A central government review panel has returned the application of a Dalmia Group firm to set up a chemical complex near the Gulf of Kutch, citing several shortcomings in its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited (GHCL), the multibillion-dollar business conglomerate’s subsidiary company, has been asked for details on studies to assess potential threats of the proposed greenfield project to the marine environment and coastal ecosystems.
The report was examined by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, which reviews the potential impacts of industrial projects on their local ecologies. Amongst other recommendations, the EAC has asked GHCL for details on the clearance status required for the project under rules meant for conserving the country’s coastal ecology and marine biodiversity.
The Probe had reported, citing various studies and documents obtained through the RTI Act, 2005, that not only is the greenfield project proposed near an area known to be a rich nesting site of the vulnerable Olive Ridley turtles, apart from other mammals and reptiles, but is also merely 800 meters away from the Arabian Sea.
The Olive Ridley is a species of sea turtle classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization working in the nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. The Olive Ridley is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multilateral treaty for the protection of endangered species, to which India is a signatory. Appendix I of CITES lists those species threatened with extinction and are thereby afforded the highest levels of protection.
“Under Part-A, please revise ‘Whether QCI
The EAC has further directed: “Please upload all the QCI-NABET accreditation certificates of the Consultant for sector 4 (e) for the entire period of engagement for this EIA & EMP. Please upload the NABL accreditation certificates of the laboratory for the entire study period.”
Notably, the NABET is a constituent board of the Quality Council of India and is an independent, autonomous body supported by the central government to provide accreditation to products, services and processes on the basis of quality standards.
Local communities had alleged that the public hearing for the proposed project was rushed through by the BJP-led state government barely a couple of weeks before the model code of conduct was enforced in Gujarat for the assembly polls that took place earlier this month. The hearing took place amidst massive police bandobast despite complaints that consultants engaged in compiling the EIA report were not accredited. Activists and residents of villages near Bada village in Mandvi taluka of Kutch district had also written to the state pollution control board and various other governmental authorities complaining that the public hearing was being conducted based on EIA reports prepared by agencies allegedly lacking accreditation.
Incidentally, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had, in a report published earlier this year, highlighted 21 instances in which projects were approved by the central government despite the fact that the EIA studies had been carried out with the help of non-accredited agencies (See Annexure 2). In March 2020, the environment ministry issued a Gazette notification vide which it has been made imperative for project proponents to prepare EIA reports through agencies accredited for the particular sector in which the industry is categorized.
“The EIA Report shall be prepared as per the generic structure given in Appendix-X by the project proponent through an ACO
The government order also makes it mandatory for project proponents to disclose details of the accredited consultant employed for preparing the EIA report submitted to the central government for approval (Section 10 of Paragraph 13).
There was considerable opposition to the project on environmental grounds in the public hearing for the project – as had been reported in The Probe – when it was held on 17 October. On 29 November, a day before the EIA report was sent to the central government, the voluminous minutes of the public hearing meeting were uploaded on the website of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. The EAC has asked the project proponent to furnish the duly signed proceedings of the Public Hearing in English as part of the report.