out by the JNPT as “illegal”, the VBVSS members have said they are preparing to move court against the port trust’s actions.

What does the Vadhavan port project entail?

The port project, estimated to cost Rs 65,544.54 crore, is part of the Centre’s Sagarmala initiative that aims to make Indian ports major contributors to the country’s GDP. The JNPT and the Maharashtra Maritime Board are development partners for the project.

According to the JNPT, an investment of Rs 16,140 crore will be implemented by a JNPT-led Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) in constructing basic infrastructure like breakwaters, rail line/yard and road connectivity, power and water lines, internal roads, and common amenities.

The Vadhavan port, which will be India’s 13th major port, has been planned by the JNPT as an ‘All Weather, All Cargo’ satellite port to enhance capabilities in handling deep draft ships and larger vessels. With an increase in container shipping, the port, which will be close to the JNPT in Uran, Navi Mumbai, is also expected to handle the spillover in container vessel traffic at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, which is India’s top container port.

“The Vadhavan Port will have a dedicated road and rail service so as not to interfere with the local traffic, thereby avoiding any clutter within the local transportation,” the JNPT had said in a statement earlier.

Dahanu protests, Dahanu protest against JNPT, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Indian Express An estimated 1,500 protesters formed a human chain on the Vadhavan beach. (Express Photo)

The Union government had said in a statement released in February, “The Vadhavan port has a natural draft of about 20 metres close to the shore, making it possible for it to handle bigger vessels at the port.”

The Vadhavan port will be developed on a “landlord model”. An SPV will be formed with JNPT as the lead partner. The SPV will develop the port infrastructure, including reclamation, construction of breakwater, and establishing connectivity to the hinterland. All business activities would be undertaken under PPP mode by private developers.

The port will be constructed offshore, by reclaiming 567 hectares from the sea in phases. An 11.2 km long breakwater with its tail resting near the shore and head in the sea at a depth of 18 metres, is among the key features of the port.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

How did the port get approval in an ecologically fragile area?

In February, the Union Cabinet gave in-principle approval for the construction of the port. In June, after the DTEPA raised an objection to the project, the MoEF informed the authority that the port is allowed in the taluka.

The Shipping Ministry had, while seeking the Union Cabinet’s in-principle approval in February, stated that there was no restriction on constructing a port in Vadhavan — arguing that a port has no manufacturing or processing activity, and is therefore, not an industry; rather it is an infrastructure project.

In a statement the JNPT said that as part of the order issued by the MoEF on June 8, 2020, it had recognised that “services rendered by a Port are not classified as ‘RED’ category and declared that Port under no circumstances is an industry. Ports provide services to the Exim trade thereby they do not contribute to the pollution in and around the region of Vadhavan.”

Dahanu protests, Dahanu protest against JNPT, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Indian Express Locals say the construction of the port will not only hurt the flora and fauna of Dahanu, but also disrupt allied activities like fishing and farming. (Express Photo)

What is JNPT doing to ensure that the environment is not impacted?

JNPT chairman Sanjay Sethi said in a statement released on Friday, “JNPT is committed to the ecologically sustainable development of the greenfield Vadhavan port…, and we will try our best to develop the new port by adhering to the most stringent environmental norms and regulations as laid down by the Environment Ministry and authorities concerned.”

In an earlier statement, JNPT had said that the MoEF had approved the terms of reference (TOR) for conducting an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study and instructed the port trust to comply with all the conditions under Standard Terms of Reference as a part of environment clearance process.

“In compliance with the TOR, JNPT has assigned works to reputed government agencies for conducting multiple technical studies. Likewise, the Central Water Power Research Centre (CPWRS) is directing the impact of flooding in the creeks and dredging… The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa is managing the effect of dredging on the marine ecology, biodiversity impact assessment… IIT Mumbai is assessing the impact of development due to increase in inhabitation and resolution method for congestion free roads and improvement in artery road due to Port… The Central Marine & Fisheries Research Institute is conducting area of fishing, loss to fishermen, compensation and an assessment on alternative means for fishermen and rehabilitation due to loss of fishing activities if any.”

In October 2019, villages of Vadhavan and Varor in Dahanu had boycotted the legislative Assembly elections in the state to protest against the port project. The port trust has said that it is “sensitive to local aspirations and will make utmost effort to contribute to development of local area and people”, and “will live up to the expectations of people concerning the environment and take all precautionary and mitigative measures as per the sustainable development ordinance envisaged under the Environmental Law and contribute to the economic benefit for the state of Maharashtra”.

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