Activists decry Konkan mega projects

The multi-purpose port, India’s biggest refinery and the Jaitapur nuclear plant threaten the coast's ecology.

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:59 am IST

Published - January 28, 2016 08:35 am IST

In its rush to present a business-friendly face, the State government is now betting on the ecologically-rich Konkan coastline, where three proposed projects — a port which will also include a thermal power plant among other industries, the contentious 9,900-MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant and one of the biggest oil refineries in the world — are almost adjacent to each other, within a 50-km radius.

With the government firm on going ahead with the projects, environmentalists have pressed the alarm button, warning the government that the cluster of industries will do more harm than good. However, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told The Hindu on Wednesday there was no reason for concern.

“Whatever location we finalise will be in consultation with experts,” he said, adding that safety protocols will be followed. “It is too early to jump to conclusions,” he said.

Acquiring plateaus

Environmentalists, though, fear the worst and point to Fadnavis’s recent announcements.

On Monday, the CM had held a meeting with Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, announcing India’s biggest ‘green’ refinery, a joint venture with Bharat Petroleum, Indian Oil and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited on the Vijaydurg plateau in north Sindhudurg district by acquiring over 15,000 hectares of land.

To the north of this proposed project lies the Madban plateau, which is being acquired to set up the 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP). Recently, French firm EDF acquired Areva (another French company), the nuclear firm that was originally slated to provide technology for this project.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has reportedly signed an MoU with EDF to build nuclear reactors here. While work on the project has been stopped for the last few years due to certain pending techno-commercial agreements, there are no roadblocks to this project.

Debate lost for translation In addition to these projects, Ambolgad beach in Ratnagiri has been earmarked for the construction of a multi-purpose port. According to the project’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, it proposes to have both forward and backward integration by developing, directly or through joint ventures and acquisitions, jetty-based industries such as a bauxite benefication plant, a steel plant and gas or coal-based thermal power plant, sugar refineries, a container hub and tank farms.

Last week, a scheduled environmental public hearing for the project was postponed as the EIA report was available only in English; villages that will be potentially affected have demanded a draft in Marathi.

Drawing local ire “Analysing individual projects for their adverse impact on the environment won’t do any good. An integrated approach is needed for projects coming up in ecologically-sensitive area like Konkan,” said well-known environmental scientist Dr Madhav Gadgil, who had headed the Centre-appointed committee that studied the impact of projects, including dams, on the Western Ghats.

Claiming that the government hides a number of reports written on the impact of industrial pollution on environment, Dr Gadgil said it is important to make all information public before deciding on projects.

Locals, too, have not taken the announcements lightly. Satyajit Chavan, president of the Jan Hakka Samiti, an umbrella body of various organizations fighting against JNPP, said, “Three anti-environment projects now stand next to each other. Does the government even know what it is doing when making [such] announcements? How can you call this development when these industries will destroy the sea and surroundings?”

Nate resident Mansur Solkar said the project report for the multi-purpose port mentions there is no human habitation nearby, which is incorrect. “Human habitation can be found within one kilometre at Ambolgad. Since it is a coastal project, an adverse impact on marine life is inevitable. This will affect fishing activity in the Vette and Ambolgad areas,” he said.

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