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HomeEnvironmentFresh trouble for Gujarat chemical plant over 'unlicensed' EIA. But residents want...

Fresh trouble for Gujarat chemical plant over ‘unlicensed’ EIA. But residents want more action

No clearance to project till June as agency didn't have licence for conducting environmental assessment of soda ash units. Villagers want action on other agency involved in review.

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New Delhi: After a central government panel stalled setting up of a soda ash manufacturing plant in Gujarat over inadequacies in the environmental clearance process, the National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NABET) has now found the agency that conducted an environmental impact study for the project wasn’t licensed to do so.

The NABET has suspended the project from securing environmental clearance till June.

The Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited (GHCL) — an arm of the Dalmia Group — seeks to set up the soda ash manufacturing unit in Bada village of Mandvi taluk, off the coast of Kachchh. Soda ash is commonly used in manufacturing detergents, glass, and ceramics.

NABET — one of the statutory boards under Quality Council of India — provides accreditation to the agencies that wish to undertake Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

Residents of Bada village and environmental activists have opposed the project because of fears of pollution and contamination in an area that is known to be a nesting site for endangered turtles. The project requires EIAs for both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

In an order dated 23 December, 2022, the NABET found that the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) — which conducted the terrestrial EIA — had “violated the terms and conditions of their accreditation”. The Board then barred the NEERI from applying for accreditation to the soda ash sector for six months.

While the NEERI is qualified to carry out EIA for certain other sectors such as mining, chemical fertilizers and textiles, it doesn’t have the requisite licence to conduct such assessment for the soda ash industry.

Local residents, however, plan to appeal against the NABET’s order to demand greater action against the other agency that ‘conducted the marine EIA’. In October, they had lodged a complaint with the NABET alleging the agencies that conducted the assessments weren’t qualified to carry out the exercise.

The EIA is a necessary component of large development projects that require environment clearance from the government. As part of the environmental clearance process, GHCL had submitted its EIA report along with public comments to the central government on 24 November last year.

On 7 December, M. Ramesh, member secretary of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), returned the proposal and asked the company for more details before allowing the project to proceed.

An autonomous body under the Union environment ministry, the EAC is in-charge of vetting projects before recommending them for environmental clearance.

In a statement to ThePrint on 4 January, GHCL said it was committed to complying with all norms as a “responsible corporate body”.

“At the time of decision making, no other EIA consultants having a NABET-accreditation for Soda Ash were notified. Accordingly, CSIR-NEERI, which are NABET-accredited, were selected by GHCL,” the company said. It added that the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) — which appears to have authored the marine EIA — acted as a consultant, and did not conduct “the entire marine EIA.”

“The soda ash plant as well as the captive co-generation power plant will be equipped with Air Pollution Control systems such as scrubbers, dust collectors, electrostatic precipitator (ESP), desulphurization equipment, dust suppression mechanisms etc. and will have an adequate stack height,” the statement said, adding that the company will release “treated effluents” in line with norms and recommendations by the government.

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Locals to appeal against NABET order  

Local residents plan to appeal against the NABET’s order and register another complaint demanding action against the NIO as well.

“The NIO is not authorised to conduct EIA, and the NABET completely ignores this. They have claimed the NIO only did special studies, whereas the final EIA report submitted by GHCL clearly states that the NIO conducted the ‘marine EIA’,” Kachchh-based environment researcher Dhwani Shah, who is also one of the complainants, said Thursday.

“This stand taken by NABET will not only allow other non-accredited consultants to undertake poor quality studies but also violates the law which requires accreditation. It is based on these reports that the Expert Appraisal Committees of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) decide the fate of thousands of people,” she added.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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