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JNPA seeks to revoke 1998 order prohibiting construction of port in ESZ

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MUMBAI : The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA), responsible for administering the Centre’s Wadhavan Port project, has sought to rescind a September 1998 order of the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA), prohibiting the construction of a major port within the predominantly tribal Dahanu eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

On May 12 this year, the JNPA submitted an application to this effect before the newly-reconstituted DTEPA. In addition to modification of the 1998 order, the JNPA has separately sought the Authority’s no-objection certificate for the port project, which is one of the compliances mandated by the MoEFCC. A third application has also been made, asking that the MoEFCC be made a party to the matter before the DTEPA, which is expected to rule on the JNPA’s application on June 23.

Vishwanath Gharat, General Manager of port planning at JNPA, confirmed that these applications have indeed been submitted, but declined to comment further, saying he has not been authorised to speak on the matter.

However, a senior official at JNPA said under conditions of anonymity, “The port is of immense strategic importance to India’s logistics sector. Our port at Nhava is getting saturated. In order to compete with other countries that have heavily invested in ports, including China, Korea, UAE and Singapore, we need to expand. We are awaiting the DTEPA’s decision.”

Despite widespread opposition to the project by local communities, who fear displacement and loss of customary livelihoods as experienced by indigenous communities in Raigad’s Uran taluka (where JNPA operates India’s largest cargo port at Nhava Sheva), the union environment ministry in October 2020 granted the project terms of reference (ToR), a step which precedes impact assessments and grant of environmental clearance (EC).

Experts have maintained that the ministry’s decision to grant ToR to JNPA runs contrary to the DTEPA’s clear opposition to the project. In 1998, the Centre had proposed to allow logistics giant P&O Ports to develop a port in Dahanu. While the DTEPA permitted the company to start preliminary surveys and data collection for the project, they later rejected the proposal. The Authority’s official stand on the issue was once again reiterated in 2017, under the aegis of its former chairperson, the late retired high court judge Justice Dharmadhikari, who prohibited JNPA from establishing a proposed satellite port in Wadhavan.

“The DTEPA has been appointed by the MoEFCC, and they have opposed the project multiple times. Now, after the chairperson’s death, the MoEFCC has been facilitating backdoor attempts at pushing the plans forward. They passed an office memorandum last month classifying ports and harbours as permissible activities within the ESZ. The JNPA has also sought to make the MoEFCC a party to the case, which suggests that the Centre’s opinion is being imposed on a decision that is contrary to its interests,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and invitee of the DTEPA.

Bhushan Bhoir, a Palghar-based fisherman and professor of marine biology, who has been tracking the project closely, said, “This port project will cause immense damage to the intertidal marine ecosystem. The JNPA has a poor track record of ensuring indigenous people’s rights. At their port in Uran, none of the several hundreds of fisherfolk who were displaced, or whose livelihoods were disrupted, have seen any relief. We will not allow the same to happen in Dahanu.”

Source : Hindustan Times

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