coal country

There's pressure on environmental agencies to allow more coal to pass through Goa

Officials claim the port authorities have frequently invoked the Prime Minister's Office to get environmental clearances.

In 2012, when the Bombay High Court ordered the closure of two berths at Mormugao Port Trust that handled the arrival of coal imports, the residents of Vasco in Goa felt a sense of relief. The sea breeze had been blowing coal dust from the port eastwards into the city. A resident, Deelip Mandrekar, had written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court in 2001. The letter became a petition, and 11 years later, the court upheld the case against the port.

The port trust closed down two berths – number 10 and number 11 – which were closest to the city. But the relief did not last long.

“I now see that this was a tactical move,” said TT Shreedharan, an advocate and activist who lives in Vasco. He was impleaded as the petitioner after Mandrekar passed away. Shreedharan pointed out the 2012 judgement of the Bombay High Court had asked the port to explore “enclosed” coal handling to reduce pollution.

The idea had come from the port trust itself. In a feasibility report submitted to the High Court in July 2010, it had outlined a plan to develop an enclosed terminal on berth 11, where four million tonnes of coal could be unloaded and stored in silos or domes. The cost of civil works was estimated at Rs 425 crore.

In late 2011, the port trust told the court that the enclosed terminal could be built on berth 11 by October 2014, and that open air coal operations on berths 10 and 11, which are closest to the city, could be moved here. Convinced that this would “substantially redress” the grievance raised in the petition, the High Court concluded the case in early 2012.

But the port did not build the enclosed terminal. It simply moved the open air operations to berths 5A and 6A further away from the city.

This map shows the location of the berths.

In the years since then, the volume of coal arriving at the port has risen rapidly. In 2014, the Adani group began operations on berth 7 with an annual coal handling capacity of five million tonnes. In 2016, it allotted berth 8 and 9 to Vedanta Resources for handling seven tonnes of coal annually on a public-private partnership. Now, JSW group, which has operated berth 5A and 6A since 2005, wants to double its operations from seven million tonnes to 14 million tonnes of coal annually.

In the process, said Shreedharan, the High Court’s order on limiting coal pollution emanating from the port has been rendered irrelevant.

The port chairman did not respond to Scroll.in’s queries. But reports commissioned by the port give insight into why the port wants to expand its coal handling capacity. With the expanding steel industry in Karnataka requiring more coal to fire its furnaces, the Mormugao Port Trust wants to position itself as the port of choice for coal arrivals, since Goa is closer to the steel plants compared to the ports on India’s eastern coast.

In its endeavour, the port trust has received support from the Union Ministry of Shipping, as the first story in this series reported. But residents allege even government agencies meant to safeguard the environment have sided with the port.

A declining interest

The Goa State Pollution Control Board is the state government agency that enforces environmental laws in the state. Industrial activity requires the board’s approval. It has the powers to shut down any activity that is causing air or water pollution beyond permissible limits.

For many years, the board kept a watch over the coal handling operations at Mormugao Port Trust.

In November 2012, Gammon India won a public-private partnership contract to develop an enclosed terminal at berth 11 to handle two million tonnes of coal. But in 2013, when the port trust sought permission from the pollution control board to open the terminal, the board raised concerns about increasing coal handling at the port. It pointed out that between JSW group and the Adani terminal, the port was already going to handle 12 million tonnes of coal. It asked the port trust to submit an impact assessment of coal handling at the existing berths, in order to get a permission for the new enclosed terminal. The port trust never submitted the study, and the enclosed terminal never came up.

In December 2015, it ordered Adani and JSW to cut down coal handling by 25% each for one year, after pollution levels repeatedly breached safe levels, and ordered both firms and the port trust to deposit Rs 10 lakh in bank guarantees.

But the recent expansion at the port has paralleled a decline in the board’s interest in monitoring the port, say residents.

In March 2016, the chairman of the board, Jose Manuel Noronha, an educationist, was promoted as chairman of the Goa State Public Service Commission. The chief secretary of Goa, RK Srivastava, was given additional charge of the board, even though it is an autonomous agency under statutory law.

In April 2016, the the board announced that it is doing a month-long “comprehensive study” of air pollution from coal handling at Vasco. In its next meeting the board members resolved that “further action will be initiated based on the report on the comprehensive study being carried out.”

In the next meeting of the board held on June 29, the coal pollution report was left out of all follow-ups to the previous meeting. The report has disappeared since.

In August, then state environment minister Rajendra Arlekar had briefly raised the issue in the state assembly. He said the air ambient quality monitoring stations installed in Vasco had shown dust pollution emanating from the port. “We have already asked them to reduce their handling by 25 per cent. The next step would be to reduce it by 50 per cent and if time comes, we will withdraw their consent to operate,” he said.

“We don’t want to play with life of people living in Vasco,” he added. “Those people have the right of clear air.”

But there was no follow-up action. Arlekar was defeated in the recent state assembly polls.

A senior officer of the pollution control board who did not want to be identified said that although the study had established high pollution levels, it had not carried out “source apportionment”, which would conclusively establish the exact quantum of pollution from each coal terminal. By then, the monsoon season had begun. “The rainfall settles dust particles, so you cannot take meaningful readings,” he said. “There was talk about giving the work to an IIT, but the subject never came up again.”

Invoking the PMO

The other government agency whose green signal was required for the Mormugao Port Trust’s expansion is the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority, a panel of bureaucrats and experts whose clearance is needed for any activity within 500 metres of the coast.

When the port trust approached the coastal authority for its dredging project, it raised several red flags. Its field inspection report, dated August 2015, warned that the “sudden” deepening of the approach channel could cause “drastic morphological changes”. Mormugao Port Trust is situated on the mouth of the Zuari river. The report explained that since the dredging would excavate 15 million cubic metres of seabed, massive amounts of river sediments could be flushed into it, eroding the river banks and threatening settlements along it.

The report also pointed out that the environment impact study conducted by Wapcos, the firm engaged by the port trust, did not assess these risks — it had not even prepared 3D images of the seabed, which would have helped know these risks better. The inspection report concluded that another agency be hired by the environment ministry at the centre to review the Wapcos study and give a second opinion.

Around this time, the Mormugao Port Trust chairman I Jeyakumar visited the coastal authority members “for an informal chat over tea”, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He kept on justifying the project, saying that Mormugao Port is competing with ports on the east coast,” the official said. “He was talking more like a businessman than the chief of a government port. But is the job of a government port to make profits?”

The official added that for this project, the port trust officials who interacted with the coastal authority frequently invoked the Prime Minister’s Office. “I told them one day, ‘why are you invoking the PMO all the time. This is a scientific issue, let’s tackle it from a scientific viewpoint’. They think that by saying PMO’s name, people will keep quiet,” the official said.

Local fishermen are opposed to the port expansion. Photo credit: Nihar Gokhale.
Local fishermen are opposed to the port expansion. Photo credit: Nihar Gokhale.

The role of the environment ministry

In December 2015, based on its inspection report, the coastal authority sent the port trust’s proposal to the environment ministry to conduct further studies. The ministry’s expert appraisal committee – another panel of experts that takes a final call on giving environment and coastal zone clearances – endorsed the authority’s view on the risks associated with the expansion. It recommended a clearance to the project, but on the condition that the coastal authority’s recommendations “shall be complied with”.

There is no evidence of the environment ministry seeking a second opinion, or a review of the Wapcos study. Instead, in two months, it granted the clearance to the port trust, making no mention of the concerns raised by the coastal authority, and bypassing the mandated public hearing.

The National Green Tribunal subsequently quashed the clearance, while hearing a petition filed by two local fishermen cooperatives. A public hearing for the dredging project is now scheduled to be held on April 27.

The port trust’s relentless pursuit of the expansion project has led many residents to give up hope of a fair process. Anil Satardekar, a resident of Vasco who was hospitalised for sudden breathlessness, may not attend any of the three public hearings. The hearings are organised by the state pollution control board. “I have no faith in the pollution control board doing anything against MPT,” he said.

This is the second in a two-part series on the government’s push to build port and highway projects that residents fear will make Goa a coal hub. Read the first part here.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.