A Casual Approach
In 2013, a fishermen’s group in Hazira—the Hazira Machimar Samiti—and three affected fishermen had filed a petition against the Adanis, the project proponent of the port at Hazira, in Surat district in the south-western Indian state of Gujarat, as well as against the governmental bodies that granted environmental clearance to the project proponent. The case was filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as, since 2010, cases relating to environment protection are exclusively dealt with by this tribunal for ‘effective and expeditious’ disposal of cases. The Tribunal has the powers of any other civil court in the country and can provide for relief and compensation for damages to person and property. The case was heard by the NGT’s western zone bench in Pune and on 8 January 2016, the judgment was finally delivered.
There are about 80 families in the village of Hazira engaged in fishing using traditional boats. These boats sailed into sea through a creek, at the opening of which now sits the Hazira port. The fishermen fear that if the port is expanded anymore, they will lose access to this creek. The port was developed in phases since 2003 after it was granted environmental clearance, and the petitioners claimed that this had already caused massive environmental damage to the surroundings. They demanded restoration costs for the environmental damages caused by the project proponent.
The key issues that were considered by the court in this case were whether the 2013 environment clearance itself “suffered from any illegality, impropriety or irregularities” and whether there is an actual threat of restriction of access due to expansion. While unravelling answers to these questions, the court also looked into the extent of environmental destruction that was caused due to the whole project. What started as an issue of the fishermen’s access to the sea led to questions of the project’s compliance to environmental clearance conditions, the process followed by the government in giving clearances
to the project and the environmental impacts of the project. A fine of Rs 25 crores (3.7 mn US$) was imposed on the project proponent to be used for restoration of the environment, and the environmental clearance that was given for the expansion of the project was set aside. The court also gave further orders to look into the compliance of forest-related conditions of the 2003 environment clearance.