By Anjali Nambissan:
At the Tadadi Port Public Hearing in Karnataka on Monday, few of those affected by the project could get a word in, and fewer still could get any straight answers out of the state government.
What happens at a public hearing, where you don’t know who you are talking to?
The Karnataka State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation Limited in Bengaluru, Karnataka has proposed building a seven-berth sea port, which is worth Rs. 38,000 crore, at the Aghanashini estuary in Karwar, Karnataka, mostly to export the coal mined from the other regions of the state. This means that all the related infrastructure – roadways, railways, loading docks, storage facilities (possibly even a thermal power plant) etc. will also have to come up as a part of the project. And the project is to be constructed through a Public Private Partnership, where a private company will design, build, and operate the port for 50 years and then transfer it to the state government.
Now, if the newspaper reports and a particularly stinging insight by the environment clearance watchdog, EIA Resource and Response Centre (eRc), are to be believed, then the state government of Karnataka has not identified any private party, known as the concessionaire, to design and operate the port. Basically, there is no big corporation sitting on KSIIDC’s head pushing this port construction through.
So then, why the rush to build this thing at all? What is the need for uprooting some 30 villages and destroying the local economy and ecology, on the basis of an eventuality?
The public hearing, as a part of the environment clearance process, was conducted on March 23 at Secondary High School, Hiregutti village in Kumta Taluka of Uttara Kannada District. People of the surrounding villages had gathered to present their views on the project in front of a government-appointed panel consisting of Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada District, Ujwal Kumar Ghosh, and a member of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.
“When asked who will be implementing, running, and maintaining this project? The response of the EIA consultant was that as this is a PPP model, this has not been worked out as yet. When further questioned on what are the guarantees provided that the project will implement all the measures it has promised, even as the parties implementing the project have not been finalised; the answer was that these would be made as conditions in the RFQ (Request for Quotation) to the parties to be contracted. The consultant was not able to satisfactorily answer any of the questions/issues raised by us,” said Terence Jorge of ERC, in a statement they’ve compiled on the public hearing.
Holes in the Hearing
As per the EIA process, the government is responsible for getting the necessary land and environment clearances. But, it is the concessionaire who has to develop the Detailed Project Report – which spells out all the construction, procurement and engineering specification of the project, amongst other things. This DPR is essential to understand the full impact of the project – how much local resources it will consume, and how much garbage and dirty water it will throw onto the surrounding lands, and such. It goes with the Environmental Impact Assessment report. Ideally, this should have been prepared before the public hearing. In the Tadadi case, the party responsible for it is well… no one knows who.
And that’s not all…
“It emerged that the baseline study was conducted in the post monsoon season of the year 2010. This makes the data more than 3 years old and rather out-dated. When asked how the ecological value of the part of the estuary that is to be declared a Biodiversity Heritage Site would be preserved, the EIA Consultant said ‘they would do their best possible.’ Regarding any Cost-Benefit Analysis conducted for this project, the answer was that this is yet to be done,” informs Jorge.
Environmentalists at the venue and villagers from the area under immediate threat, were boo-ed down by a much larger crowd of people, who seemed to have gone to the hearing for a free lunch, literally and figuratively.
“There are several villages surrounding the land (meant for port construction) that is owned by the state government,” said Mangaldas Shetty, director of the local NGO, Panchabhuta Foundation, who was present at the hearing to speak on behalf of the people of Kagal village, “Some villages do not depend on the estuary for their livelihoods and their voices are loudest for the port. They just don’t care about environmental impacts. They want jobs. The villagers who depend on the estuary and river do not want the port as it would decimate their ecology and threaten their homes and livelihoods.”
Halfway towards the end, these people were seen helping themselves to lunch, rather than waiting for the proceedings to conclude.
Point to Note
The incompetence of the state government agencies didn’t end there, it seems. The EIA Notifications 2006, require the government representatives to read out the proceedings of the hearing, including all the views expressed, in the language that is commonly understood in the area. The KSPCB official said that it lacked the facilities and the ability to basically jot down the points made at the hearing and read them out!
“This shows lack of competence. In a Public Hearing in Goa on 1 February 2015, for Mopa Airport, the proceedings were compiled and translated within a matter of about 2 hours and read out, followed by corrections being made by the public. A unique situation came up at this Public Hearing. This would be making history in a way, where the KSPCB has asked the public to be present at the venue again on 27 March 2015 at 11.00 am for finalising the minutes, though the EIA Notification requires that the agreed minutes should be signed by the District Magistrate on the same day and forwarded to the SPCB concerned,” concludes Jorge.
So, no company to build and run this port. No clue about the issues of the people affected by it. No idea about the EIA process. Just a port construction proposal, which will cost the taxpayers Rs. 38,000 crore…