Tata Power Ltd, which is setting up the 4,000-MW Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) in Mundra, Gujarat, has been accused of violating social and environmental norms by an independent fact-finding team.

The project has caused “massive damage to livelihood, marine life and the overall environment in the vicinity of the power plant,” says a report titled ‘The Real Cost of Power’, released by the former Chief Justice of Sikkim, Mr S. N. Bhargava; the former Chairperson of the Commission for Women in Arunachal Pradesh, Ms Jarjum Ete, and former Advisor to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Mr V. Sampath, among others.

However, the company has denied the allegations. “The Mundra UMPP project strictly abides by stipulated norms for its operations, including the environment, community engagement and ecological impact,” Tata Power said in a response to Business Line.

“The statements made in this report have not been substantiated with the facts that were provided to this organisation by us during their recent visit to our facility at Mundra,” it added.

The report said the destruction of mangroves and creeks had badly impacted fish availability in the region. The catch has reduced 75 per cent over the past three years, affecting the earnings of thousands of fishermen, it added.

Tata Power refuted the charge and said “the company is participating in a joint effort with the Gujarat Ecology Commission to preserve mangroves along the distant coastal areas. Many of the concerns regarding the impact of the project on the livelihood of fishermen are unfounded and not based on scientific facts.”

“Within just two months of operating the first 800 MW unit of the project a higher presence of radioactive substance has been detected in the neighbourhood of the ash-pond. Also, there is a presence of coal ash in the salt produced from the area,” said Mr Soumya Dutta, the primary author of the report and National Convenor of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha.

Tata Power said, “the report itself admits there are several other operating units in the entire Kutch coastline, whereas a responsive organisation is being made the target.”

The panel also accused Tata Power of using an open-cycling cooling plant, whereas approval was given for setting up a close-cycling cooling unit.

The report also highlighted that Power Finance Corporation, which auctioned UMPP projects, and other lenders to the project such as IFC, ADB and few more turned a blind eye to the company’s violation of environmental norms.

The panel has urged the Government to put a moratorium on permission to any more power plants in Mundra and issue a show-cause notice to Tata Power for multiple violations of clearance conditions.

Tata Power announced the commercial operation of the first unit of 800 MW at Mundra on March 9. The second unit is scheduled for commissioning by August 2012.

(This article was published on July 4, 2012)
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