The Union government has reversed a ₹200 crore penalty along with several strict measures issued against Adani Ports & SEZ in 2012 for allegedly damaging the environment and violating green laws in connection with the construction of a port project in Mundra in Gujarat, the Business Standard reported.
In a statement, however, the Environment Ministry has said the Adani Port and SEZ Ltd may have to pay a larger fine than the one issued by the UPA government, and said the ₹200 crore fine “was not backed by any law under the Environment Protection Act and not legally correct.”
Adani Ports & SEZ has denied all claims of wrongdoing while maintaining that the state government had supported the company.
The government had earlier demanded the group institute a ₹200 crore restoration fund for allegedly damaging the environment, in what was the biggest penalty for green violations, according to media reports. According to the Business Standard report, the waterfront development project includes four ports with berths for dry and liquid cargo, container terminals, yards, a rail siding and 700 hectares for additional construction — part of the larger port, SEZ and township complex at the site.
In 2012, the Union environment ministry had set up the Sunita Narain Committee to investigate allegations of damage to the environment at the Mundra project site. That committee, following a case filed in the Gujarat High Court, had found multiple violations of green regulations including the large-scale destruction of local ecology, including damage to creeks and mangroves, and illegal acquisition of land.
According to the Business Standard report, ministry records between 2012 and 2016 show certain newly-appointed senior officials in the ministry had reversed the opinion on Adani Ports & SEZ. The records had come to light through the Right to Information Act by Kanchi Kohli of the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Program.
Separately, the Ministry for Tribal Affairs has also gone back on several regulations governing the forest rights of tribals, saying their land can be used for mining and industrial purposes, the Business Standard reported.
According to the report, the Tribal Affairs ministry said forest land can be used for mining if no claims have been made by tribals and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). This could have far-reaching environmental implications as vast areas of forest land which was off limits for mining, could now be opened up without due rehabilitation of tribal communities. This move comes despite a study that shows that as of mid-2015, 98 per cent of the cases alleging violations of community rights of forest dwellers remained unsettled.