«REPORT OF THE IUCN SCOPING MISSION TO THE DHAMRA PORT PROJECT, ORISSA, INDIA 1. Introduction In July 2006, Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional ...»
REPORT OF THE IUCN SCOPING MISSION TO THE
DHAMRA PORT PROJECT, ORISSA, INDIA
In July 2006, Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional Director for Asia met Mr. Ratan Tata,
Chairman of the TATA Sons in Mumbai to discuss various aspects of environment and corporate
social responsibility for TATA’s operations. This also included the conservation of turtles in view
of the impending development of Dhamra Port in Orissa State, on the east coast of India. The project is to be implemented by the Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL) as a joint venture between L&T and Tata Steel. The ensuing communication exchanges between IUCN and TATA Steel led to an agreement between DPCL and IUCN for the latter to undertake a mission for scoping out the issues that could be followed by the setting up of an independent scientific review panel (or some other intervention) organized by IUCN, should the two organizations so agree.
Accordingly, the objectives of the Scoping Mission, undertaken during Nov 29 – Dec 02, 2006
a. Develop an understanding of the Dhamra port project and its implications for the environment in general and for the conservation of turtles in particular;
b. Develop an understanding of the debate and efforts undertaken thus far between the NGOs, DPCL and the Government, and establish a list of key outstanding issues that remain to be addressed;
c. Establish the need and expectations of key stakeholders, in particular DPCL, as to the potential IUCN intervention and support;
d. Clarify with DPCL the conditions, requirements and schedule for potential follow up work (should such a follow up be agreed between IUCN and DPCL); and, e. Establish the scope for the agreed follow up.
2. Mission Composition The mission comprised of Mr. Mohammad Rafiq, Head Business and Biodiversity Program, IUCN HQ, Gland, Switzerland; Dr. T.P Singh, Program Coordinator, Ecosystems and Livelihood, IUCN Regional Office for Asia, Bangkok, Thailand; and Dr. Nicolas Pilcher, Co- Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Marine Turtles Specialist Group (MTSG) and Executive Director, Marine Research Foundation, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
3. Itinerary and Consultations.
In preparation for the visit, the Mission benefited from informal prior consultations with several of IUCN India members and members of Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) of IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). During the mission, most of the time was devoted to site visits, discussions with the DPCL officials and concerned government organizations in Orissa, and reviewing background information, including the environmental impact assessment report that became available in the later part of the mission. An important part of the consultation was 1 the exchange of information and perspectives between the IUCN Mission and the representatives of DPCL. Sections 4, 5 and 6 summarize these perspectives. A detailed itinerary listing names of the persons with whom the mission met is provided in Annex 1.
4. The Dhamra Port Project The project (www.dhamraport.com) is located at Dhamra, Orissa State, on the east coast of India (see the image below). The proposed port site lies 7 km from the river mouth along the landward coast of the northern of the two discharge channels, and not at the mouth of the river proper. The existing port (fishing jetty) is located a few kilometers upstream on the Dhamra River itself.
The Port is a joint venture between L&T and TATA Steel. The main construction work has not started yet but a project facility to accommodate project staff has been secured though a loan / lease agreement with a State Government agency. The development of an access road to the port site is in progress, and port construction is likely to be implemented at full scale soon after the financial closure with potential lenders, which is expected by early 2007.
The project has three main components: port construction, dredging of an access channel, and construction of a 62 km access road and railway link to Bhadrak to the north, and on the HowrahChennai main line. Land acquisition for the road – rail link is in progress, with most land already acquired for the access road and railway. The majority of the Port land has also been acquired.
The project entails extending or further developing the existing port facility at Dhamra established in 1930, although the two are not adjacent. In actuality the proposed development is around 7 km north of mouth of river Dhamra and around a major river bend from the current port facility (a small fishing jetty at the end of Dhamra River), and significantly dwarfs the old port in terms of size and potential environmental impacts.
According to DPCL officials, Dhamra is the preferred location for a deep sea port given the
The project envisages construction of 13 berths in phases as the demand might warrant. The first phase will involve construction of 2 berths and will be completed by December 2009 at an estimated cost of USD 500 million. When fully completed, the port expects to handle 83 million tones of cargo annually, as against the present capacity of 568.7 million tons annually in all the Indian ports. The cargo would include import of coking coal for steel making (from Australia and China), import of thermal coke and limestone, export of iron ore, and others.
The construction will involve some 60 million cubic meters of dredging. The port and the access channel are designed for vessels up to 180,000 DWT (super capsize). Vessels of 150,000 DWT would be able to enter the port 99% percent of the time, while the vessels of 150,000-180,000 DWT would be able to enter 43% of the time (during high tide only).
An environmental impact assessment of the project was undertaken, on the basis of which the proposed development received the approval of relevant government agencies. The Mission was not able to examine the approval letter but was informed that the EIA included an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and that the DPCL would like to further improve the EMP and undertake additional mitigation measures, addressing amongst others the impact from lighting.
The Beach Protection Council, a local NGO, appealed against the permit to operate to National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) but the latter upheld the government approval already granted.
5. Environmental Impact Concerns
Through several presentations DPCL officials conveyed a strong commitment to address the issues of environmental impacts, notably the conservation of Olive Ridely turtles Lepidochelys olivacea and their habitat in Gahirmatha, where they visit for mass nesting events numbering hundreds of thousands of female turtles, and utilize the offshore waters for mating and as an internesting habitat. This is a globally important nesting site for turtles, and therefore has international significance.
The issues related to turtle conservation and the Port development have been the subject of protracted and, at times, strongly contested debate. The opinions vary widely, from assertions that the development of the port will severely threaten the nesting and existence of turtles (by conservation NGOs) to no impact (NEAA), although the DPCL recognizes there will be impacts but believes these are manageable through simple mitigation measures (by DPCL officials).
According to the DPCL officials, the Gahirmatha nesting beach lies some 18 km away in a straight line, and some 30 km through available waterways, with some islands intervening in between as to reduce the impact of lights and glare from the port, and this distance was considered by them to be sufficient to minimise impacts to turtles.
Following concerns raised in 2005 by conservation NGOs, Tata Steel offered (and advanced necessary funds) to WWF Orissa for an assessment of the potential impacts by the Port. The funds were later returned at the direction of WWF India. The Bombay Natural History Society was subsequently given funding to carry out a similar study, to assess the potential project impacts and solutions regarding turtles. They also returned the funds, accusing the project of 3 having already started the development work (land acquisition). Various people in the NGO community felt that the project should have been abandoned or moved to an alternate location, had the company been sincere in its commitment to protect the environment. However, from the initial intelligence that the Mission was able to gather, the company lacked a scientific basis for decision making and the NGOs did not provide practical advice or assist when invited by the company to undertake necessary scientific assessments, thus representing a missed opportunity to have an impact at the earlier stages of the development.
DPCL officials contend that, when the BNHS withdrew its involvement, except for some land acquisition processes, no construction had started, and that they were still committed to abandoning the project if the proposed development scientifically proved to be unmanageably inconsistent with turtle conservation At this belated stage however, and considering the lack of a timely and credible advice to the contrary, DPCL does not see abandoning the project as a realistic option. Short of that though, as clarified during the Mission’s meeting with the CEO, the company has reaffirmed its commitment to undertake any and all mitigation measures that would be necessary to protect the turtles and their nesting habitats.
As has become clear, the proposed project has had a long and often controversial history, particularly as it relates to marine turtles, and numerous issues have been raised in defense of both the turtles and the port proposal. The manner in which the EIA was obtained, for instance, has been a source of contention among opponents to the project, as the Ministry of Surface Transport (MOST) approved the development permit after reviewing the EIA on the basis of a delegated authority from the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. This delegation of authority was possible as, technically, the project was an extension of an existing port and not the development of a new port. However, in our view the port is really not an expansion of an old port, the two are not even adjacent, and hence this procedural loophole apparently preempted the possibility of a thorough review of the environmental impact assessment by the relevant State government departments such as that of Wildlife and Forests, and concerned NGOs.
Compounding this, there is a recurring difference of opinion about if and how the proposed development has affected the boundaries and viability of the Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary, Bhitarkanika National park, and other protected areas in the vicinity. Some people argue the port predates establishment of the protected area(s), while others say sizable chunks were excised from the protected areas in 1998 to accommodate the proposed development.
It appears then that a lack of understanding of the issues on all sides of the arguments to date has exacerbated the issues related to the port proposal: The developers were not clear about the real concerns of the NGOs, as these had not been clearly articulated. The NGOs didn’t know the commitment of the DCPL, as this also had not been clearly articulated. The Government had no idea of the potential impacts, as these had also not been clearly articulated. Thus, most people operated on a ‘half knowledge’ basis, whereby they knew parts of each argument. It seems there was a lack of understanding on the implications of the port development on the turtles based on biology and natural history, and both sides worked rather from notions or partial understandings of common misconceptions about turtles. Issues such as these, and numerous others, will need to be dealt with in any future environmental planning if the project is to benefit from valuable scientific and conservation input from the relevant government agencies and NGOs.
46. The Roles of IUCN
Through presentations to the DPCL authorities, the IUCN Mission outlined the vision, mission and organization of IUCN, highlighting its unique membership drawn from states and civil society, its convening mandate and role in addressing difficult often controversial conservation and development issues, its scientific knowledge base, its ability to link policy and action and its unparallel access to high quality conservation expertise resident in its 10,000 members strong six scientific commissions, as well as in its global network of secretariat staff, members and partners.
The Mission explained the mandate that the member organizations have given to IUCN, to engage businesses in conservation agendas according to the private sector strategy approved by IUCN Council and the operational guidelines that seek objectivity, transparency and result orientation in such engagements while protecting the organization’s image and integrity as its most valuable assets.
Experiences of IUCN engagement with the mining industry, oil and gas businesses, agricultural sector, forest industries, fisheries and tourism were shared with DPCL authorities exemplifying IUCN’s value in terms of credible and independent science and convening of review panels and dialogues on contentious issues.
It was clarified that while IUCN expected to be paid for its costs, it was important for its potential business partners to understand and respect the need for its independence and credibility, both of which are at the very heart of its value for a business, committed to conservation.
7. IUCN as a Source of Independent, Credible and Sound Biological Information
The IUCN delegation further highlighted the broad extent and global leadership in species-based science and conservation through its Species Survival Commission, and in particular in this instance of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG). The Mission noted that several of the key players in past deliberations were current members of the MTSG, and that in future deliberations IUCN would be able to draw on a wide base of specialists involved in turtle conservation and management issues related to protected areas, lighting pollution, urban planning, turtle biology and migration, amongst others.