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Greenfield port at Vadhavan Dahanu, Controversy Explained

In December 2020, residents of Vadhavan, a village in Maharashtra’s Dahanu taluka, approximately 131 km away from Mumbai, staged a protest.

By Ground Report
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Greenfield port at Vadhavan Dahanu, Controversy Explained

In December 2020, residents of Vadhavan, a village in Maharashtra’s Dahanu taluka, approximately 131 km away from Mumbai, staged a protest. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPA) conducted a biodiversity survey for the preparation of the Vadhavan Port construction, which the demonstration was against. The port project received preliminary approval from the Union Cabinet in February 2020.

In February 2020, the Union Cabinet gave in-principle approval for the construction of the port. They will design the port to handle 254 million tonnes of cargo. The estimated total cost for the port development rounds to about 65,544.54 crores.

Every year during Akshaya Tritiya, residents of Dahanu and nearby villages embark on a unique pilgrimage into the sea. Recently, their opposition to a project threatening their livelihoods and violating environmental regulations has been vocalized.

Primarily relying on fishing, alongside small-scale farming and diemaking, locals face potential challenges if a proposed port disrupts their fishing grounds, particularly a vital lobster breeding area.

Despite concerns, this year, around 600 pilgrims undertook a two-hour boat journey to the Shankhodhar Shrine, believed to be where Hindu deity Rama performed post-death rituals, emphasizing the cultural and environmental significance at stake.

Greenfield port Controversy

The proposed Greenfield port at Vadhavan, Dahanu, has ignited a controversy fueled by environmental concerns and local opposition. Aimed at developing a deep-sea port capable of handling large container ships, the project has encountered resistance from environmental groups, local communities, and fishermen who fear its potential adverse effects on the region's ecology and livelihoods.

The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority's (DTEPA) approval of a major port project off Vadhavan Beach intensified controversy. The decision, green-lighting India's largest deep draft port, incited unified protests from groups such as fisherfolk, tribals, farmers, and locals under the Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (VBVSS). Their concerns focused on potential environmental hazards and impacts on fishing and farming.

Vadhvan Port Limits

Dahanu, designated as an "ecologically fragile area" by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests over two decades ago, has been subject to restrictions on potentially harmful industrial activities. The locals argue that the port's construction not only endangers the flora and fauna of Dahanu but also disrupts essential activities like fishing and farming, integral to their livelihoods.

Protesters questioned the validity of a biodiversity survey done by JNPT officials and National Institute of Oceanography scientists without approval from the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority. The Vadhavan Gram Panchayat, which opposed the proposed port in 2014, was informed of this survey. The situation is tense as the MoEF's appeal to dissolve the DTEPA is awaiting Supreme Court decision.

Impact on Local Communities

Local communities in Dahanu rely heavily on fishing and agriculture for their sustenance. The port project, they fear, would disrupt their traditional livelihoods, leading to displacement and loss of income. Moreover, they worry about the influx of outsiders, which could alter the social fabric of their villages.

People expect the construction of the port to disrupt fishing and farming activities, which are the primary sources of income for the local population. A survey by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) revealed that the project could impact the livelihoods of at least 20,809 fisherfolk, comprising 5,333 families living in 16 fishing villages within a 10km radius of the port.

The protesters believe that the port will cause the fishing community to lose their livelihoods. They argue that the port's construction in the sea will displace water and cause erosion. This displaced water would enter coastal belt villages and the construction would lead to the loss of biodiversity in the fishing golden belt of the Arabian ocean - these are some of the reasons they oppose it.

Proposed Vadhavan Port in Maharashtra

Moreover, environmentalists and locals argue that the project violates the region’s eco-sensitive zone and lacks legal precedence. They maintain that the project’s draft environment impact assessment (EIA) report is “superficial” and question the rigour of a key report by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM).

In October 2020, the project's new administrator, JNPA, had been granted terms of reference for a fresh design which is 400% times the size proposed by P&O in 1997.

According to the detailed project report by JNPA, they will reclaim approximately 3,496 acres of land from the Arabian Sea for Vadhavan Port, in contrast to the 702 acres that the DTEPA had denied permission for.

What Vadhavan port project entail?

The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) are jointly planning to develop the Vadhavan Port project off Vadhavan Beach, near Dahanu in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. Experts expect the port to become India's largest deep draft port, with a natural draft of around 20 meters near the shore.

Master Plan Layout. Photo Credit: jnport

This would make it an ideal hub for handling larger container vessels of 16,000 to 20,000 TEU, enabling advantages of scale and reduced logistics costs. The planners intend to develop the port in two phases, with the port terminals developed on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis. The Union Cabinet has given the project in-principle approval and it is currently under consideration.

Approval in ecologically fragile area

The Vadhavan Port project received approval in the ecologically fragile area of Dahanu taluka through a series of clearances and permissions. The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) granted a non-objection certificate for the new port. 

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) stated that the ecologically sensitive Dahanu taluka area allows ports as an industry. 

Despite objections, the DTEPA approved the application and granted permission for the construction of the port, subject to clearances from other authorities such as MoEF & CC, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), and the report of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). 

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in April 2020, listed operations such as ports and harbours, jetties and dredging activities as “non-industrial operations”. These steps led to the approval of the Vadhavan Port in an ecologically fragile area.

The Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA), a body appointed by the Supreme Court in 1996 to regulate industrial and other activities that could pose a threat to the Dahanu eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), officially declared as “ecologically fragile” in 1991, first rejected the development of Vadhavan Port on September 19, 1998. An Australian company, P&O Ports Pvt Ltd, put forward the development proposal, but has since opted out of the project.

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