New Delhi: An expert panel of the environment ministry has recommended clearance for development of a Petroleum, Chemical and Petro-chemical Investment Region (PCPIR) in Bharuch, Gujarat, despite concerns regarding its impact on the highly erosion-prone coastal area and migratory birds.

The PCPIR has been proposed by the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) at an estimated cost of about Rs15,300 crore.

It is spread over 44 villages in the district in an area of about 45,298.59 hectares and will be developed phase-wise by 2040.

Of the 45,298 hectares, 50.79% of the area shall be developed as processing area, which will have medium- and large-scale PCP industries (petroleum, chemical and petro-chemical), engineering industries, port/ship building, salt pans, warehousing, oil terminals and logistics.

The remaining 49.21% of the area shall be developed as a non-processing area, including residential, commercial, institutional and recreational areas, roads and water bodies like ponds and lakes.

The project was first considered during the 6-7 April meeting of the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) for industrial area and highways. It was earlier considered by EAC in June 2016, December 2016 and February 2017.

As per the minutes of the meeting, which were reviewed by Mint, the expert panel “recommended the project for grant of environmental and CRZ clearance", but specified that all coastal rules shall be strictly complied with and that the natural flow of river Narmada shall not be altered or tampered with.

“Given the river ecology and its dependency on sustenance of fishery in coastal areas (near Gulf of Khambhat), alternate sources need to be explored to meet the water demand for the project, in addition to the best recycling practices for the industrial requirements," the expert panel said.

EAC only recommends or rejects a project for environment clearance. The final decision will be taken by the environment ministry but it rarely overturns the decision of the expert committees.

The panel further observed that the coastal line involved in the project was highly erosion-prone.

“Detailed scientific studies in this regard need to be carried by an expert institution and Coastal Management Plan to be formulated for its implementation by all the stakeholders," it added.

It also stressed that the project involves considerable area of about 3,477 hectares attracting regulation under India’s 2011 Coastal norms.

“A firm action plan needs to be put in place for conservation of such eco-sensitive areas as a critical component of the EMP (environmental management plan) with adequate funds earmarked for the same," said the committee.

The panel also said that Gujarat is one of the most important states for migratory bird species. “Coastal wetlands of Gujarat, particularly coastal mudflats, harbour very large population of waders. As such, the activities proposed within the mudflats and adjoining areas are expected to have large scale adverse impacts on migratory shorebirds," EAC noted.