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Essar damaging India's first marine national park, Gujarat fishermen tell NGT

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The National Green Tribunal has admitted a case against Essar Group's upcoming port project in Salaya, Jamnagar district, Gujarat, on the grounds that it is affecting the ecology of Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park as well as mangroves and coral reefs in the vicinity, besides endangering the livelihoods of over one lakh fishermen.

The Gulf of Kutch is the country's first Marine National Park, notified in 1982, and known to support coral reefs and several endangered marine species, such as the dugong.

The case, filed by the Salaya Fishermen's Association and 10 individual fishermen working near the proposed port at Salaya village was admitted by the NGT's Western Zone bench in Pune on 21 September.

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The bench has issued notices to the Essar Group firm Essar Bulk Terminal (Salaya) Ltd, the Gujarat government, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Gujarat Maritime Board and the Gujarat Ecology Commission, to file replies by 20 October.

Clearance an 'eyewash'

Essar - which also runs a thermal power plant in Salaya - is building multiple facilities at the port, including two jetties and pipelines.

The fishermen claim that the port was granted environment and coastal zone clearance in 2009 based on wrong information about its proximity to the marine national park.

While Essar's application claimed that the port was at a distance from the marine national park, the fishermen contend that according to the correct maps, the port in fact falls within the park.

They also allege that the Gujarat government's environment department, which in February 2009 had agreed that the port project would affect the marine park, changed its mind in March. The clearance was given in August.

Essar claimed the port was at a distance from the marine national park, but that is disputed

The petition says that the environment impact assessment, on which the clearance was given, does not mention mangroves or coral reefs.

The fishermen also allege that the public hearing, which happened in February 2008, was an "eyewash" since it happened in a school 32 km away and no notice was circulated in their village.

Pending High Court case

The environment clearance was first challenged before the Gujarat High Court. In September 2011, a bench of the HC consisting of the then Chief Justice SJ Mukhopadhya had barred Essar from cutting mangroves or destroying flora and fauna and indulging in any activity around the park.

In 2015, the HC had transferred the case to the NGT's Western Zone bench in Pune. Essar had moved the Supreme Court against this transfer, which the apex court subsequently stayed.

In their current petition before the NGT, the fishermen claim that Essar has used the stay as the ground for restarting construction activities, even though the SC had not stayed the Gujarat High Court's earlier stay order on construction at the port.

"[The] company in the meantime has done considerable construction of jetties and leveling, dredging etc. is in progress. Therefore the Applicants, poor fishermen decided to approach this Hon'ble Green Tribunal," the petition reads.

As a result, they have filed a new application, on the recent ecological damage allegedly caused by Essar.

'One lakh fishermen affected'

The petition claims that the jetties, once constructed, would occupy most of the sea face and affect the livelihoods of over one lakh persons dependent on fishing activities.

"After grant of environmental and CRZ Clearance, the project is not properly managed nor any precautionary measures are taken by the project proponent. Many illegalities and irregularities [are] committed by the project proponent," the petition claims.

The petition wants for the environmental and coastal clearance process, including public hearing, to be repeated. It also prays for the tribunal to pass appropriate orders to make the offenders pay for restoring the marine ecology.

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First published: 24 September 2016, 8:49 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.