Sand Dredging Threatens Olive Ridleys
December 2010: The Dhamra Port project already poses a huge threat to the olive Ridleys in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Orissa thanks to the port that has been constructed by Tata Steel. Now we hear allegations of large scale, illegal, sand dredging by yet another steel company, Essar Steel Orissa Ltd. (ESOL) at the mouth of the Mahanadi river.
This could very well seal the fate of the beleaguered turtles. Reports suggest that at least 12,00,000 cubic metres of sand has already been dredged. According to a report by Moushumi Basu, The Pioneer, New Delhi, ESOL is setting up a steel pellet factory at Paradip with an annual capacity of six million tonnes and a captive power plant of 225 MW, at a project cost of Rs. 10,721 crores over a land area of 1,925 acres. The factory will receive iron ore in slurry form through a pipeline from the Keonjhar district. This pipeline has to pass through both forest and non-forest areas.
Very little information is actually available about how this project was approved and how much land cleared for the project falls in the Coastal Regulation Zone. Following an RTI application filed by Biswajit Mohanty, Coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, it is understood that the company received environmental clearance on May 29, 2008. Some parts of the Mahanadi including shorelands where sand has been dredged, and a part of the plant site, do fall under CRZ. According to Mohanty, “the company’s correspondence with the Orissa Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation in December 2008 reveals that it was aware of the need for CRZ clearance”. However it has failed to apply for the CRZ clearance so far and also suppressed the need for it while obtaining environmental clearance. Despite a site inspection report that ESOL was filling up the site with sand dredged from the Mahanadi, the State Pollution Control Board and the Environment Department did not take any action. Adding insult to injury, ESOL failed to obtain forest clearance for the 18.83 ha. (12.69 ha. for the steel plant and 1.42 ha. and another 4.72 ha. for the pipeline) of forest land it requires for the project before it began construction. ESOL has illegally started work since 2008, on non-forest lands, without obtaining forest clearance, evident from the fact that the forest clearance diversion proposal and application was filed only in December 2009. It has almost completed pipeline construction in the Keonjhar and Jaipur districts in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which stipulates that no work can be commenced on non-forest land until forest clearance is obtained for the forest land involved in the project. Further, the forest diversion proposal has yet to be forwarded to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Despite scam after scam surfacing in our country, state enforcement agencies still continue to display a penchant for oiling the path for destructive projects. Of course the violations have neither been brought to the notice of the MoEF nnor has any penal action been taken to stop work or prosecute the company. The steel and power plant site are a mere eight kilometres from the mouth of the Mahanadi river. The Mahanadi river washes down a huge quantity of sediment during monsoons, which is critical to the beach building process of the turtle nesting beaches of the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. As the ocean currents flow for eight months of a year in a northward direction, such sediment load flushed out from the Mahanadi mouth is deposited on the shores of the marine sanctuary which lies to the north of the river mouth. Over the past two years, a surprising and unprecedented erosion of the Kendrapada district coastline especially at Ekakula Pentha and Agarnasi areas (known sea turtle mass nesting sites) has been observed. Though only sand isotope irradiation studies will reveal how much sediment from the Mahanadi bed ultimately lands up at the nesting beach, prima facie, there appears to be sufficient ground to link the beach erosion with the enormous quantity of 1.2 million cubic metres of sand excavated over the last 30 months from the river bed by ESOL.
It is vital that an environment impact assessment study be conducted immediately. Sanctuary readers should write to Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests. The olive Ridley, a Schedule I species, is at stake.
With inputs from Biswajit Mohanty, Secretary, Honorary Secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa,
|Write a letter stating the following points: |
The MoEF should carry out a site inspection with independent members and use satellite imagery to unearth CRZ, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Environment (Protection)
Act, 1986 violations.
A study by a reputed Oceanography Institute should be conducted to assess the impact of mining sand from the Mahanadi river on the sea turtle nesting beaches of the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.
The MoEF must impose penalties on the company for the illegal land use change wrought on CRZ areas and for the damage to turtle nesting beaches.
The state government must provide names of the officers who failed to enforce the CRZ regulations and the FC Act, 1980 provisions so that appropriate steps can be taken against them.
A stop order must be issued to Essar Steel Orissa Ltd. for their Paradip Steel Plant, captive power plant and slurry pipeline until all violations are addressed.
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF),
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
Chief Minister of Orissa,
Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Gate,
P.O. Bhubaneshwar – 751 001.
Khurda District, Orissa.
Tel: 0674 – 2531100
Fax: 0674 – 2535100
Ministry of Steel
Government of India,
New Delhi – 110 107.