The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA) has sought permission from the Union environment ministry to dredge up 200 million cubic metres of earth from the ocean floor off the coast of Daman to reclaim land for the proposed Vadhavan Port off Palghar’s coast. The excavated material will be transported by ship 50 km away to Vadhavan, where it will be used in reclaiming at least 1,473 hectares (3,600 acres) of land from the sea.
Initially, the JNPA’s plan was to quarry about 80 million cubic metres of murrum soil (fragmented rocks) from seven identified hillocks in Palghar district. However, on December 6 last year, it wrote to the MoEFCC seeking an amendment in the project’s Terms of Reference (ToR), which are granted prior to seeking environmental clearance. A copy of the letter was shared with Hindustan Times by city-based non-profit Conservation Action Trust (CAT), which has been urging authorities to reconsider the need for this port in light of the ecological damage it will cause.
JNPA’s letter notes that initially “the reclamation and land-filling of 1,473 ha of land would be carried out by murrum filling/ earth which required 86.88 M cum. However, based on the actual requirement for the same, the requirement of reclamation is about 200 M cum for the proposed layout of the port. Considering the substantial amount of reclamation requirement, it was decided to extract the fill material through marine borrow pit as against the earth filling in view of the ecological sensitivity of the region. The marine borrow pit was identified in the offshore of the Daman coast about 50 km from the Vadhavan port site at a depth varying from 20 metres to 25 metres.”
An official from JNPA who is privy to the project told HT that using terrestrial earth for reclamation in intertidal areas can be damaging to marine ecosystems, and transporting the required fill material by road to the project site will be expensive. “It has to be studied yet whether the identified site off the Daman coast is entirely feasible, but we will do the full assessment once the MoEFCC agrees to the amendment in the ToR. Excavating from a marine pit is mentioned as a potential option in our detailed project report,” the official said.
CAT has sent the MoEFCC a detailed response to this development, pointing out that a “cumulative impact assessment study of the existing and proposed activities in the region, including the backup facilities for the operation of the port, has to be carried out”. The port will also require “construction and widening of roads, railway lines, storage facilities, residential accommodation, water pipelines, garbage disposal facilities, loading and unloading areas for trucks, truck-washing areas, dhabas, tea shops etc that will be located in the area.” For example, the existing facilities of JNPA at Nhava Sheva are still expanding, with new infrastructure being developed several years after the port was launched in 1989.
The same is also likely in the case of a port at Vadhavan, it was pointed out by Prasad Khale, senior conservation officer at CAT. More importantly, it was emphasised that there are already multiple statutes issued by the MoEFCC, the Supreme Court and the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) which prohibit such a port in the Dahanu eco-sensitive zone. There is also a 1996 report by NEERI on the basis of which the SC upheld the Dahanu Notification prohibiting any change of land-use in the region.
“There is no way, therefore, that the port can be permitted at Vadhavan or anywhere within the limits of Dahanu Taluka and its buffer zone,” Khale has written to the MoEFCC. The latter’s decision on JNPA’s request for marine- dredging in Daman is awaited.