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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fishermen’s voice in Kutch still unheard, public hearings for Adani projects to go ahead

Indian Express, Wed, 29th Sept. Adam Halliday

Even though fishermen from Kutch recently wrote(Read More) to local and state authorities and even to Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh requesting that back-to-back public hearings for two major industrial projects in Mundra district be cancelled, the public hearings will proceed as scheduled on October 5.

Top officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), however, said the two public hearings need not be confined to the one-and-half hours allotted but can extend for “up to 24 hours” if the situation so demands. The public hearings are for the Mundra SEZ (expected to occupy an area roughly the size of Gandhinagar city) and the Kutch Power Generation Limited (a 3300 MW coal-based power plant). Both are projects proposed by the Adani Group. GPCB officials said the hearings are more convenient to be held on the same day since “the same people would be affected and the project proponent is the same”, but that extending the time allotted to each hearing is “not a problem” and is something the board’s local-level officials have already been apprised of.

The fishermen are concerned that the plant’s requirement of 52.50 crore litres of sea water per hour might “cause extensive damage to the marine ecology” and have sent a written complaint to Ramesh. The Adani Group proposes to use the “once-through system” of cooling at its 3300-MW coal-based power plant called Kutch Power Generation Limited, which it proposes to set up at the village. The system has attracted severe criticism in some parts of the world; in May 2010, the state of California in the US adopted a policy that seeks to abolish the use of this system.

The fishermen contend that while the volume of sea water that is to be pumped in to cool the plant (and which would be released at higher temperatures) is massive and there is as yet no study of how it would affect the marine ecology. They point out that the terms of reference and the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by the company, and which has been posted on the GPCB website, does not contain a marine impact study.

The documents referred to as a marine impact study is only a technical study of the infrastructure proposed, they allege. When contacted, both the National Institute if Oceanography (NIO) in Goa and the GPCB confirmed that the points raised by the fishermen in this regard are true.

A top NIO official said the Marine EIA is still being prepared and that it has not been submitted yet. The official said the institute has not been contacted by nor has it contacted the private agency that has drawn up the Draft EIA report, distancing the NIO from any “so-called marine impact study” cited there.

On the other hand, senior GPCB officials agreed what has been submitted by the company is in fact not a marine impact study, but a “technical study on the infrastructure, especially the intake and out-fall channels proposed for the plant”. Asked whether this would mean cancellation of the public hearing, GPCB officials said “conducting a public hearing on the basis of a draft report is not a legal breach”.

However, the final decision on whether the project would eventually be allowed will be taken by the MoEF after examining all relevant documents, including the Marine EIA. “The public hearing will go on, but the MoEF and not the GPCB will finally take the decision after studying all the documents as well as the concerns raised at the public hearing,” a top official said.

Tags : Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh Posted: Wed Sep 29 2010, 07:06 hrs Ahmedabad:Mundra The Mundra port

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Local communities oppose namesake public hearing of Adani’s KPGL power project

The Adani Group promoted company Kutch Power Generation Limited(KPGL) is proposing a 3300 MW coal based power plant in Bhadreshwar village of Mundra Taluk, Kutch district, Gujarat. Fisherfolk and Salt pan workers are deeply concerned about the harmful impact of the project on their traditional livelihoods. Local communities are strongly opposed to the power project which is proposed in an ecologically fragile coastal area which is crucial for the livelihoods of fisherfolk, salt pan workers and other coastal communities.

Shockingly, the 3300 MW Adanis’ KPGL power project plans to use OPEN CYCLE/ ONCE THROUGH COOLING SYSTEM, an outdated technology which is termed by Marine Experts as equivalent to several fishing trawlers, a “Mega Fish Killer” known to cause excessive damage to Marine Ecology.

It is relevant to note that the CRZ committee recently rejected a proposal for intake channel for a smaller power plant(Read More) in the SAME AREA due to the likely impact on marine life, sand dunes and mangroves in Bhadreshwar coast. The Committee noted "Due to various environmental problems including the adverse impact on the marine life the present proposal is not acceptable". However, the KPGL power plant proposes to draw over 100 times more sea water than the power plant for which permission was rejected and discharge nearly 5000 lakh litres / hour into the sea. This is in-spite of the MoEF expert committee’s recommendation to KPGL to try and reduce discharge to zero to minimise damage to marine ecology.

Ever since the local communities knew of the project, they have been writing to the MoEF, NIO etc about their livelihood concerns and the need for rigorous and unbiased Environment Impact Assessment studies to ensure that their livelihoods are protected. But now, the local communities are concerned that the manner, in which the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has planned the public hearing for the KPGL power plant, will render the public hearing as an empty formality. As per the schedule for the KPGL public hearing given on the GPCB website, the public hearing for the Bhadreshwar KPGL power plant is being clubbed with the public hearing for the Mundra SEZ project and sufficient time has not been provided for any serious discussions.

Pubic Hearing of M/s Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Limited, Taluka.Mundra, Dist.Kutch on 05-10-2010 at 11.00 hrs. at In Ground Opp.Ganesh Temple, Village.Luni, Tal.Mundra,Dist.Kutch.

Pubic Hearing of M/s Kutchh Power Generation Limited, Village.Bhadreswar,Taluka.Mundra,Dist.Kutch on 05-10-2010 at 12.30 hrs. at In Ground Opp.Ganesh Temple, Village.Luni, Tal.Mundra,Dist.Kutch.

It may be noted that the public hearing for the 300 MW OPG power plant in Bhadreshwar(Read More) held in May 2009 took nearly 5 hours to finish. The public hearings for other major projects in the area, such as the Waterfront Development Project and the Tata power project also went on for more than 5 hours. These facts have been ignored by the GPCB while planning for the public hearing of the KPGL project.

The KPGL power project significantly affects the local communities of Bhadreshwar and surrounding villages whereas the Mundra SEZ significantly affects the local communities in entire 60 km Mundra coast. Combining the public hearings of two different major projects in the same venue and date will result in confusion and chaos for the communities affected by the respective projects.

Para 4(ii) of the MoEF circular dated 19th April, 2010, related to procedure for conduct of public hearing by SPCBs under the EIA Notification, 2006, states that
“The public hearings pertaining to different projects shall not be held at the same venue at the same date and time. A sufficient gap of time shall be provided between different public hearings, if these are scheduled to be held on the same date and the same venue”. The current schedule of the public hearing for KPGL power plant is in gross violation of this circular.

Also, it will be very inconvenient for the Bhadreshwar villagers, especially fisher-folk and salt pan workers, who are likely to be worst affected by the KPGL power project, to attend the public hearing in the venue, Luni village, which is nearly 15 km away from Bhadreshwar village, where the project is proposed.

The local community representatives in their letter to the GPCB, dated 16th September, 2010 have pointed out these issues and demanded that the public hearing for the KPGL project must be held on a separate date and the venue for the public hearing must be in Bhadreshwar Village itself.

They have also written to the Hon. Minister Shri.Jairam Ramesh seeking his intervention to cancel the public hearing as several key information regarding project impacts, such as Marine Impact Study have not been provided to the public. To view the letter sent to Shri.Jairam Ramesh, click here and to endorse the letter, please visit Support for the Bhadreshwar fishworkers' Demand

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

RUBBER STAMP? RTI and EIA collide at NIO

The National Institute of Oceanography has repeatedly attested that the Adani group's projects in Kutch would not negatively impact the region's ecology, but admits this only reluctantly. Kanchi Kohli reports.

14 September 2010 - Every desert has oases, says the first chapter of a draft report describing the life and times of Kachchh district of Gujarat. These four words attempt to tell a story of how a harsh and rough terrain is also a rare ecological zone, vibrantly diverse in species, habitat and cultural diversity. And the oasis here is the coastline encompassing fragile mangroves, mudflats, estuaries and inter-tidal zones that are home to the rarest of flora and fauna. A significant area of the district is an extremely fragile inter-tidal ecosystem. It is only recently that I realised that the name of the district literally means "something which intermittently becomes wet and dry".

But this desert also presents a mirage - of a consumptive industrial dream. It is a conviction that has driven the coastal and marine landscape to be built over and tapped for thermal power generation, ports, storage and shipment facilities. Understandably, this massive land-use change is impacting not just the landscape, but also the people who have lived here for generations. Traditional and commercial fishing, salt panning, grazing and other artisanal livelihoods are under threat.

National Institute of Oceanography

Many have constructed this mirage, some much more than others. One recent target of locals' anger is the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography, which is one of the is one of the 38 constituent laboratories of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research of the Government of India. Since 1998, the NIO has carried out numerous marine Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) for the Adani group, one of the biggest industrial players in the district. Since 1994 the preparation of an EIA has been a mandatory requirement to obtain environmental clearance for large projects. Project proponents hire the services of a consultant to carry out this assessment. In Adani's case, the NIO was the EIA consultant for 21 projects.

It took some digging to unearth this information. For the applicants, it was not easy to get a response from the NIO. Ironically, the person who responded to the RTI application filed by Usmangani Sherasiya dated 24 January, 2010 was Dr.Gajbhiye himself. In a very casual email response, he gave the reason for the rejection of the RTI application as the information had been "explained you all peoples personally" [sic]. What he was referring to was an instance when representatives of the fishing community had approached the NIO team seeking clarification on the purpose of their visit to the area - they had responded saying that the NIO was checking the pollution levels in the sea on behalf of the Government.

When this was objected to, another Public Information Officer, Dr. Tapaswi, cited a different reason for rejecting the application - stating that the documents are not in order. The explanation given was that the postal order by which the application was sent was drawn in the wrong name. It was only after a second appeal was filed that the NIO revealed how many EIAs it has carried out for the Adani group.

Locals critical of NIO's actions

In a recent letter to the NIO, local fisherfolk organised together as the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS) and Kutch Zilla Machimar Association have expressed their anguish. Their letter, dated 22 August says, "traditional fisherfolk working along the Kutch coast of Gujarat are facing displacement and loss of livelihood due to rapid industrialisation in the Kutch coast for the last 5 years. The unique ecology of Gulf of Kutch is undergoing rapid and irreversible damage due to the destructive activities of the industries like the Adani group. We are pained to see that certain persons representing reputed institutions like NIO are colluding with these industrial giants and assisting these industries in their environmentally destructive activities by understating the project impacts in the EIA reports and misleading the public."

In their letter to the NIO, the organisations quote the information they have received through a tedious process under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, showing that since 2003, 17 of these EIAs were led by one NIO scientist in particular, S N Gajbhiye. But that is not their real grouse - it was the quality of the reports.

One instance, which is cited in the letter, is related to the EIA prepared for the Adani Waterfront Development Project. The marine EIA for this project project severely understates the extent of fisheries in the area, and underplays the impact on the livelihood of fisherfolk and environment of the region. The report omits the most obvious facts, stating that there is no commercial fishery on the Mundra coast in the Kutch region (where the project is presently under construction). It also makes no mention of the fragility of the coastal stretch, and the traditional methods of fishing carried out in the region.

The scientists were not even aware of the existence of Kutch's second largest fishing settlement on a sand bar in Bhadreshwar coast, until some of the local fishermen invited the scientists to the Randh Bander.(Read more about this incident )

The Mundra coasts boasts of an extremely interesting traditional fishing practice called pagadia (fishing on foot), which is under severe threat due to the rapid industrialisation in the area. Both men and women are involved in such fishing, with women almost entirely handling the sale of the fish catch. "NIO's marine EIA for the Waterfront Development Project", says Bharat Patel, an activist working with MASS, "has no mention of this unique fishing practice."

Another NIO team - again lead by Gajbhiye - is presently preparing a marine EIA study for Adani's KPGL power plant in Bhadhreswar coast in Kutch. The letter addressed to the NIO Director says, "we have already expressed our opposition to the high-handed and meaningless manner in which the marine EIA study is being carried out in collusion with Adani officials. In fact, the scientists led by Gajbhiye were not even aware of the existence of Kutch's second largest fishing settlement on a sand bar in Bhadreshwar coast, until some of the local fishermen invited the scientists to the Randh Bander and explained the real situation." The fisherfolk groups have separately written to Gajbhiye in this regard back in March 2010, and received no response.

What is also interesting is NIO's response to one of the questions in the RTI application. The application asks if NIO has ever verified if Adani has complied with any recommendations given by them. The answer was a simple "NO." Over the years, this organisation of international repute has carried out EIAs for a company without ever understanding where their recommendations are headed! On the ground, people engaged in fishing, salt panning, grazing and other livelihoods around the project sites have seen their land shrink and access curbed. No effort has been made to include their experiences into the preparation of the EIA. The Mundra and Bhadreshwar coastlines are struggling to keep their form, as a result - a dramatic change, most of which is irreversible.

Kanchi Kohli
14 Sep 2010

Kanchi Kohli is based in New Delhi and a member of the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

OPG power plant hits a hurdle as fishermen raise environmental fears

Adam Halliday, Indian Express, Sept 11th, 2010

The construction of a 300-MW coal-fired power plant at the coastal village of Bhadreshwar in Kutch district hangs in balance as the project of OPG Ltd — a British company with subsidiaries in India — has hit a couple of roadblocks.

While the Union Ministry of Environment has rejected its proposal of seawater inlets and outlets on environmental grounds, a local fishermen association has approached the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) challenging the environment clearance the company had obtained in June.

The clearance was given by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board on June 6. But the fishermen have challenged it on the grounds that the project would affect the marine life. The matter will be taken up on September 24.

In July-end, the ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee on Coastal Regulation Zone rejected OPG Ltd’s proposals to build multiple pipelines to draw in seawater to the plant, which would be used as a coolant and later released back into the sea.

Rejecting the proposal, the committee cited several reasons. It said the proposal was for an open channel in the CRZ area, and would have adverse impact on the marine life since the released water would raise the temperature of the surrounding water. The panel further held that the construction would also damage mangroves in the area.

The committee’s contentions about marine life being affected by the release of hot water into the sea.

In January, the deputy commissioner (Fisheries) had written to the Kutch district collector, asking him to cancel a public hearing for the OPG power plant. “I would like to respectfully inform you that the local fisherfolk and fishing is likely to be affected by the OPG power plant... Bhadreshwar is an important location for fisheries. Also, there is a proposal to develop a fish landing centre there,” read the letter.

A company spokesperson, meanwhile, said that fresh proposals have been drawn up and submitted to the authorities, but a final call on this has not been taken yet.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bhadreshwar Fisherfolk win another small victory; vow to fight to the finish

The Bhadreshwar fisherfolk welcome the decision by the central CRZ committee to reject the CRZ clearance for the intake channel for the proposed 300 MW OPG power plant in Bhadreshwar. In the 89th Meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee for Building Construction, Coastal Regulation Zone, Infrastructure Development and Miscellaneous projects held on 21st - 23rd July, 2010 at New Delhi, the committee noted “Due to various environmental problems including the adverse impact on the marine life the present proposal is not acceptable.”

The committee has also expressed its concern that the intake channel will affect mangroves and sand dunes in the area. This comes as a relief for nearly 6000 fisherfolk who carry out fishing by traditional methods on the sand bar – Randh Bander on the Bhadreshwar coast.

The committee has suggested that the company must consider a pipeline instead of a open channel.

The battle for the local communities is far from over. Since May 2009, the local communities have been opposing the OPG power plant in Bhadreshwar as it will badly affect their livelihoods.

Community leaders feel that even though the State Government agencies came forward to assess public opinion, no one has thought it fit to provide feedback to the local communities on how the company has responded to their issues. Without any further intimation to the local communities, the environmental clearance was provided in a hush hush manner, which raises suspicions whether the State Government authorities have colluded with the company.

The fisherfolk, aggrieved by the arbitrary decision of the state expert committee to grant environment clearance for the power plant, have decided to approach the NEAA (National Environment Appellate Authority) to challenge the clearance. The hearing is scheduled on 24th September, 2010.