Trouble seems to be brewing along the Bhadreshwar coast. OPG Power Gujarat Limited has initiated construction of its 300 MW thermal power plant, in its third attempt to break through the logjam of opposition and regulation that has so far prevented the project from going ahead. The fenced-off area is receiving drilling and building equipment, and company employees face the ire of fishing communities living in the inter-tidal mudflats.
The fisherfolk, salt pan workers and grazing communities living on the Bhadreshwar coast are both livid and tense, acutely aware of the impacts and changes this construction activity will bring in the near future. The inter tidal mudflats and the coastline of the Randh Bander is the source of their thriving livelihoods, and if the thermal power plant comes up this will be gone forever. So, they have gone to court, taken to the streets and even have told the company clearly that they don't have much faith that that there will be minimal or no impacts in the area. India Together has covered this struggle extensively in previous article - (see here, here, here and here.
Bhadreshwar is the second largest fish production centre on the Kutch coast in Gujarat. It is estimated that nearly 6000 fisherfolk from Bhadreshwar, Luni, Tuna and Sangad villages have been using the Randh Bander for traditional fishing for over 200 years. Boat fishing is carried out upto 10 km from the coast and pagadiya (on foot) fishing is carried out on a 10-km stretch along the coast (5 km on each side of the Bander).
OPG in Bhadreshwar
According to a 17 January 2011 news release on the group's website, the OPG group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gujarat government for a power generation production capacity of 5400 MW in the state. This includes 1400 MW Gas based power generation, and the rest is with coal which the company proposes to receive through the port operated at the neighbouring Mundra coast, run by the Adani group.
The Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS) a fishworker's trade union in Bhadreshwar, had pointed out the first instance of legal infirmity by the OPG group back in 2009-2010. OPG first disclosed its proposal to set up a 300 MW thermal power plant in Bhadreshwar village of Mundra taluka and applied for environment clearance from Gujarat State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). As per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006, thermal power projects under 500 MW are termed as 'Category B' and need to take permission at the state level (larger 'Category A' projects need approval from the MoEF in New Delhi).
Since OPG's future plans were not limited to development of 300 MW on the Bhadreshwar coast, on 3 December 2009 the group submitted an application to the MoEF for establishing the Terms of Reference (ToR) to prepare an Environment Impact Assessment report for the expansion of the plant from 300 MW to 2600 MW. This letter made no mention of the fact that application for the 300 MW plant has not yet been granted approval. If it were not a Right to Information (RTI) application which was filed by MASS which revealed the details of the expansion, these two clearance processes would have gone along in parallel.
With this information in hand MASS representatives wrote to the then Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Jairam Ramesh seeking the Ministry's intervention and pointing to these irregularities. The letter on 26 February 2010 highlighted the OPG group has deliberately tried to mislead the concerned authorities, and therefore their proposal is liable to rejection invoking Section 8 (vi) of the EIA notification.
But no such action was taken. Meanwhile, in June 2010 OPG received its environment clearance from Gujarat SEIAA for its 300 MW plant, with a long list of 121 conditions - one of the longest in the history of environment clearances granted. But because of its location along the coast, this project also needed additional permissions under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), 1991 notification.
This permission was denied. OPG's proposal to build an intake channel to the thermal power plant along the coast was rejected by MoEF's Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for Building Construction, Coastal Regulation Zone, Infrastructure Development and Miscellaneous projects in July 2010. The committee felt that the coastal environment would be negatively impacted by the construction of an open channel, and instead suggested that OPG could consider the construction of a pipeline instead, to provide for water requirements of the 300 MW plant. The company was to submit a revised proposal.
However, with no CRZ clearance in hand the company announced its Bhoomi Pujan to initiate the construction activity in November 2010. Evidence indicated that OPG had undertaken land-filling and cutting of trees without the CRZ approval this. This came to the notice of the fisherfolk when invitation cards were distributed widely in the area. MASS took it upon themselves to point out this irregularity to the MoEF.
MoEF issued a show cause notice to the company asking it to explain why it had begun construction without the necessary approvals.
Another instance of construction without approvals
On 16 September 2011, the company got its approval under the CRZ notification, this time too with a long list of conditions attached. But this story does not end here, since the forest permission (needed to convert lands for non-forest use) is still pending. However, this time too the company has gone ahead with the construction, prompting one more outcry from the locals.
Information received through an RTI application by Kiritsinh Naruba Jadeja in October 2010 indicates that the forest clearance procedure is far from complete. The company has applied for the diversion of recently, and the application is yet to be processed. MASS and the fisherfolk have brought this to the attention of the Minister of Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natrajan and senior officials of the Ministry. A complaint has also been filed before D K Sharma, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Bhuj but no action has been taken as yet.
The fishworkers and other coastal communities of Kutch, have also written to T Chatterjee, Secretary, MoEF, seeking his intervention to reject the CRZ clearance for intake/outfall pipelines for the OPG power project on various grounds. Some of these include the fact that the pipelines are proposed right next to Randh Bander which is Kutch's second largest fish production centre, which is the only source of livelihoods for thousands of traditional fisherfolk in the Mundra coast.
Further, due to high eroding nature of the Bhadreshwar coast, the sand dunes keep shifting continuously and the proposed pipelines pose a risk to the sand dunes at present and in future. Moreover, the appeal says the Gujarat Fisheries department has opposed the OPG project in the area, and has plans to develop Randh Bander into a modern fish landing centre.
Amidst all this, an old way of life goes on in the area - with the sounds of the waves, the array of Bombay Duck fish left for trying around fishing
shelters, the conversations with the people as they mend their fishing nets, and the flamingoes that visit Randh Bander year after year. Without the
simple right to determine their own destiny, another local community struggles to come to terms with a system that casts them aside in the pursuit of