An environment ministry panel has rejected a proposal for a 4,000-mw power plant worth Rs30,827 crore in Tamil Nadu as all the three shortlisted sites are in an ecologically sensitive marine national park area and close to coral reef island ecosystems.
The expert appraisal committee (EAC) on thermal power and coal mining, which considered the project at its 30 August meeting, has asked the state government to explore new sites.
Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa had announced the project in September 2015, after which the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation shortlisted the three sites.
The state power distribution company had sought terms of reference from the EAC to set up the thermal power plant based on sea water. Terms of reference are guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessment studies of projects, based on which the environment ministry grants or rejects green clearance.
As per the minutes of the EAC meeting, reviewed by Mint, the proposed sites are Tharaikudi and Kannirajapuram Narippaiyur villages (Site 1), Kondalampatti village (Site 2) and Valinokkam and Siraikulam villages (Site 3), all in the Kadaladi taluka.
The panel noted that all the sites are in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu and located within the buffer zone of the marine national park in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve.
“Further, all the three sites are located within 5.5 km – 11 km from biologically rich coral reef island ecosystems of the Marine National Park of Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve," according to the minutes.
The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park has a core area of about 560 sq. km, from Rameswaram to Tuticorin, which is within the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve that covers an area of 10,500 sq. km on the south-east coast of India.
It is one of the world’s richest regions from the marine bio diversity perspective and the first marine biosphere reserve in Southeast Asia. The reserve comprises 21 islands with estuaries, mudflats, beaches, forests of the near shore environment, including marine components such as algae communities, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves.
Among the gulf’s 3,600 plant and animal species are the globally endangered Sea Cow (Dugong dugon) and six mangrove species endemic to peninsular India.
According to the Tamil Nadu forest department, there are around 125 villages along the coastal part of the biosphere reserve that support about 100,000 people, which along with mechanised fishing boats, destructive types of fishing nets and over harvesting of fish make conservation efforts challenging in the region.