Expressing concern over the route of migratory birds, an expert panel of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has, for now, refused to consider a proposal from the Mumbai Port Trust, related to the development of a marina in Mumbai.

The proposal of the Mumbai Port Trust, also known as MbPT, which sought Coastal Regulation Zone clearance, was considered by the environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee for projects related to the Coastal Regulation Zone in its meeting on April 28.

This project was one among the nearly 200 projects that the ministry’s expert panels considered in its meetings via video conferences for green clearances or Terms of Reference during the Covid-19 lockdown. These are the guidelines for conducting environmental studies of projects after which a project is considered for clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committees, or EACs. In some of the meetings, the expert panels admitted they are facing a time crunch in properly discussing the project.

The marina project

During the meeting on April 28, the EAC dealing with Coastal Regulation Zones was informed that the Mumbai Marina project is proposed at “Princess Dock by restoring water bodies by re-excavation of existing part basin, for providing sheltered yacht berthing and marina ancillaries.”

The plan is to create a “much needed” and “iconic” marina for Mumbai along with its supporting ancillary activities. Considering the historical-cultural importance of India’s financial and commercial capital, the idea is also to look at the marina from the perspective of opening the “city to tourism by sea”.

At present, India’s only functional marina is in Kochi in Kerala.

Kochi International Marina. Credit: Oceanblueboats/Wikimedia Commons

According to the information provided to the EAC during the meeting, the Mumbai Marina project includes 8.02 hectares of land area – 5.20 hectares for the marina basin, one hectare for an ancillary center, 0.84 hectare for the walkway, and 0.98 hectare for yacht repair and maintenance. The project’s cost is estimated to be about Rs 364.84 crore.

The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority has already recommended the above proposal for clearance in December 2019. The Authority, while recommending the proposal to the environment ministry in December 2019, had noted that earlier there was a plan for construction of an offshore container terminal project at Princess Dock, based on a ministry clearance in 2006.

Accordingly, the reclamation work had also started and completed in 2015-’16, with a few pockets not fully reclaimed. The MCZMA letter noted that since the terminal project is shelved, the MbPT’s marina project envisages excavation of the 2.5 lakh-cubic metre reclaimed area.

This point was further stressed upon during the EAC’s meeting in April. According to the minutes of the meeting, the project proponent informed that “due to de-industrialisation in the Mumbai region, there is a general decline in all kinds of port activities at the Mumbai Port.”

For decades, Mumbai Port has been the principal gateway to India and remained India’s premier port. It played a pivotal role in the development of the national economy and prosperity of Mumbai city. Even though Mumbai Port is facing challenges posed by competition from adjoining ports and private ports, changing traffic patterns, inherent physical constraints and continuing labour intensive operations, etc, it still caters to 10% of India’s sea-borne trade handled by major ports of the country in terms of volume. It caters about 19% of Point of Loading traffic handled by major ports.

Leisure activities

The Princess Dock at Mazgaon in South Mumbai was built in the 18th century during the British rule in India to manage the increase of maritime traffic in Mumbai. In 2013, it was filled up to create a new container terminal in the Mumbai Port. Following that, in 2017 after a container terminal was developed at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Navi Mumbai, the Mumbai Port Trust decided to develop the Princess Dock area for leisure activities more suitable with urban uses.

During the April meeting, the EAC was told that the rise of the new Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust across the bay, in the second half of 1980s, has resulted in the diversion of almost the entire container cargo segment to the new container port.

The MbPT stressed that further said that large parcels of land along the Eastern waterfront that have become redundant for port purpose can be put to good use for meeting the urban development needs of the city and thus, the “masterplan carried out from the MbPT proposes the development of a great part of the Mumbai Port in an urban waterfront.”

While making a case for the marina project, the detailed project report said that “a considerable fact for a marina in Mumbai is the high number of yachts that visit or are based in the city.”

A high number of yachts either visit Mumbai or are based in the city. Credit: Pxfuel

“Moreover, the fleet anchors the Gateway of India monument, requiring owners to step on-board via a small slipway or, in the case of larger yachts, hire tenders to ferry them around,” added the report. “Having the most number of privately owned leisure boats, it is a ready market for the marina. Due to unavailability of a designated marina of Mumbai, at any given time, around 200 small leisure boats can be seen moored near the Gateway of India.”

The panel was informed that the excavated earth will be utilised for Jawahar Dweep reclamation work which is under progress. Jawahar Dweep is a small island off the coast of Mumbai where land reclamation work of MbPT is going on.

However, the environment ministry’s expert panel was not fully convinced about the excavation at Princess Dock and had concerns regarding migratory birds. The EAC “desired to know the impact of such reclamation on near shore areas for migratory birds and roosting sites if any, with focus on whether such reclamation and subsequent impact on migratory birds will affect Navi Mumbai International Airport air safety.”

Impact on birds

The EAC noted it has received a representation from a non-governmental organisation, which contains “few valid concerns and therefore the project proponent shall provide its written response.” It observed that as indicated in the representation received, information on avian fauna [migratory birds] in the region may be submitted for the perusal of the committee.

Shashank Dalvi, who is an ornithologist and director of Eco-Connect Ventures, an environmental think tank, said a proper study is required to understand the correct behaviour of the birds at Princess Dock area and surrounding areas.

“Though a good part of Mumbai falls in the migratory birds’ route, it is better to conduct a multi-season and multi taxa study to correctly understand the behaviour of migratory birds. That will give a correct idea of the impact of the project on the route of the birds and vice versa,” Dalvi told Mongabay-India.

A recent news report highlighted that wetlands along the Thane creek and Mumbai harbour have been included in the Central Asian Flyway, which is one among nine migratory flyways identified under the international Convention of Migratory Species.

Additionally, the expert panel also noted that the project envisages the establishment of a yacht repair facility, including handling of bunker water and therefore oil spills and management of waste oil and other hazardous materials should find elaborate details in the environmental impact assessment report.

“The committee was of the opinion that the project proponent need to be mindful of the increase in traffic volume due to the recreational facility now envisaged and details on the same need to be presented,” noted the committee as per the minutes of the April meeting. “The detailed design of marina such as its water spread area, navigational requirements and impact during floods/storm surge should be submitted. In view of the above and considering that such details as noted above could not be forthcoming from the project proponent during the course of the video conferencing presentation, the Committee decided that these details can be submitted and a view can be taken at a later stage.” It “deferred” the proposal “for reconsideration at a later stage”.

Other deferred projects

While the EACs have cleared many projects – including the controversial one related to India’s new Parliament building – some sector-specific EACs have deferred clearances for others due to environmental concerns, violations of previous clearance conditions or incomplete information.

For instance, the expert panel on coastal regulation zone projects also discussed Gujarat government’s proposal seeking a clearance for 3,400-megawatt of the solar project at Dholera Special Investment Region near ecologically sensitive Gulf of Khambat in Gujarat. It is part of 4,400 MW solar power park.

The environment ministry’s expert panel refused to consider Gujarat’s solar power park project. Credit: Vinaykumar8687/Wikimedia Commons

Last year, in January 2019, this EAC had recommended clearance to the first phase of this project by giving a go-ahead for 1,000 MW. The panel had asked for a series of studies focusing on erosion, sea-level rise and impact on migratory birds. However, the EAC noted that “the studies/reports desired by the committee in its earlier meeting held on January 25, 2019, are yet to be submitted and the recommendation made while agreeing to the 1000 MW was very explicit.”

The panel noted that “it would be premature and would be perfunctory to proceed further and appraise/recommend inclusion of the remaining 3,400 MW at this stage.” It “declined to consider the request” of the Gujarat government and deferred the project.

In another example, the expert panel on thermal power projects plants deferred environment clearance for 2,400-megawatt Talabira thermal power project of NLC India in Jharsuguda, Odisha. The panel noted that the environmental impact assessment report does not address important points and asked the company to revise the EIA report which is missing socio-impact assessment study, water sustainability study and study on cumulative impacts of existing industries within the study area.

The EAC on coal mining in its April meeting deferred environment clearance for Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation Limited’s Suliyari coal mining project of five million tonnes per annum in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. The panel returned the proposal and noted that they had “very limited time to go through the detailed proposal”.

In another example, the EAC on industry projects returned a proposal regarding the expansion of a rolling mill in Ludhiana, Punjab, observing that the project area is in a “critically polluted area” and the project proponent “don’t have any definite plan for surface water availability and acquisition of land for 40 percent green belt development.”

The EAC on non-coal mining deferred a diamond mine proposal in Panna, Madhya Pradesh, as the project proponent didn’t have “recommendation of the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court” or “valid forest clearance” among other things.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.