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National Green Tribunal holds back thermal power plant in Gujarat

Feb 21, 2012

In response to petitions filed by by local fishermen, salt pan workers and residents, India's Green Tribunal has ordered a stay on environmental and coastal clearance granted to a 300MW thermal power plant in the Western state of Gujarat for breaching into the reserve forestland of the region.

The National Green Tribunal has put on hold the Bhadreshwar thermal power plant at Mundra in Gujarat. It has asked the project proponent, OPG Power Gujarat Pvt Ltd, to stop all works at its 300 MW power plant till it gets the requisite environmental clearance.

"We have no hesitation to hold that until OPG Power Gujarat Pvt Ltd obtains clearance to use reserve forest land and clearance from the Coastal Regulation Zone Authorities, it cannot go ahead with the project," said a bench comprising chairperson A S Naidu and Vijai Sharma on February 14.

The tribunal passed the order on petitions by fishermen, salt pan workers and local residents who opposed the environmental clearance granted to the power company by the Gujarat State Level Impact Assessment Authority (GSLIAA) on June 11, 2010 for setting up the plant. They said the clearance was granted without taking note that the project area includes reserve forest. A pipeline that will carry sea water to the plant was to pass through three hectares of forestland. Raj Panjwani, senior advocate representing the petitioners, said, “Many vital facts, including the fact that forestland would be necessary for the project, were concealed before obtaining environmental clearance from the authorities.”

"We have no hesitation to hold that until OPG Power Gujarat Pvt Ltd obtains clearance to use reserve forest land and clearance from the Coastal Regulation Zone Authorities, it cannot go ahead with the project"

The petition also challenged the grant of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for use of sea water in the plant, which was granted on September 16, 2011 by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The ministry’s counsel Neelam Rathore, informed, “The ministry has issued a notice to OPG Power on February 6, 2012 seeking explanation to violation of the CRZ Notification, 2011.”

Bharat Patel, one of the leaders of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, working for fishermen’s rights, says the community was excluded from the list of those impacted by the power plant. “National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, did wrong mapping of the area and declared the land banjar (barren) on the basis of which the clearance was granted,” he adds.

Senior counsel Krishnan Venugopal appearing for the power company, denied the allegations and added that no fact was suppressed by them and clearances were granted after due consideration. The company also told the tribunal that it is contemplating either to reroute the pipeline or adhere to an alternate cooling process. “If the new technique is adopted, there would not be any need of forest and CRZ clearances,” he added.

The bench after hearing the company held that for adoption of new technique, OPG Power would have to apply for clearances for the changes to be made and the concerned authority would have to dispose this within four months. If, on the other hand, OPG Power chooses to stick to its original plan, which requires about three hectares of forest land, then applications would have to be made and the authorities would dispose of this within two months, the tribunal ruled.

A Gujarat Pollution Control Board official, who refused to be named, says that on February 17 OPG Power has requested them to amend the EC order, as they would be going for the alternative air cooling technology, which would not require water.  “Their application says that no forest clearance is required for the same,” he adds.

When contacted, company spokesperson informed that OPG Power is continuing construction on its project site for which it has been granted EC. “However, OPG Power has not done any construction and does not intend to do any construction activity for the laying of the water pipeline on the CRZ area and the Forest Area till it receives the forest clearance,” he added.

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