THE High Court of Bombay at Goa Tuesday issued notices to Mumbai Port Trust, importers South West Port Limited, Adani Mormugao Port Terminal Private Limited, and Vedanta asking them to reply to a petition filed by NGO Goa Foundation and five others seeking an order for total and permanent closure of operations of coal and coke handling at the port.
This is the second time coal pollution is being brought before the High Court after the court heard a similar issue of pollution from Mormugao Port for a decade ending 2012, with this time the citizens of Vasco filing it in public interest, listing all the violations by all the respondents, including the Ministry of Environment.
The Goa State Pollution Control Board, the Town and Country Planning Department, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Mormugao Municipal Council are the other respondents and the court has kept the next date of hearing on August 20. The public interest petition reads it is filed on grounds that the import and handling of this dirty cargo is leading to permanent impairment of health and the health of fellow citizens and continuously affects the right to clean and planned environment guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Among the petitioners, are an 18 year old Sherwyn Corriea, a law student from Vasco, and a victim of coal dust pollution, representing the coming generation NGO Goa Foundation, citizens of Vasco and the fishing community represented by Old Cross Fishing Canoe Owners Co-op Society Ltd. The petition also includes the seven part series reported by The Indian Express in October 2017, explained to the court as true alarming nature and scale of the activity planned in connection with illegal conversion of the State of Goa into a Coal Hub, the impacts on the community and on the environment.
Within the first few minutes of the petition coming up before Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Prithviraj Chavan, the lawyers for MPT sought it to be dismissed on grounds that the same matter was eligible for hearing in front of NGT, where it had been heard in various other petitions. High Court Justice Jamdar, did not heed and asked all respondents to reply as he asked, Do you expect me to dismiss the matter even without hearing their grievances, or what they have complained? File your reply first. He observed that the context for the parties to approach NGT was on different issues, and this will be treated as a seperate appeal.
SWPL does not have an EC, but has been granted consent to import and handle coal despite revocation of its earlier consent for importing coal and despite prosecutions launched by the GSPCB for major violations. MPT is also being prosecuted by the Board for violations. M/s Adani is operating under an EC issued to MPT, but permitting SWPL and Vedanta to discharge coal at its berth despite both not having ECs. M/s Adani is also carrying out its operations in gross violation of the conditions mandated within the EC. Vedanta has no EC to import coal, reads the petition. This wholly ad-hoc and chaotic situation which is ruinous for effective and meaningful air pollution control has occurred because of the manner in which clearances and consents have been issued. In the opinion of petitioners, only MPT ought to be granted consent and an EC for all operations at the Port, so responsibility can be fixed. No activity should be permitted to commence unless it is within the framework of the permit granted. The present chaotic consent and clearance regime involving multiple actors and agencies is a convenient recipe for all agencies to evade individual responsibility.” The petitioners have also pointed to the new growth targets of the port trust conflicting with Goa’s statutory Regional Plan which govern its land use and which was drawn up to protect its environment.
On the Goa State Pollution Control board’s various orders, the petitioners have claimed that the regulatory body has been pressurized to issue the consent as the SWPL is a powerful company after it allowed the company to continue coal operations early this month, even as they explained that the operations need to continue to study if they really pollute.
Petitioners and the citizens of Vasco are entitled to an environment that is free of anxiety and pollutants. Today they face the prospect of living a life permanently affected by coal. This is an unwanted gift which the present petitioners do not wish to handover to the next generation. The existing and proposed enhancement of coal handling and the creation of a Coal Hub violate the provisions of the statutory Regional Plan of Goa 2021, the petition reads. The petition has also challenged the lack of an efficient pollution monitoring mechanism.
Among the relief asked, order in nature of a writ to cancel all permissions, minutes, consents, clearances, if granted for coal/coke handling at MPT including the letters of the MOEF&CC giving consent to operate in 2018.