CHENNAI: The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday vacated the interim stay on the construction of a standalone tuna fishing harbour in Thiruvottiyur Kuppam village in Ennore.
The relief was granted after the fisheries department obtained environmental clearance from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
In February this year, while admitting the petition filed by Meenavar Nala Sangam, the tribunal had ordered a stay on the project after it was prima facie proved that the construction was being carried without obtaining mandatory environmental clearance. In July, the tribunal formed a joint committee, comprising members from SEIAA, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Tiruvallur district collector, to submit a factual and action-taken report including any violations and the extent of environmental damage caused.
On Monday, when the matter came up for hearing, the committee submitted the report and confirmed that the project got environmental clearance from the SEIAA. However, in order to assess the damage caused by the fisheries department to the coastal area and calculate the compensation, the committee has sought assistance from the Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS), Anna University.
The tribunal has accepted the recommendation of the committee and posted the case for further hearing to October 27.
Fisheries Commissioner GS Sameeran told The New Indian Express that the proposed tuna fishing harbour was a flagship project of the state government intended to create exclusive facilities for better tuna catching and processing.
"The facility is intended principally to ease out the congested Chennai fishing harbour as it is overflowing with more traffic and fishing activities. At times, there is an acute shortage of space to land the boats inside the harbour. The proposed harbour location is about 3.5 km north of Chennai fishing harbour which will provide location advantage and flexibility in harbour operation and fishing activities."
As per the Detailed Project Report (DPR), the proposed harbour will have fish handling halls, auction hall, cold storage, ice factory, fuelling station, power-back up centres and a dormitory for workers. Water spread areas and the proposed wharf facilities are envisaged with elaborate planning and engineering design to facilitate fishing activities and boat or vessel management for about 300 FRP boats, 300 trawlers and 200 tuna vessels.
At present, from the Chennai fishing harbour, there are about 300 boats operating exclusively to venture deep into the Bay of Bengal to catch tuna and bring in about 1,000 tonnes every month.
The Tamil Nadu government is making conscious attempts to enhance the harbour facilities and promote deep sea tuna catching and processing, as this is seen as a solution to fishermen's problems.
As per the estimates, the fishery resource potential oceanic tuna in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is 2,13,000 tonnes. Method of fishing and hygienic on-board handling of tuna are the major criteria to maintain its quality for the export market, yielding high returns for the catchers. The basic cold storage facility of the deep sea fishing vessels presently operating from Tamil Nadu is inadequate to meet the export quality.
Moreover, there are no shore infrastructural facilities such as chilled receiving stations with temperature controlled duct for receiving tuna from the fishing vessels, pre-processing and freezing facilities to maintain the cold chain to handle the high-valued deep sea catches, thereby posing major concern when it comes to exporting.
Sameeran said the proposed tuna harbour will bridge this logistic gap. "The state government is providing a 50 per cent subsidy to build tuna long liners, which would cost about Rs 60 lakh. Tuna fishing is most sustainable. Per annum income from deep sea fishing can be eight times higher compared to a trawler."
The harbour is being built at an estimated cost of Rs 241.42 crore.