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In the name of development: NGT clears Adani's massive cargo port on Kerala beach

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Vizhinjam beach in Kerala is just 3 km from the well-known Kovalam beach, but no less picturesque. In fact, it is so serene that one of the state's finance ministers would reportedly seclude himself in a cottage near the beach for a month each year to prepare the budget.

Now, the National Green Tribunal has greenlit a massive deep-water container port to come up there. The Rs 7,525 crore Vizhinjam International Seaport, which was planned and promoted by the Kerala government, will be developed and operated by the Adani Group.

Also Read: Four extensions later, India coastal management plan still in tatters

Throwing out arguments made by petitioners against the move that the port would damage the shoreline, affect turtle nesting on the beaches, and violate the beauty of the location, the NGT's principal bench led by Justice Swatanter Kumar said the port was "crucial for economic development of State of Kerala as well as the Country."

The NGT has formed a seven-member expert committee that will monitor whether the port is following the Environmental Clearance and Coastal Regulation Zone conditions. It has also been empowered to place further conditions. The NGT has also asked the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority to set up a cell to monitor changes to the shoreline due to the project. The cell will be funded by the port.

The Rs 7,525-crore Vizhinjam International Seaport will be developed and operated by the Adani Group

Some areas near the port came under Coastal Regulation Zone-I as under the old 1991 CRZ rules it was classified as an "area of outstanding natural beauty". But because this clause was altogether removed from the new CRZ rules 2011, the petitioners demanded the inclusion of the clause in the new notification and the classification of Vizhinjam as such a place, but the NGT did not agree, stating that such an action was in the legislative domain.

Vizhinjam will be a transshipment hub, where cargo will be transferred from one ship to another. It boasts 2,000 metres of cargo berth space and the capacity to host the largest cargo ship.

Also Read: Four extensions later, India coastal management plan still in tatters

The port was granted environment and coastal zone clearance in January 2014, and the petition was filed before the NGT two months later by the activists Wilfred J and Maryadasan V.

The hearing was delayed as the port authorities challenged the NGT's jurisdiction in the matter. When the NGT ruled in the port's favour -- as well as in its own, concluding that the tribunal did have jurisdiction -- the petitioners went to the Supreme Court. The apex court, in February 2016, upheld the NGT order, and the case resumed in the NGT, which began hearing it on a daily basis. The arguments concluded on 11 August, after which the NGT reserved the judgment.

The port project was opposed most recently by the church. Archbishop M Soosapakiam of the Latin Archdoicese of Trivandrum said more than 50,000 fishermen stand to be affected by it. The church made its opposition known weeks before the Kerala government signed the concession with Adani on 17 August. Construction work on the project had begun on 5 December 2015.

Reacting to the verdict, Kerala Ports Secretary James Varghese told IANS that the verdict does not go against the state government nor is it detrimental to the project. "The verdict has asked for an expert committee to be formed. We already have such a committee and hence only a few more members as asked by the court will be included and a new one will be formed."

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First published: 3 September 2016, 10:39 IST