ENVIRONMENTAL HURDLE

The Australian Government may review the environmental clearances given to the $10-billion pit-to-port project being developed by the GVK Group.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), a non-profit, non-government community, has written to Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities of Australia, alleging that GVK provided false information, while seeking environmental clearance .

The organisation has alleged that GVK’s Terminal 3 coal port expansion at Abbot Point, near Queensland, forms part of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Australian Government in October 2012 gave a go-ahead to the project, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EBPC Act).

The Ministry is now examining whether an offence has been committed, Julien Vincent, campaigner for activist group Market Forces, told Business Line.

The Web site of Market Forces claims it exposes institutions that finance environmentally destructive projects and that it helps Australians hold these institutions accountable.

GVK rejects claim

In Australia, it is an offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, to provide false or misleading information in response to a request to obtain any approval.

Penalties for this offence include fines up to Australian $102,000, imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

The GVK Reddy-promoted firm has strongly denied the activists’ allegations.

“We are extremely concerned at the EDO’s behaviour, but recognise it is part of the ‘delay-and-disrupt’ strategy of activists seeking to not only damage, but destroy Queensland and Australia’s mining industries,” the company spokesperson said in response to queries from Business Line.

Ashurst, lawyers on behalf of GVK, responded to the EDO, advising that “we strenuously deny any improper or negligent management of the compilation of environmental assessments or in the communication of those assessments. The assessments were undertaken by recognised experts,” GVK said.

GVK acquired the Australian coal mine in Queensland with 8 billion tonnes of reserves for $1.26 billion from Hancock Coal Pty Ltd.

The pit-to-port project includes developing a 30 million tonne per annum mine, 500 km of railway line and 80 million tonne per annum port.

The mine is expected to start production from 2015-16.

siddhartha.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 5, 2013)
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