A battle of petitions is raging right before the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) expert panel takes up the environmental clearance request for the Vizhinjam international seaport project early next week. Weeks after the public hearing on the project was held and the govt submitted a hefty 4000-page, 8 kg application and allied documents seeking environment clearance for the Vizhinjam project, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF is literally being ‘bombarded’ with more representations, for and against the ambitious multi-crore proposal.
With one section of hoteliers and resort owners camping in New Delhi to ‘lobby’ against the port project, the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industries (CKTI), which support the proposal, shot off letters to the MoEF on Thursday as a counter measure.
On the same day, another organisation - Change.org - e-mailed a similar petition signed by 2,052 people, urging the MoEF to wave the green flag. During a three-day sitting next week, the Vizhinjam project is slated to be considered on Tuesday, according to top officials of the government port company Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd (VISL). In it’s letter to the MoEF, CKTI said that the resort owners who opposed the project constituted only a small group and that their claims were “gross exaggerations” not shared by any other stakeholder in the vicinity. “We strongly believe that the cruise terminal and supported industries would help tap the economic potential of the region in better fashion, considering the strong tourism prospects of the Kovalam-Vizhinjam corridor and on a wider perspective the Kollam-Kovalam-Kanyakumari-Tuticorin tourism belt,” the letter said. In its letter, the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcoming the project, said that the cruise terminal included in the port design would help the local economy by bringing growth to tourism and the small and medium industries.
Yet another petition shot off to the MoEF is by Vizhinjam Motherport Action Samithi. The organisation claimed that some of the resorts opposing the project were doing so with malicious intent and had set up business by throwing Coastal Regulation Zone norms to the winds. On Oct 17, the Additional Secretary, Environment, Kerala, also wrote to the Centre, affirming that the VISL had properly conducted all studies as instructed by the MoEF. On their part, resort owners opposing the project have petitioned the MoEF that the project would destroy fishing prospects in the area, thus hitting the livelihood of thousands, and also the tourism industry in and around Kovalam, an international draw for visitors. They have also alleged that the Environment Impact Assessment was not scientifically done, an accusation which the VISL has vehemently denied. In the meantime, there were even reports that DGP K S Balasubramaniam had reported to the government that ‘resort lobbies’ were trying to scuttle the project.
Balasubramaniam told ‘Express’ that he personally had not submitted any such report, but the ADGP (Intelligence) may have done so.
VISL CEO A S Suresh Babu said the EIA report, allied documents and papers related to the public hearing were submitted to the MoEF in Aug. “We’ve done everything as demanded by the Terms of Reference approved by the MoEF,” he said.
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