Environment ministry halts chemical hub plan in Bengal

By Soudhriti Bhabani, IANS

Kolkata : The union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has effectively halted the West Bengal government’s proposal to set up a chemical hub in Nayachar after the fiasco in Nandigram, where it was originally planned, saying the island was in an ecologically fragile area.

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With Nandigram in revolt against a proposed chemical hub, the project was shifted to the Nayachar island on the Hooghly river in the same East Midnapore district. However, in a letter the environment ministry said Nayachar falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) area and any industry there is strictly prohibited.

“We had sent a Right to Information (RTI) questionnaire (dated Oct 1) to the union ministry seeking certain clarifications about the state government’s plan to set up a chemical hub at Nayachar,” Santanu Chakraborty, assistant secretary of NGO Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA), who prepared the questionnaire, told IANS.

“In reply, the additional director of MoEF, Dr. A. Senthilvel, informed us that the ministry does not have any knowledge about such a plan or any proposal for setting up a chemical hub at Nayachar.”

DISHA fights against environmental degradation.

Chakraborty said it was clearly mentioned in the letter from the ministry that Nayachar is classified as CRZ-I and III under a 1991 notification.

The MoEF letter says, “…In the CRZ area setting up of industry or ‘expansion of existing industry’ is a prohibited activity…”

Nayachar, a 40 sq km island on the Hooghly river, is located about 150 km from Kolkata. The West Bengal government owns 11,000 hectares of land at Nayachar while some land is owned by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA).

“Nayachar is in a deltaic estuary zone of Hooghly river and contains a large number of mangroves and a variety of flora and fauna which protect the entire coastal habitat. The region is ecologically very fragile and should be classified as CRZ-I,” Chakraborty said.

He said that DISHA would go on a massive state-wide campaign to protect Nayachar and inform people that it’s not a place to set up industries or a chemical hub.

“Later, we might move the court on this issue if required,” he said.

“The Geological Survey of India (GSI) is already conducting a study at Nayachar but I appeal to the West Bengal Coastal Management Authority (constituted in 1998) to protect coastal areas in the state, to take up the issue and request all concerned scientists to come forward to protect the island,” he said.

The West Bengal government had decided on Nayachar after being forced to make a move from Nandigram, the site first chosen for a chemical hub, following an uprising by villagers there against the displacement the project would cause and the March 14 police firing that killed 14 people and left over a hundred injured.