Court stays Karwar port work under Sagarmala

The protest by fishermen against the project to extend the commercial Karwar port has received a shot in the arm with the Karnataka High Court ordering a stay on the second stage works, a part of Union Government’s ambitious Sagarmala project. The work was to be taken up on 17 hectares at Baithkol village in Uttara Kannada district. The court also directed the authorities to restore the beach to its original condition.

The ruling came after High Court’s attention was drawn to the construction of a road on the beach, carrying out levelling work for movement of vehicles and material in the original port area in the absence of consent from competent authorities. The extension project was undertaken on the Arabian Sea coast abutting Karwar beach, popularly known as Rabindranatha Tagore Beach.“As the Directorate of Ports and Inland Water Transport, considerable damage has already been caused beyond the beach, without consent. We direct the authorities to restore the beach to the original condition by removing all preliminary work done, by February 26, the next date of hearing”, a division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar said in the interim order.

Hearing the public interest litigation petition filed by Baithkol Bandaru Nirashtritara Yantrika Dhoni Meenugarara Sahakara Sangha, the bench directed the petitioner to implead the Union Government as respondent and ordered notice to the Chief Executive Officer of Karnataka Maritime Board, Director of Ports, and Inland Water, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and others.

The court noted that the Environment Impact Assessment Authority (EIA) has decided to grant environmental clearance for the project on December 26, 2018. Accordingly, on January 25, 2019, the clearance was issued with certain terms and conditions. It appears that on the basis of the representation made by the petitioner, the Secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has forwarded the same to the EIA with a request examine the matter, it said.

On December 28, 2019, the EIA issued showcause notice to the Executive Engineer (EE) of the Ports, and Inland Water Transport, asking the officer why the environment clearance given should not be cancelled. On the same day, KSPCB issued notice to the EE stating that a condition imposed while issuing consent for the project had been violated.

Accordingly, the KSPCB directed the EE to stop the activities and obtain consent. The engineer was also warned that the activities will attract penal action. Meanwhile, the clearance given by EIA was withdrawn. Therefore, the court asked the KSPCB to initiate action strictly against the Director of Ports and Inland Water .

Displaying photographs and video clippings of the works undertaken on the beach without consent, the petitioner’s counsel, Murthy D Naik, contended that the project would cause serious ecological damage as it was being implemented without obtaining necessary permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forest.