MPT : No Cheer without pollution control

By Prabhakar Timble
18 September 2012 06:44 IST

The 125 year old Mormugao port on the west coast of India, with an exquisite natural harbour has made immense contribution to the growth of Goa’s mining industry and the overall economic development of India. Today, it is a major port catering to the needs of trade and industry as well as enhancing the marine transport industry. Expansion of port capacity and infrastructure to cater to the needs of mining industry largely of Goa & Karnataka, provision of warehousing services, increased handling of bulk materials and logistics to support other industries like pharma is undoubtedly needed. Nobody will deny that Mormugao port will be required to double its cargo handling capacity to meet the growing developmental needs of Goa and neighbouring areas.

Prized violator

An attitude of contempt to environmental norms and criminal deviations from standard limits of air and water pollution would definitely be a major stumbling block in the expansion plans of the MPT. It is evident looking at the current emissions and the ambient air pollution that the port trust or its agents have scant respect to any rules. The current situation of ambient pollution is beyond prescribed limits. The MPT is just not bothered to monitor pollutants and install technologies to control the contamination. The Sate Pollution Control Board is extremely soft in this regard, probably enamoured by the clout of a port trust which behave like independent governments within a State. GSPCB is a silent spectator to the criminal deviations. The Ministry for Environment & Forests (MoEF) considers the job as completed once the Environmental Clearance (EC) is granted and the EC is probably a license to the polluter to pollute.

The critical issue is of pollution in handling of coal and to some extent the Karnataka iron ore. Water becomes the critical input for suppression of fugitive dust in unloading, loading and stockpiling operations. At present, the port daily handles around 2 lakh tons of dry cargo.  MPT receives 1200 cubic metres of water which includes around 600 from its own bore wells. The MPT itself holds that their requirement is 3000 cubic metres considering present operations. The result of this yawning shortfall is the suspended particulate matter in the surrounding areas beyond permissible limits. Any expansion of operations, though needed for economic development would mean playing with the health and safety of people. There are advanced and sophisticated technologies available for handling of such bulk materials which undoubtedly involve higher costs. The issue here is one of willingness to adhere to the norms of environment control, health and safety. I do not think that the MPT or their agents lack in the ability in terms of investments required for safe and pollution-free operations.

No trust in the Trust

From the time the Jindal group took over the operations from berth 5 & 6, the list of broken promises by MPT begins. I am told that the rates of handling materials were almost hiked five times by the private operator as opposed to the tariffs earlier levied by the MPT. The port trust did not take any positive steps to monitor and control emissions, fugitive dust and other forms of pollution. MPT may exhibit some arrangements and equipment for spraying of water, but if the end result is intolerable pollution the whole engagement is mere eyewash. The port trust had also committed itself in 2003 for road transportation to bypass the Vasco town. Though not a direct step to control pollution, this measure was to relieve truck congestion and minimise dust in the “town area”. However, unless measures are taken for covered operations in most stages of operations, there does not seem to be a viable solution.

MPT will witness a major expansion in daily operations with the commencement of operations by the Adani group from berth 7 shortly. Another massive expansion is on the anvil with the West of Break Water project (WOBW). A public hearing fixed on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report could not materialise purely on technical grounds recently.  The EIA of the envisaged project is not seized of the background emissions on account of current operations.

The lukewarm approach and attitude of the MPT to such grave concerns of health, safety and pollution are understandable. MPT knows its strengths and the more it remains satisfied with its fortes, the wider would be the trust deficits. The first is the belief that other ports in India cause more pollution than the Murmugao port and hence nothing more should be expected from MPT. So, here is a shepherd who keeps the stable much cleaner.  Second, the reverse argument of puncturing the public causes groups as those opposed to development. Third is the underlying assumption that as MPT expands the businesses associated with marine transportation logistics would thrive and these stakeholders would silence the opposition.

The residents of the port town have been agitating since 2003. By now, they may resign to the fate that MPT would refuse any discipline requiring adherence to pollution laws. They may finally fall in love to be the victims of health and related hazards. As it happens, the local population is also the beneficiary of MPT operations and the market economy of the Vasco town is knotted with the development of the port. The local business and industry circles do not wish to be in bad books with the port authorities.  Though concerned about pollution, their opposition to MPT plans are more covert than overt. They oppose in “absentia” by providing what they may feel as support to environmentally conscious citizens.  The vocal voices on the street have become mute (but vocal on Facebook). MPT needs to fall in line. If our MoEF and GSPCB fail to ensure compliance from MPT, then success can come only if the classes can mobilise the masses for assertive action. Otherwise, looking at the unconcerned and indifferent approach of the MPT, it may be eager to invite a Justice Shah- type commission of inquiry for an environmental audit which may finally lock and immobilise operations. If the Board of Trustees is listening, it can pre-empt this deadlock and latch.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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