The GOA Assembly Friday unanimously passed a resolution against coal pollution and excessive coal imports at Mormugao Port Trust with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar promising the House “to monitor the pollution levels every two weeks”.
Setting February as the deadline to bring coal pollution down, he said: “The issue will not exist before the next Budget is tabled.”
With MLAs from around the port limits highlighting complaints of illness and anxiety over effects of coal dust on health, Parrikar assured his government will “conduct an independent health study” and that no proposals for expansion of existing berths or new berths will be allowed.
A private-member resolution was moved by Ravi Naik, a Congress MLA, where concern was raised over coal pollution due “to excessive coal handling at MPT” with the issue recommended to be taken “to appropriate authority for redressal”.
The House saw 13 MLAs — both from Opposition and the ruling party — discuss the issue for over three hours. “Goa is known for its natural beauty. In Goa, pollution is not acceptable. There are no two views on it,” said Parrikar, starting his explanation after the MLAs had expressed their views.
In October, The Indian Express had investigated how in 2016-17, 12.75 million tonnes of coal were unloaded at MPT and carried across the state to power stations and refineries in Karnataka and beyond. Three key routes — road, rail and river — were used that threaten entire habitations, villages and towns, the coal dust blackening lungs and threatening fragile forests, paddy fields, countless streams and rivers, a tiger corridor and at least two sanctuaries.
Blaming Congress governments for licences to coal berths in Goa, Parrikar named the Narasimha Rao government as being responsible for South West Port Private Limited’s coal berth. He said the first feasibility study was moved in 1993 with subsequent permissions passed under the Rao government and the letter of acceptance accepted when I K Gujral was PM. “Only the final signature was of (Atal Behari) Vajpayee,” he said.
For the Adanis, Parrikar said, the clearance came from then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan. “Modi was not the Prime Minister then… There is an impression given that Adani is close to BJP. I have tabled the dates of permissions. Whose friend is he now? Ours?” he said. “The licences to establish coal berths were given by Congress. BJP had nothing to do with it. The operations finally started in 2014, 10 days after PM Modi took over.”
With the Mormugao Port Trust under the Shipping Ministry, Parrikar said the only institution that allows him to take action is the Goa State Pollution Control Board. “Notices have been sent. We have now moved criminal proceedings against the port and the berth for violating consent norms. Be assured. No expansion will take place. I can guarantee you that,” he told the House. Earlier this year, the Goa State Pollution Control Board had written to South West Port Ltd that it was reducing its permitted capacity by 25 per cent, to 4.125 million tonnes annually.
Parrikar may have acknowledged the pollution problem but he claimed that the issue was distorted by Goans who live in European countries and by news clips and “false propaganda” circulated in social media.
Congress MLA Luizinho Faleiro pointed to the need for a law which calls for container wagons instead of open-roof wagons. Curtorim MLA Aleixo Lourenco, the most vocal Congress MLA pointed to the new threat of ammonia imports at the port. “You are an IIT Chief Minister. Tell me, is it spontaneous combustible substance or not?” he asked.
BJP MLA Carlos Almeida from Vasco, the town nearest to the port, asked for studies on health. “We don’t want any more excess coal. We are suffering,” he said.
Congress MLA Francisco Silveira from St Andre constituency which falls in the coal corridor asked the government to take quick remedies in the face of “people’s anger and curses. BJP MLA Nilesh Cabral pointed to NGOs misguiding gram panchayats and influencing them to pass resolutions though he admitted that there was a pollution problem.
Milind Naik, BJP MLA from Mormugao, said the issue of coal pollution should be seen “separately” as an agitation against the port is not viable for Goa’s economy. BJP’s strongest ally Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party alleged that a false campaign was on and citizens were not listening to the government. Asking Parrikar to force corporates to use anti-pollution technology, he said that rivers should not be abused as coal corridors.
Revenue minister Rohan Khaunte asked citizens to give government time to solve the issue. Most MLAs asked the CM to ensure that fresh permissions to operate Berth 8 and Berth 9 are given only after new operator Vedanta complies with anti-pollution measures.