In a victory for the farmers of Gujarat's Bhavnagar district, the Environment Ministry has decided that the site of Nirma Industries' proposed cement plant there is a wetland and an environmentally sensitive area. The plant will have to be relocated, the Ministry has told the Supreme Court.

The Ministry accepted the report of an expert body of five scientists which visited the site and concluded that the land allotted to Nirma by the Gujarat government was a “wetland,” despite the revenue classification of the area as “wasteland.” It is a coastal saline natural ecosystem, which after the construction of a dyke or bandhara, has been converted into a freshwater ecosystem.

The bandhara now prevents saltwater escaping to the surrounding fields, stores water used for irrigation during the dry season, and also helps recharge groundwater in the area. As such, it is considered a valuable common property resource by the local people, said the expert body.

The polluting cement plant would harm this ecosystem, hurting both agriculture and the thriving biodiversity of the area, especially the thousands of birds, some globally endangered, which visit the wetlands.

Option for Nirma

The expert body has been studying the issue after the Supreme Court asked it to find out, in March, whether the land in question was a wetland, and whether it would be environmentally affected by the plant.

The court has been hearing a petition filed by Nirma, challenging the Environment Ministry's stop-work order in light of the environmental concerns.

After the Ministry's submission to the Court on Tuesday, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia adjourned the matter to Friday, giving the option to Nirma to challenge the Ministry before it or the Green Tribunal, according to PTI.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Nirma, contended that the company was working for the past three years on the project based on previous clearances. He said some local politicians were creating problems.

According to PTI, Mr. Dave further said the group has already invested Rs. 150 crore on the project and is committed to pumping in another Rs. 450 crore.