CHENNAI: Accusing officials here of submitting false information to help a private firm build fishing harbour in the Coastal Regulation Zone’s (CRZ) ‘no development’ area in Kanniyakumari district, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has vehemently opposed the appeal against cancelling the clearance. It noted that the area identified for the project had natural sand dunes, frequented by marine turtles during breading season.
After the proposed fishing harbour in Needakarai village in Agastheewaram taluk was cancelled by the Ministry, Rajakkamangalam Thurai Fishing Harbour Private Limited had moved the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal.
The Ministry had cancelled the CRZ clearance on the grounds that the documents submitted lacked factual correctness with respect to the presence of sand dunes at the project site.The State Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute of Remote Sensing at Anna University gave a favourable report on the proposal to set up the fishing harbour, while the District Forest Officer gave a certificate that there were no sand dunes or turtle nesting. The State government then sent its recommendation to the ministry to establish the harbour, based on which it granted the CRZ clearance on July 18, 2011.
Speaking to Express, sources in the ministry alleged that the private firm has ‘managed’ the officials to push the project. The recommendations sent to the Centre had factual errors, and kept the ministry in dark about the presence of natural sand dunes, the officials charged.
The whole episode came to light after the Conservation of Natural Trust and Pannaiyoor Region Citizens Welfare Trust petitioned the MoEFCC and also the tribunal.Following this, a site inspection was conducted by the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and scientist of ‘F’ Regional office, MoEFCC, in Chennai on January 17, 2015. It was revealed that the project area indeed had sand dunes, and there had been instances of turtles laying eggs in the project area.
In fact, the latest gazette notification by the Fisheries Department on potential sea turtle nesting sites along the State’s coast included Rajakkamangalam Thurai.The MoEFCC had issued show-cause notices to the chairman of the Tamil Nadu Coastal Zone Management Authority and the director of Institute of Remote Sensing at Anna University for misrepresenting the facts.
The National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, Chennai also confirmed that there are sand dunes in the project site.
Presenting detailed arguments on Wednesday when the appeal from the company came before the tribunal, GM Syed Nurullah Sheriff, counsel for Environment Ministry, said the ministry is now contemplating initiation of criminal proceedings against the officials who wilfully suppressed the facts.
During the next hearing, the firm and State officials will explain their version before the tribunal.