CAG noted that in MTHL no studies for evaluation of impacts on mudflats, flamingos were carried out …no mitigation measures were envisaged.
MUMBAI, Aug 11 (The CONNECT) - The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has taken a strong objection to the skipping of Environment Impact Assessment for Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) and the Coastal Road project as well as avoiding Cumulative studies on adverse effects of Thane Creek Bridge III.
CAG noted that in the construction of Mumbai Trans Harbour Link neither any studies for evaluation of impacts on mudflats and flamingos was carried out by the proponent nor any expert agency was consulted. As no impacts were identified, no mitigation measures were envisaged.
This despite the fact that the MCZMA in its recommendation stated that the PP was to consult an expert agency, undertake training programmes for construction personnel regularly to minimize the damage to mudflats before commencement to construction work. Also, the proponent was to take expert opinion from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) regarding safeguards to be placed so as to mitigate the disturbances to flamingo habitat. etc.
Commenting on the findings, NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar pointed out that the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced in December 2015 that the State Wildlife Boad presided by him granted three bird sanctuaries at Sewree-Mahul, Panje-Funde and NRI-TS Chanakya wetlands. The government did not move on these despite the BNHS recommendation for the sanctuaries as a wild life mitigation measure. The State Environment Ministry, subsequently informed in response to an RTI query by NatConnect that the records show no such decision on the sanctuaries. “This is shocking,” Kumar said and regretted that Fadnavis did not respond to media queries on this issue.
The CAG report, tabled in Parliament, notes that a cumulative environmental impact assessments are significant to study the incremental effects resulting from the combined influence of various actions at the project area. Mitigation, monitoring and management of the environment can be recommended taking into consideration the risks from the combined effects of the projects in an area.
The Coastal Road Project with significant environmental concerns bypassed the critical stage of public hearing as CRZ Notification does not provide for public consultation in the approval process. It is pertinent to note that Rule 4 (e) of the Notification envisaged that MoEF&CC may under a specific or general order specify the projects which require prior public hearing of project affected people, CAG said.
CAG noted that projects by nature and scale of operation such as the Coastal Road and MTHL attracted the comprehensive EIA assessment in addition to CRZ clearances. However, these projects were approved without undergoing the multistage process of EIA. This gap in the project approval mechanism resulted in awarding project clearance without Terms of Reference (ToRs) and public consultation.
CAG also pointed that MoEF&CC failed to make independent efforts to verify the veracity of the opinion given by private consultants and merely relied on the information submitted by the Project Proponent with respect to potential ecological risks due to the project activities. “It is to be noted that some of the project clearances were quashed later by the NGT on learning that the PP had deliberately suppressed vital information while requesting for clearance,” the Audit said referring to MTHL.
The project ‘Construction of Mumbai Trans- Harbour Sea link (MTHL)’ by M/s Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority was accorded clearance by MoEF&CC in 2013. As the impacts of the project on mangroves, habitat of flamingos and mudflats were not addressed in the EIA, the National Green Tribunal in October 2015 ordered that MoEF&CC needs to consider the project afresh. Audit observed that the project proponent applied to MoEF&CC in 2015 and the project was granted clearance in December 2015 based on EIA report which used the baseline data of only air, water, noise, soil quality, pertaining to the year 2011 while the information regarding the migratory birds visiting the area pertained to 2008. Thus, the baseline data was outdated by four to seven years.
CAG noted that MoEF&CC amended the CRZ notification 2011 to allow for two specific development projects in Maharashtra – the Coastal Road and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial both of which required reclamation of CRZ1 area which is otherwise not permissible.
The Audit examination revealed lapses in the EIA process of the project. Audit observed that the EIA was prepared by a non-accredited consultant and EIA lacked comprehensive ecological evaluation of the project site. Further, though the project attracted EIA appraisal as per the EIA Notification 2006, the project was exempted from public hearing and was granted environmental clearance in 2015.
CAG noted that modification of CRZ notifications for approval of specific projects not only sets a bad precedence but also ends of defeating the efforts to conserve the coastal ecosystems.
As regards the Bullet Train project, CAG noted mismatches on the reports of impact on flamingos. “PP submitted in public hearing that vibrations arising out of the project would not propagate up to creek surface, so there is no adverse impact on flamingos,” the report said. But PP in its submission to EAC stated that it was not possible to predict the impact of vibrations on flamingos till the work actually started.
Though the advertisement for public hearing needs to be published in one major national daily and regional vernacular daily, the notice was published in only local newspaper, CAG noted.
As per the EIA Notification 2006, PPs were to provide information regarding the factors which could lead to detrimental environmental effects or which have the potential for cumulative impacts of the project with other existing or planned activities in the locality. CAG observed that in 11 project clearances, including the Thane Creek Bridge-III, no information was given regarding the cumulative effect. Instances were noted where the PPs did not conduct any substantive cumulative impact studies.