SAGARMALA (sea garland) project is a humungous Rs. 8 trillion (Rs. 8 lakh crore) port-led-prosperity investment initiative of the Government of India (GoI) entailing setting up of over six mega-ports, modernisation of several dozen more ports, development of over 14 Coastal Economic Zones (CEZ) and at least 29 Coastal Economic Units (CEU), development of mines, industrial corridors, rail, road and airport linkages with these water ports, resulting in generation of 150,000 jobs i.e. Rs. 5.33 crore per job. This is outrageous in a capital-starved country where maximum jobs should be created with minimum investment.
Sagarmala project was originally mooted by the NDA Government in 2003 as waterway equivalent to the Golden Quadrilateral in roadways. The project is aimed at driving industrial development and prosperityby harnessing India’s 7,500-km long coastline and 14,500-km of navigable waterways. Under the later UPA governments (I and II), the project received much lesser attention.
On March 25, 2015, the Union Cabinet gave approval for this project to develop 12 ports and also 1,208 islands. A National Sagarmala Apex Committee, composed of the Minister of Shipping and cabinet ministers from stakeholder ministries and chief ministers/ministers in-charge of ports of maritime States as members, will provide policy direction and guidance for the initiative’s implementation and review the progress. A Sagarmala Development Company has been set up with an initial authorised share capital of Rs. 1,000 crore and subscribed share capital of Rs. 90 crore.
The Sagarmala National Perspective Plan was released on April 14, 2016, with details on Project Plan and Implementation.Under this, 415 projects, at an estimated investment of approximately Rs. 7.98500 lakh crore (US$120 billion), have been identified across port modernisation and new port development, port connectivity enhancement, port-linked coastal economic zone industrialisation and coastal community development for phase wise implementation up to 2035. These projects would be implemented through the Public, Private, Participatory (PPP) mode that has a provision for Viability Gap Funding (VGF). As they are structured today, PPP and VGF are just tools to funnel public money into private hands as these fancy projects are invariably unviable.
Fourteen CEZs are part of Sagarmala scheme with the investment of Rs. 6.5 lakh crore centered around ports. Each CEZ with the area of 2,000 to 3000 sq km will have several Coastal Economic Units (CEU), and, in turn, each CEU will have several Port-Linked Industrial Clusters (PLIC). CEUs serve as nodes within CEZ, each CEU being an industrial estate with multiple industries. Each PLIC within CEU will have several manufacturing units.
Proposed mega-ports in phase 1 are: Sagar Island (West Bengal); Paradip Outer Harbour (Odisha); Sirkazhi and Enayam (Tamil Nadu); Belikeri (Karnataka) and Vadhavan (Maharashtra). Enayam mega-port, termed as International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT) with an investment estimate of Rs. 27,750 crore, is in Kanyakumari district. The site has since been shifted to Kanyakumari itself, an internationally renowned destination for tourism and pilgrimage. This is a case study on this project (KICTT), which will have a big bearing on the concept and content of Sagarmala.
First a brief history. Kanyakumari is among the smallest districts in the country with an area of 1,684 sq km. Of this, 30.2 per cent is reserved forest. It is also a congested district with a population density of 1,111 persons per sq km. Its western coastline, along the Arabian Sea, is just about 60 kilometres long, having almost all the 11 features of CRZ 1 (extremely eco-sensitive) outlined in Section 7 of the CRZ-2011 notification, issued under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. These include, mangroves; corals and coral reefs; sand dunes; mudflats; national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, wildlife habitats and other protected areas, including biosphere reserves; salt marshes; turtle nesting grounds; horse shoe crab habitats; sea grass beds; nesting grounds of birds; and, areas or structures of archaeological importance and heritage sites. (See Map 1) In this zone all constructions are forbidden under Section 8.
The district’s plains host thousands of water bodies, ponds, rivers and streams, fine paddy fields, flower gardens, bird sanctuaries, coconut plantations, spices, herbal plants, banana grooves, livestock and many others. The mountains (Western Ghats) have dense forests and high-quality rubber plantation crops. The pristine district with its vibrant agricultural-horticultural-plantation-fisheries-tourism economy is certainly is not the place to have any major infrastructure project, least of all an ultra-mega-port under Sagarmala scheme! People just don’t want it.
THE way this massive project ‘cropped up’ soon after the BJP government assumed power at the Centre in May 2014 is a clear case of crony capitalism. Strangely, the Union Ministry of Shipping, which is pushing the project, liked to call it the ‘Colachel Port at Enayam’. Now it has become ‘Colachel Port at Kanyakumari’.Colachel is a fishing-harbour town on the Arabian Sea with a draft of about 16 metres close to the coastline. Feasibility reports were prepared in 1998, 2000 and 2010 to convert it into a minor/intermediate port. However, in 2013, Parliament was informed that the proposed Rs. 2000 crore project has not been found feasible.
At that time, bidding process was underway for the Rs. 7,600-crore, Kerala government-initiated, Vizhinjam ICTT, located about 45 km northwest of Colachel. Adani Port Group, despite being the sole bidder, was given the concession due to heavy pressure exerted by GoI that too for 40 years (extendable by 20 years) as against the norm of 30 years. Thus, was born the Adani Vizhinjam ICTT.
Once Adani baggedVizhinjam, and Rs. 818 crore (first instalment) VGF cash, things moved at breakneck speed to revive the defunct and ‘infeasible’ Colachel minor-port, convert it into an ultra-mega ICTT and locate it at Enayam just 30 km away. To make it happen, Pon Radhakrishnan, the local BJP MP representing Nagercoil constituency, was made Minister of State, Shipping. He in turn moved fast and appointed VO Chidambaranar Port Trust, Tuticorin, as the project proponent. Within months (August 2015) VO C port sourced a ‘Techno-Economic Feasibility Report’ (TEFR) for the project from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), US, and TYPSA Consulting Engineers and Architects, Spain.
A massive infrastructure project like this should satisfy five sets of feasibilities—technical, economic, financial, social and environmental. BCG-TYPSA report does not establish any feasibility except with impractical/impossible conditions. Yet, in December 2015, the same consultants were given the task of preparing the detailed project report (DPR). On July 5, 2016, the Union Cabinet gave an ‘in principle’ approval for this project without making any budget provision. This was mainly meant to deceive the public and pressurise a reluctant Tamil Nadu government.
Despite a frenzied disinformation blitz unleashed with several falsehoods—industrialising a pocket-sized agrarian district, no acquisition of land, creation of thousands of jobs, no damage to the coast, no impact on fishers or fishing villages, etc—this Rs. 27,750 crore project faced stiff resistance from the people and had to be abandoned. But, instead of quitting with grace, GoI has now shifted the site to Kanyakumari itself!
Accordingly, project proponent moved MoEF on November 29, 2017, seeking prior environmental clearance. In the Form (no. 1) filed for this purpose, project proponents concealed almost all the salient features of the Kanyakumari coastal ecosystem. Several critical concerns over the economic, environmental and social impacts of the project have also been suppressed. What is worse the Consultants have blatantly indulged in premeditated fraud. This is evident from the field study done by a professional team. Herewith are the extracts:
“The TEFR (Addendum) refers to a “Draft” Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) and presents a map which describes the project site as intertidal zone within a CRZ 3 area. Based on this map, TYPSA concludes that no CRZ 1 features are affected within the project boundaries, and ascribes a score of “0” (No impact) on “CRZ sensitive areas” for the proposed site……
This draft “CZMP” has no legal status and is not the correct document to be relied on for appraisal of projects in the CRZ. This was clarified by theMoEF by way of a Notification dated July 31, 2017, wherein it is stated that the validity of the CZMPs already approved under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991, was extended up to July 31, 2018….
The GoI approved CZMP and CRZ map for the region, which was prepared and approved in 1996, describes the 2.4-km stretch where the port is to be located as CRZ 1 owing to the presence of several ecologically sensitive features, including turtle nesting grounds and sand dunes…Had TYPSA relied on this legal map, the proposed site would have scored “100” (Severe Impact) not “0” for the criteria “CRZ sensitive areas…This is a serious lapse by TYPSA, especially since the lapse has a materially significant effect on the impact score for the project site. It conveys that TYPSA has designed the TEFR (Addendum) to make Kanyakumari-2 the most suitable site…”
WHILE this has criminal ramifications, the consultants and project proponents have recorded another big lie-i.e. there is no population near the project site and therefore there would be no displacement. In fact, this is a unique area wherein over 40,000 hardcore fisherfolk and hardy farmers owning high-quality coconut groves and pristine paddy fields co-exist.
Even a small construction activity on Kanyakumari coast can cause severe erosion in the North-West shoreline and severe accretion in the South-East. Construction of such a massive port with over 5 km of breakwater will severely erode the Kanyakumari coast which according to experts could get consumed by the sea before long. Along with the coast would go the famed Vivekananda Rock Memorial on which the great sage had meditated, the 133 feet tall statue of the Tamil savant Thiruvalluvar, memorials built for Mahatma Gandhi and K. Kamaraj and above all the legendary Kumari Amman temple standing as sentinel guarding the “Land’s End of India.” The ‘bathing ghat’ at the confluence of three seas and the sunset point would vanish. In fact, a large chunk of India’s cultural/historical heritage in Kanyakumari will perish if the mega-port comes up. (See Map 2).
All these were suppressed though there are several scientific papers to prove these.Despite such fraud and deceit MoEF routinely referred this to the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC-Infra 2), who commenced the project appraisal process on December 15and gave Terms of Reference for conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Despite repeated requests EAC has not bothered to do a site visit and seem to be dependent on paper-work from the same consultants and project proponent who have indulged in this fraud and deceit!
In addition to Adani Vizhinjam ICTT, about 200 km further on western coast is Vallarpadam ICTT which is already operational. In 2011 Union Shipping Ministry had opposed the Vizhinjam project when the Union Finance Ministry was screening an application filed by the Kerala government seeking VGF for the port, arguing that developing a “new trans-shipment port at Vizhinjam will result in both Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam fighting for the same cargo and thus making both ports unviable in the process”. About 100 kms away from KICCT project on the eastern coast in Tuticorin port wherein there is proposal to build ICTT at a cost of Rs. 23,000 crore.
HOW is it that the same Ministry is now pushing a fourth port at Kanyakumari which will have a scandalous VGF component of Rs. 6,000 crore? Besides, in a thickly populated district with just about 1000 sq km habit-able area how can a CEZ that require 2,000 to 3000 sq km land be established. What is the rationale? Creating white elephants to enrich the favourites?
Situation in other Sagarmala mega-ports would mutatis-mutandis be the same. Each CEZ would require an average 625,000 acres. Which port area has such massive land area? Where is the potential for establishing ‘industries’ in such huge area, what kind of industries and by whom? Cumulative need for all 14 CEZs put together would be staggering 8750,000 acres. Where is so much land available on India’s coast which are largely inhabited?
Looking at the way Sagarmala is structured and pursued it is either a super-jumla or a ploy to facilitate MNCs to indulge in ‘ocean and beach grabbing’ similar to the huge land grabbing done during the last decade through a predatory ‘development’ concept of Special Economic Zones. Additional and equally sinister factor in Sagarmala is siphoning of large public funds to private players through the mechanism of PPP and VGF. Overall the objective seems to be to grab prime waterfront realestate to be gifted to corporate buddies with wads of cash! This suspicion is further strengthened by the fact that CZMPs are being falsified and manipulated to remove CRZ-I areas from the Map and declare them as CRZ-III in order to facilitate widespread construction. This is presently happening in Kanyakumari District and the KICCT project site!
Under Sagarmala, while India’s coasts are being colonised by the corporate carpet-baggers by grabbing prime-land and sucking tax-payer’s money, its ecology, farming, fishing as well as the life and livelihood of the coastal population face destruction. In the event most of them are in deep turmoil with protests and struggles at various places. This does not bode well for the unity and integrity of the country.
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer