Quashing of environmental clearance to Vizhinjam Port, refused

National Green Tribunal: Issuing certain directions for the strict compliance by the Respondents, the Tribunal has refused to quash the environment clearance granted to the Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd, the Tribunal has also issued certain directions for strict compliance by the respondents.  The present appeal under Section 16 of the National Green Tribunal Act, has been filed by the Appellants challenging the order F. No. 11-122/0211-IA-111 dated 3rd January, 2014, passed by Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, granting Environmental and CRZ clearance for development of Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport, at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram District of State of Kerala.

In the present case, the Government of Kerala appointed Vizhinjam International Sea Port Limited (VISL) as the nodal agency to develop an International container transhipment terminal at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram District, State of Kerala. The Vizhinjam International Sea Port Limited formulated a project for development of Vizhinjam International deepwater multi-purpose sea port at Vizhinjam. This project involved construction of quays, terminal area and port building. The project proponent submitted an application on 28th August, 2010, in the prescribed format, for obtaining the Environmental Clearance. The Government of Kerala had therefore, undertaken the site selection exercise and came to the conclusion that the area of south of Vizhinjam fishing Harbour is best suited for the project. The Ministry of Environment and Forests also finalized the same for the project vide letter dated 1st July, 2011 and a final Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was submitted to Expert Appraisal Committee for securing Environmental Clearance.

The applicants have claimed that the site of the proposed project, in its immediate vicinity, is inhabited by small scale fishermen who depend on Coastal and offshore water of the District and fishing for their livelihood. The case of the applicants, in the Original Application, is that they seek to protect and safeguard coastal areas of outstanding natural beauty and areas likely to be inundated due to rise in sea level consequent upon global warming and such other areas as may be declared by the Central Government or the concerned authorities at the State/ Union territory level from time to time, the categories which were deleted from the classification of CRZ-I areas in Para 7(i) CRZ-I of the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 2011. Further, it is submitted by the applicant that as per Para 6(1) (i) of the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 1991, coastal areas of outstanding natural beauty and areas likely to be inundated due to rise in sea level consequent upon global warming and such other areas as may be declared by the Central Government or the concerned authorities at the State/Union Territory level from time to time, were categorized/classified as CRZ-1 areas.

The Tribunal on the emphasis placed by the learned Counsel appearing for the Applicants/ Appellants upon places of ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ in relation to the cliff said that the cliff primarily and alone is not a subject of natural beauty but has greater utility in protecting soil erosion. It stops the soil erosion from sea waves and protects the ecology. The Tribunal also said that only a part of cliff has been demolished while by creating alternative methodology of preventing soil erosion. Major part of the cliff still remains intact near the project area. The plea of preserving or protecting the ‘areas of outstanding natural beauty’ is a general concept applicable to all States while, the subject matter of the present application is limited to the granting or otherwise of environmental clearance and CRZ to Vizhinjam Port. Thus, held that the contention is entirely unfounded.

However, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Tribunal preferred to pass the following directions for strict compliance by the concerning respondents:-

  1. Constitute an Expert Committee of the following, for compliance and adherence to the directions given in this judgment.
  • Senior Scientist (Grade F or above), representing the Director, Indian National Centre for Coastal Information Services, Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • Senior Faculty/Scientist of (Grade F or above) from the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, MoEF.
  • Senior Scientist (Grade F or above) representing Director, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi (ICAR).
  • Senior Scientist representing Director, National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Department of Space, Hyderabad.
  • Senior Officer not below the rank of Director from the Chief Hydrographer of Indian Naval Hydrographic Department, Dehradun.
  • A.B. Akolkar, presently Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi
  • Member Secretary, Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, who will also function as the Member Secretary and Nodal Officer of the Committee. The Senior Scientists and Senior Officers as aforestated shall be nominated, by the Heads of the department of the respective institutions within one week from the date of passing of this judgment and confirm such nomination to the Member Secretary
  1. The Expert Committee shall monitor each and every condition stipulated in the EC and CRZ clearance granted by the MoEF and the directions contained herein. The Member Secretary of the Committee shall file a report, in every six months, to the Tribunal.
  2. Establish mechanism for setting up a Cell within CZMA Kerala for regular monitoring of the Shoreline changes in the project area, and within 10 Km on either side, at the cost of project proponent. The Cell shall be located with the CZMA Kerala and the entire funds for establishment and recurring expenses for that purpose shall be provided by the Project proponent. The shoreline changes monitoring will be carried out by using the latest imageries of the best available resolution and supported with ground truthing. Annual report on shoreline changes will be brought out by the CZMA Kerala duly vetted by the Expert Committee and kept in the public domain.
  3. Dredging, if any required in the shipping harbour and within 10 kms of the Project on account of accretion and sediment deposit, shall be carried out by the Project proponent periodically and shall be monitored by the Committee both before and after dredging.
  4. Appropriate steps, both engineering and otherwise, shall be taken by the Project proponent if coastal erosion within 10 kms of the project site is observed based on the Shoreline studies.
  5. The sewage from the entire Harbour Complex shall be so managed that the entire sewage is processed within the complex without discharging any untreated sewage into the sea or on Land. All the sewage shall be treated to a level making the treated sewage suitable for all nondrinking uses, including industrial use. No sewage shall be released into municipal sewer line. In case the sewage is not processed, as aforesaid, the same shall be done at the cost of the Project proponent.
  6. All the municipal waste generated within the Harbour Complex shall be processed within the Complex strictly in accordance within SWM Rules, 2016. Responsibility for processing the MSW will be that of the Project proponent and no MSW shall be dumped at the municipal site or handed over to the Municipal authorities for processing. If any municipal waste is not properly processed then the same shall be got done at the cost of project proponent.
  7. Setting up adequate number of air quality monitoring stations by the Project proponent within the project site in consultation with the Kerala Pollution Control Board. In case of default such monitoring stations shall be established at the cost of Project proponent.
  8. To implement all the recommendations of the Fisheries management Plan, particularly those relating to creation of additional fish landing Centres, up-gradation of existing fishing harbour, skill development, creating community infrastructure for the benefit of the fisher community and other welfare measures required for fishermen and their families.
  9. The Committee shall also monitor resettlement and rehabilitation programme of the project.
  10. The Committee may impose additional conditions, over and above those in the EC, CRZ clearance and those outlined above, in the interest of the protecting environment, ecology and the interest of different stakeholders. The Proponent shall implement such additional conditions imposed by the Expert Committee. The Expert Committee, through its Member Secretary, shall submit a quarterly report on the monitoring carried out by it to this Tribunal.
  11. All the dredged material, silt and sand, shall be used in land reclamation work as per the EIA and EMP and the project document. Any excess dredged material, if available, shall be disposed only after site for the purpose has been indentified and approved by the SPCB Kerala. No wetlands, water bodies or river or streams or any area located within the CRZ I shall be used for the purpose of dumping the dredged material.
  12. Hotmix plants/ quarries/ stone crushing unit if any set up during construction phase, whether within the project site or off site should have adequate antipollution devices installed and should conform to ambient air quality standards.
  13. Noise pollution during construction and operation phase must meet standards prescribed, particularly in case of those for residential areas, schools, hospitals located within the project or in recently thereof.
  14. The project proponent shall ensure that air pollution, both during the construction and operation phase, from construction works, transportation of construction debris and material and due to vehicular emission is within the ambient air quality standards during all the times.

[Wilfred v. Ministry of Environment and Forests, 2016 SCC OnLine NGT 426, decided on 2nd September, 2016]

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