New Delhi: Olive Ridley turtles, a critically endangered species, may nest in peace for now—at least on the coast of Orissa.
The ministry of environment and forests has scrapped a proposed power plant near Dhamra port, which is close to the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the nesting sites of the turtles, according to information available on the ministry’s website.
Engineering and construction firm Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) was going to build a 1,680MW coal-based thermal power plant. Its spokesperson declined to comment.
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The project site is just 8km from the sanctuary, which is spread over 672 sq. km. All protected areas in India need to have a 10km buffer as an ecologically sensitive zone, although most states do not implement this rule strictly.
Relief: Newly hatched Olive Ridleys at Rushikulya beach in Orissa. Around 100,000 such turtles nest on the state’s coast every year. Asit Kumar/AFP
These turtles are classified as critically endangered—the highest risk category assigned to species that face extinction—by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an international organization dedicated to natural resource conservation.
Around 100,000 Olive Ridleys nest on the Orissa coast every year.
“The entire coast is turtle habitat,” said Ashish Fernandes, oceans campaigner, Greenpeace, another leading international environment protection group. They start arriving in November in large numbers and stay till April-May, he said.
Fernandes has been protesting the development of Dhamra port, which is a 50:50 joint venture between Tata Steel Ltd and L&T.
“It’s not just the port. It’ll also have other ancillary industries around it,” he said. “It won’t be just the impact of the port but of all industries around.”
The project site is also close to mangrove forests, the ministry noted. The Bhitarkanika sanctuary is the last refuge of the endangered salt water crocodiles as well.
The ministry’s move has put a question mark on the Rs7,650 crore project as L&T had not identified alternative sites for it, according to the minutes of an April meeting of the expert appraisal committee for thermal plants, posted on the ministry’s website.
The so-called environmental impact assessment (EIA) process requires project proponents to identify alternative sites in advance. The expert appraisal panel has to clear the EIA before a project can get under way, according to the Environment Protection Act of 1986.
The ministry has separate appraisal committees for hydroelectric projects, thermal projects, infrastructure, coal mining, non-coal mining, nuclear and industrial projects.
L&T plans to generate 5,000MW of electricity by 2015 by investing nearly Rs30,000 crore, Mint reported on 9 March. Meeting the target will be tough for the company if the Orissa project is delayed.