An environment ministry committee, which had earlier found large-scale violations, has now been asked to look specifically at the allegation of sand dune levelling.
New Delhi: In a case related to environmental violations by the Adani group in its port and special economic zone construction at Mundra in Gujarat’s Kutch district, the Supreme Court has instructed an inspection committee to probe whether the company has violated norms by levelling sand dunes, which act as a natural defence for the coastline and seaside biodiversity.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC) in 2012 constituted a five-member committee to probe alleged environmental violations by the Adani Port and SEZ Ltd. Headed by the eminent environmentalist Sunita Narain, the committee, in its report which was submitted in April 2013, had found that the company had violated multiple environmental norms while developing the port and SEZ.
“In the Committee’s view the Adani Waterfront and Power Plant project, which has been granted clearance in different phases beginning 1995, has led to massive ecological changes with adverse impacts,” the report, which was extremely critical of the company for not showing any concern for environmental regulations, noted. Among a range of complaints against the company, the committee was supposed to investigate the damages to mangrove forests and sand dunes in the area. However, while the report gave ample evidence to show the loss of mangrove forests because of large-scale construction of bunds, it did not delve into the issue of sand dune levelling.
According to the complainants, levelling of sand dunes has led to a huge loss of coastal biodiversity, rendering the local inhabitations vulnerable in the face of of natural disasters.
It is in this context that the petitioners had moved the top court to intervene on the issue of sand dune levelling, which did not find any mention in the environment ministry committee’s report.
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In its order on October 23, the bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, while hearing a petition on the specific issue of sand dunes, said that although the inspection committee set up by the environment ministry to probe alleged violations by the Adani group has submitted its report, “there is no mention of levelling of sand dunes”, particularly in Mor Dhuva, a reserved forest, towards the north of the west port, allotted to the company for non-forest use. The court further requested the committee to probe the matter and give its report within six weeks.
The bench decided to list the matter for hearing after seven weeks.
The court’s instruction may renew interests of activists in the environmental violations by the Adani group at Mundra. A large section of activists had agitated against the UPA government for ignoring multiple violations by the Adani group and had even alleged that the government had gone overboard to ensure that the company had a smooth run. This had forced the government to constitute the committee.
The committee, in its report, confirmed many of these allegations. For instance, its report noted, “There has been an attempt to bypass the statutory procedures, by using different agencies, at the Centre and state, for obtaining clearances for the same project.”
It had also recommended imposition of Rs 200 crore as penalty on the company, supposed to be used a restoration fund for the damages to the environment. This was the biggest ever fine for environmental violations.
In July last year, however, a Business Standard report had claimed that the MEFCC under the Narendra Modi government had decided to withdraw the penalty and to extend the environmental clearance issued in 2009 to the waterfront development project to be developed by the company. The waterfront project has often been used by the company in the courts as its defence for violating environmental norms, but activists say that it may further damage the biodiversity in the area.
Although the MEFCC denied having cancelled the penalty, a subsequent report in the Business Standard explained in detail how the ministry had, indeed, proceeded in a round-about way to grant financial relief to the company.
The Adani group has had a poor record when it comes to respecting environmental regulations, because of which the company has often found itself at the receiving end of environmental activists’ anger. It may be noted that the company is facing similar charges in Australia, where it has acquired the license for the Carmichael coal mine, supposed to be the largest coal mine in the country.