The Law Ministry’s decision in 2016, leaning in favour of the Shipping Ministry’s administrative knowledge about “ports” and “harbours”, helped the Multimodal Terminal on Ganga evade stricter environmental scrutiny from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the government’s response to a query filed by a Pune-based NGO under the Right To Information (RTI) Act has revealed.
“From the perusal of comments of Ministry of Shipping, which is the administrative Ministry in respect of administration of Indian Ports Act, 1908, the Major Ports Trust Act, 1963, and the Inland Waterway Act, 1935, it is quite clear that proposed Multimodal Terminal at Ramnagar, Varanasi does not fall within the definition of Port or Harbour,” the Law Ministry noted on May 5, 2016, the RTI response shows.
Therefore, “it (project) may not be treated as included in the EIA notification, 2006 for which prior environment clearance is required”, it noted.
The documents, which were accessed by NGO Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, shows a clear difference of opinion between MoEF and Ministry of Shipping (MoS) over whether the project required prior environmental clearance under the EIA notification, 2006.
The matter was then referred to the Law Ministry after a February 25, 2016, meeting attended by the MoEF and MoS secretaries, and the chairman and vice-chairman of the project proponent Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), the documents show.
On March 3, 2016, the Law Ministry asked the MoEF to “enlighten” them over whether the proposed Multimodal Terminal in Varanasi falls under the category of “port or harbour” and “if so under which provision of law.” It also asked the MoEF to specify the number of environmental clearances granted by it “earlier regarding such terminal existing at the bank of Ganga”, the documents show.
Four days later, the MoEF reiterated its earlier stand that the “Terminal is a part of a Port and is covered under item 7(e) of EIA Notification, 2006 as amended”. It also stated as per the draft EIA submitted by IWAI, the proposed terminal will handle cargo of 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes per day and “is likely to grow” over the next two decades.
According to RTI records, the MoEF deemed it a Category A project and prescribed “environmental safeguards based on the recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committees constituted for appraisal of projects following the process of environmental clearance as given under EIA notification, 2006”.
However, the Law Ministry noted that the MoEF had not responded to its query and not specified the law governing the subject. It noted: “Be that as it may, the subject ‘Port’ is subject matter of Indian Port Act, 1908 which is the administrative concern of Ministry of Shipping as per the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, and therefore we request the administrative ministry to obtain comments of Ministry of Shipping in this regard and thereafter, if need be, matter may be referred to this Department for further examination.”
Nearly a month later, the MoS responded stating that the location of the proposed terminal in Varanasi “is not in the port approaches of any declared as such under Indian Ports Act, 1908, and the Major Ports Act, 1963”. The Law Ministry’s May 2016 recommendations were cited in March 2017, in a correspondence from the MoS to MoEF, seeking to expedite clearances. The PM inaugurated the multimodal inland water transport terminal in Varanasi on November 12.