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Buisness Standard  New Delhi Feb 15, 2012

In a major setback to Power Gujarat, the National Green Tribunal has directed it to stop work at its 300 Mw thermal power plant at Bhadreshwar, .

The ongoing construction work was challenged before the Tribunal by fisherfolk, saltpan workers and local villagers. The Tribunal said till all approvals were obtained by the project proponent, no construction activity should take place, said Ritwik Dutta, legal counsel for the appellants.

The Tribunal is a specialised body having the expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. It was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection.

OPG Power started construction work without the required approvals, including those under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and CRZ clearance. This projectis located in Mundra Taluk, Kutch district.

On its website, the company had said “work had begun on the site. The generating plants are scheduled to be commissioned in 2013.”

The (MoEF) earlier this month had issued a showcause notice to OPG Power, seeking explanation on the violation of the coastal regulation zone () notification, 2011, in the construction of the plant in the ecologically sensitive coast.

In the showcause notice, it has asked the company why the clearance issued to it in September 2011 under the CRZ notification should not be kept in abeyance after cases of violations by the company surfaced.

The NGT in its judgment cited the environmental clearance letter, which clearly stipulates that the project proponent shall not start any construction or project enabling activities unless and until environmental clearance as well as all requisite prior permission and clearances are obtained.

Background

Following mass protests in along the sea shore, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of , has issued a strongly-worded notice to OPG Power Gujarat Ltd, currently involved in building a 300 MW power plant in taluka ofKutchdistrict, saying it has violated provisions of the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) notification of 2011. The plant is being built near village Bhadreshwar, about 25 kilometres from theMundraPortand about 48 kilometres from the Kandla port, and its ultimate goal is to expand its capacity to 2,600 MW.

The notice, dated February 6, 2012, and sent to the OPG’s head office in Chennai, says, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) appraised the project twice, on February 14-15, 2011, and April 5-6, 2011. However, the OPG failed to bring to the notice of the EAC the “involvement of forest land.” Scheduled to be commissioned in 2013, equipment has been ordered from the vendors, including Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, to complete the work on the plant. OPG hired Tata Consulting Engineers for providing engineering expertise and Gannon Dunkerley for civil construction.

The notice said, OPG in its justification of the violation argued that after obtaining CRZ clearance in November 2011 it “became aware that that the most viable route for the sea water pipelines would pass through a very small tract of land, which is forest land, and it applied to the deputy conservator of forests for diversion of 3.68 hectares (ha) forest land for laying down the proposed sea water pipelines.” Rejecting the argument, the notice underlined, “Disclosure of information after appraisal of the project amounts to suppression of information by the project proponent before the Ministry and EAC at the time of appraisal.”

Citing rules, the notice said, “If a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should be started till approval of the Central government for release of forest land under the Act has been given.” Given this situation, the OPG has been asked to give an explanation within a fortnight, as “CRZ clearance issued to the project cannot be kept in abeyance.” If no response is received, the notice warns, the MoEF will be obliged to take “appropriate orders” without any further notice.

Among those opposing the OPG’s power project include fisherworkers, salt pan workers and grazing communities living on the Bhadreshwar coast, who believe that the plant as serious impacts as it would bring about adverse impact on their livelihoods. They have held several protests since 2009 under the banner of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS), a fishworker’s trade union.

The OPG Group’s initial public hearing in 2009 to set up the 300 MW thermal plant was met with stiff opposition from local communities whose livelihoods were under threat due to the project. While theGujaratgovernment’s State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) was still deliberating on the issue, OPG applied to MoEF for expansion to 2600 MW. “The pending approval from the SEIAA was not at all mentioned in the application to the MoEF”, a MASS statement said, adding, “This piece of information was only revealed when an RTI application was filed by MASS.”

MASS statement statement further said, “On September 16, 2011 the company got its approval under the CRZ notification, but with a long list of conditions attached. However, the forest permission (needed to convert lands for non-forest use) was granted. Yet, the company started its construction and went ahead without obtaining necessary clearances.” MASS wrote a letter dated November 1, 2011 to the Union environment minister, forest department, police department officials highlighting this violation and urging immediate action. Yet, it fell on deaf ears, till the latest notice to OPG on February 6, 2012.

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