NGT withholds green nod granted for fishing harbours near Kaliveli bird sanctuary 

Tribunal’s Southern Bench says EIA does not include detailed studies on turtle nesting grounds and other eco-sensitive aspects, and orders filing of a fresh environmental clearance application 

August 25, 2023 12:09 am | Updated 12:09 am IST - CHENNAI

The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has withheld the environmental clearance granted for fishing harbours at Alamparaikuppam and Azhagankuppam, located in the intertidal area of Kaliveli estuary, noting with “surprise” that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) does not include detailed studies on turtle nesting grounds, mangroves and other eco-sensitive aspects.

The State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) on November 12, 2021, issued environmental clearance for the project, which includes handling an annual fish catch of 12,000 metric tonnes in two harbours each, along with two training walls of 600-m length on the southern side and 400 m on the northern side of Kaliveli waters.

A month after clearance was given for the project, the Tamil Nadu government, in December 2021, declared 5,151.60 hectares of wetland in Villupuram district as Kaliveli Wetland Birds Sanctuary, which is known to receive migrating birds such as black-tailed godwits, Eurasian curlew, white stork, ruff and dunlin.

M. Yuvan, a naturalist, had filed an appeal against the environmental clearance given for the fishing harbours, stating that the project sites were turtle nesting grounds and had mangroves, and were to be classified as CRZ-IA under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011.

In response, the Department of Fisheries claimed that as per the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), the site proposed for the fishing harbour project was within “permissible activities” under CRZ norms and were not ecologically and environmentally sensitive as per the 2011 CRZ Notification. The department further said that nesting activities in the area were very sporadic and meagre in number compared to other coasts.

However, a report by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) said that in 2021-2022, 33 nests were identified and 3,717 eggs were collected at the shore of Azhagankuppam village. As for mangroves, the EIA noted that there was scattered mangrove vegetation at Alamparaikuppam. “Merely because they are scattered, it cannot be destroyed. If they are left undisturbed, they will thrive and grow,” the Bench noted in its final order on August 24.

Mr. Yuvan had also contended that the Kaliveli lake was classified as intertidal mudflats and the Yedayanthittu Estuary, Uppamkali creek and Kaliveli Lake together have been marked as wetland of international importance by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). The wetland also has considerable presence of oyster reefs that filter hundreds of litres of water every day. “It is surprising that none of these aspects were mentioned in the EIA study..,” the Bench remarked.

Besides ordering a fresh environmental clearance application, to be filed by the Fisheries Department, the Bench asked the Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA) to revise the existing Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP), 2011 “as expeditiously as possible”, and the National Centre for Coastal Research to finalise the shoreline management plan.

The Bench, comprising Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana and expert member Dr. Satyagopal Kolarpati, noted that there were challenges to the CRZ notification, 2019, and the CZMP draft map. Without a proper EIA study, “it would be appropriate for this tribunal not to permit the project, and to prevent it from proceeding further till the errors that have crept into the CZMP are rectified, at least in respect of the project area,”it noted.

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