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In the Indian state of Karnataka, a large port project has begun to flounder under the weight of a faulty impact assessment, legal violations, data disparities and procedural lapses.
The biggest challenge to any major project is its environmental credentials. Recently, the Prime Minister’s Project Monitoring Group (PMG) revealed that 40 percent of the 419 stalled large investment projects were struck due to lack of environmental clearances. Karnataka’s ambitious Tadri Port project could be number 420. It is the state’s largest such project but has come under the scanner for allegedly violating environmental norms and is, to all intents and purposes, illegal. That represents a huge setback to the state.
A report by India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), has said that the proposed port will have a capacity of 62.36 million tons annually and would become the gateway for transportation of iron ore, coal, steel products and general cargo. Despite sustained protests from locals whose livelihood was been threatened, the Karnataka State Industrial and Infra-structural Development Corporation (KSIIDC) went ahead and is now just a step away from getting clearance under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. Just how it reached this stage while violating environmental norms and getting illegal clearances is a cautionary tale.
In the 1970s, the Karnataka Industrial Development Board had acquired 1,416 acres of estuarine rice fields from farmers of three villages near Aghanashini on the Karnataka coast. Several projects were announced and aborted till November 2011, when the Terms of Reference (TOR) for Tadri Port was announced. It immediately triggered controversy since the proposed region has high ecological, economical and social significance.
The Aghanashini estuary is a source of livelihood for thousands of households. The Tadri fishing harbor, the largest in the district, is located nearby and the estuary also supports a large amount of clams, oysters, green mussels and crabs. In the area surrounding the estuary, nearly 90,000 people live in 23 villages. Of these, 20,000 are fisherfolk and 3,000 are directly dependant on bivalve (a class of mollusk) collection. Another 8,000-9,000, mostly women, are seasonally dependant on the collection of bivalves. Of the remainder, around 6,000 depend on salt production, shell and sand mining, tourism and aquaculture. Almost 70 percent of the population here depends on the estuary. In public hearings, people voiced their angst over this project. One of them, Nagu Gowda said: “We collect clams from Aghanashini estuary and sell it to local vendors. This proposed project is exactly at the site of clam fishing grounds. It is like we don’t exist for the government.”
The port will impact the fishery of that region and it was even suggested that the existing fishing port in Tadri and oyster beds near Aghanashini village be relocated. Environmentalists say that during the operation phase, due to spilling and traffic, the water will get polluted, affecting aquatic life directly. Dredging up to 25 meters for the navigation channels would also impact the river bed, mudflats, agricultural fields, Gajani lands, salt production and drinking water wells. However, the initial EIA study has not suggested any measures to reduce this impact. Other issues raised at public hearings included:
That is not all. On March 22, 2010, the ministry of environment passed a memorandum to avoid TORs with no time-frame and an outer limit of three years was prescribed. The Tadri Port project got its initial TOR on November 28, 2011 and has since sought two extensions, violating this three-year outer limit.
In addition, the new EIA has no mention of supporting infrastructure like roads, railway, container storage, power lines, administrative buildings or land required for additional development. Then there is the fact that the site where the Tadri project is proposed falls under an area where shoreline changes have been observed. New projects in these specified areas are supposed to prepare a comprehensive EIA containing three seasons’ data and this should not be older than three years. The Tadri public hearing was conducted on the basis of one season’s data which was four years old.
Clearly, the foundation of the Tadri Port has so far been built on shaky ground with faulty impact assessment and several legal violations. The EIA reports have data disparities, no clarity on how the impact will be mitigated and legal irregularities. Moreover, the people living in the Tadri Port area have submitted a proposal to secure it as a Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area under the CRZ Notification. The question of clearance is now with the ministry of environment but it would be a travesty if environmental degradation and threat to livelihood is sunk under the demands of development.
Mahabelshwar Hegde and Krithika Dinesh are with the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environment Justice Program.
This article first appeared in India Legal.