A rally of over 5,000 farmers protesting against construction of a cement plant on wetland in Bhavnagar district reached here today.

The rally, being led by BJP’s Mahuva MLA Kanubhai, started on March 3 from Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district, has travelled a distance of 350 km on foot to register protest against the upcoming cement plant in the district.

Nirma was allotted 268 hectares of land for setting up a cement plant besides more than 3,000 hectares for mining leases in the surrounding areas across the coastline in Bhavnagar district.

The farmers from 12 villages in Bhavnagar district under Shree Mahuva Bandhara Khetiwadi Pariyavaran Ran Bachav Samiti (SMBKPRBS)had last year filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court opposing the project alleging that out of 268 hectares of land allotted to the company, 222 hectares was part of a natural wetland.

The farmers had said that if allowed, the upcoming plant would destroy their agriculture and animal husbandry, besides causing irreparable damage to the environment.

The High Court, however, allowed Nirma to go ahead with construction activities at the site rejecting the PIL.

The issue is now pending in the Supreme Court after the farmers challenged the HC order.

Besides Bharitya Kisan Sangh, a sister organisation of the ruling BJP government, which has extended its support to the cause, the Congress too has joined the protests against execution of the Nirma plant.

Nirma on its part had already surrendered 100 hectares of land out of 268 hectares to the government.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment on March 12 ordered “permanent suspension of work” with regard to 1.91 million tonne per annum capacity cement plant, along with its captive power and coke oven plant near Padhiarka village in Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district.

The decision was taken on the basis of a report by Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), which found violation of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 by the projects being set up in a wetland in the district.

The ministry had also directed the company to respond as to “why the environmental clearance accorded to the project should not be revoked and stoppage of the work not be made permanent.”

Nirma Ltd on March 12 wrote a letter to the Environment Ministry stating the direction under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act 1986, to stop implementation including construction work of the project, was “completely without jurisdiction or authority of law including in violation of the principle of natural justice”. “And at the same time it cannot bind us at this stage,” the letter signed by Nirma Vice President V N Desai said.

Terming the direction by Ministry as ‘unjust’, the company said it was in the process of filing a detailed reply and preparing for a personal hearing.