Deferring environmental clearance (EC) for a thermal power plant of M/s Chettinad Power Corporation Limited at Tarangambadi Taluk in Nagapattinam district, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has asked the project proponent to submit a detailed report on the impact on Olive Ridley turtles, including a data collected during the nesting season to be vetted by a competent authority.
It has also asked for the submission of a long-term plan for sustainable preservation of the turtles and its implementation by a competent institute and a para-wise response to the order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) regarding the turtles, fly-ash and archaeological importance of the site.
The company was accorded EC for the 2x600 MW sub-critical power plant in January 2011, but it was challenged by Coastal Action Network and others in the NGT. The Tribunal suspended the clearance last May and gave directions to be followed by the project proponent MoEF / EAC (Thermal).
The EAC said it had deferred the environmental clearance as the project proponent had failed to effectively deal with some of the observations of the NGT order, even in its revised EIA report. The documents did not indicate any data (primary or secondary) on the turtles discussing it at length. A report by the Tamil Nadu State Forest Department had indicated that turtle nesting activity takes place all along the entire stretch from Point Calimere to Nagapattinam and Tharangambadi to Pazhayar.
An independent study by the Faculty of Marine Sciences, Annamalai University, had also recorded the existence of a migratory route and sporadic spawning ground for Olive Ridley turtle in this area based on a survey conducted on a daily basis during the nesting season between December 2009 and February 2010.
Initially, the EAC did not verify or consider the issue while granting clearance, but based on the NGT order, it found the project proponent to have failed in submission of required data or long-term plan that has led to deferring the project for now.
The NGT’s order deferring the project could serve as a wake-up call to more than 10 thermal power projects proposed along this stretch of shoreline with distance from one to other varying from a few km to 20 km or so. The NGT has insisted that it is essential to have cumulative effect study of the projects to avoid any danger to human life and marine life equally. The MoEF / EAC was told by the green tribunal to commission the cumulative impact assessment of all the proposed thermal power projects in the area within one year of the judgment and impose additional conditions as a precautionary measure in the establishments of the project.
The MoEF was also asked to consider granting all clearances together, against a particular project, that are required under the Environment Protection Act instead of adopting a piecemeal approach, which might result in fragmented and incomplete or lopsided evaluation of the project, both environmentally ecologically. The NGT’s order was in the wake of the project proponent obtaining EC first and CRZ clearance later.