New Delhi: India’s environment and forests ministry has refused to grant approval to expand a power generation project in Ratnagiri district of electricity-starved Maharashtra state over fears that it might harm Alphonso mangoes, one of country’s marquee exports.
A coal-fired 1,200MW plant—being built in the district by JSW Energy (Ratnagiri) Ltd, part of the O.P. Jindal group—is expected to go on stream next year. The ministry has, however, declined to approve the company’s plan to add 1,200MW capacity to the project till a study is done on its impact on local mango orchards.
It has asked state-funded Konkan Krishi Vidyapith in Dapoli, a small town in Ratnagiri, to conduct an impact study on Alphonso mangoes, according to the minutes of the meeting of a committee that deliberated on the matter and accessed by Mint.
Power sap: Mango growers in Ratnagiri are protesting the construction and expansion of JSW’s electricity project, citing discrepancies in the environmental clearance obtained by the firm last year. (Photo: Manoj Patil / HT)
The “important question here is why the plant was allowed to be set up and now only expansion is being stalled for the study,” said Ritwick Dutta, a counsel for Balachandra Bhikaji Nalwade, a local Alphonso mango grower who has filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay high court.
In another bizarre twist, the expert appraisal committee for thermal power and coal mining projects at the ministry, which asked the Vidyapith to do the study, has declined to provide JSW the terms of reference, or ToRs, it needs to conduct an environmental impact assessment for the expansion of the plant.
This is the second time the committee has refused to detail terms for JSW’s project expansion. After the first refusal early this year, the ministry had asked its committee to reconsider the case.
Two committee members contacted by Mint declined comment.
“We are not asking for clearance here,” said a senior JSW official, who asked not to be named. “We are only asking for the ToR, after which it will take us one more year to get the assessment done.”
The power shortage in Maharashtra is estimated at around 5,000MW compared with 118,000MW in entire India, according to the country’s Central Electricity Authority.
This is not the first time that proposals to build thermal power plants have been delayed in the district.
Last year, a so-called ultra mega power project thatwould have had an installed capacity of 4,000MW was shelved due to supposed effects it would have had on mango cultivation.
Meanwhile, mango growers who are protesting the construction and expansion of JSW’s power project, have said there are several discrepancies in the initial environmental clearance the firm won last year. “There are several gaps in the way JSW has conducted the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the public hearing for the first clearance,” said Dutta.
“These need to be looked at before the expansion goes ahead,” he said.
Nalwade has also approached the NationalEnvironmental Appellate Authority, or NEAA, India’s apex body to consider lapses in the environmental clearance process.
According to an affidavit filed by Nalwade at NEAA, EIA submitted for the public hearing was incomplete and different from the one submitted at the ministry.
“Alternative sites were not mentioned in the EIA, a requirement under the EIA notification,” Dutta pointed out.
The company declined to comment on the matter and said it will take all measures to curb any adverse effects.
The next hearing of NEAA is on 17 July.
JSW, however, said it will complete a post-commissioning study to look at the effects on mango cultivation. “The plant is right now in advance construction and will be commissioned next year. We will try to convince the committee to give us the ToRs for expansion,” said the company official.
A 2006 report by Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, or Neeri, said 6.5% of people living within 2km of a thermal power plant in India suffer from respiratory problems.
The report further said thermal power plants are the biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.
JSW has said in an affidavit “these are universal phenomenon” and not specific to this project alone.