Chennai, Jan 12: In a verdict that may help in protecting the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles and sand dunes in Kanniyakumari district, the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said ‘no’ to the proposed private fishing harbour at Needakarai B village in Rajakkamangalam coast, one of the nesting grounds for marine turtles in the region.

Dismissing an appeal by Rajakkamangalam Thurai Fishing Harbour Private Limited against the decision of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to cancel the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance, the tribunal said the fact that the project area had sand dunes and frequented by Olive Ridley turtles for nesting meant that the site fell under CRZ 1A of CRZ Notification, 2011 and therefore the project can’t be

permitted as it would cause irreparable damage to the sand dunes, besides destroying the turtle habitat.
Pronouncing the 78-page order, the bench, comprising Justice MS Nambiar and expert member PS Rao was critical over the view that there was a ‘deliberate’ material suppression by the private firm. “It is clear that if the project area falls in CRZ 1A, the ministry could not have granted CRZ clearance. If that be so, existence of sand dunes in the project area which was suppressed in the proforma submitted by the appellant for clearance and terming them as sand heaps or dune vegetation, is material suppression.

Therefore, we cannot agree with the arguments of the appellant counsel that the omission to mention the existence of sand dunes is not a ground to cancel the CRZ clearance granted earlier. Also, the existence of turtle nesting in the project site was also not specifically mentioned in the proforma,” the bench noted.

Earlier, media had reported on how Tamil Nadu government officials in the State Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute of Remote Sensing at Anna University and district forest officials gave false reports suppressing facts stating there were no sand dunes or turtle nesting in the project site based on which the environment ministry had granted CRZ clearance on July 18, 2011.

The illegality was exposed after Conservation of Natural Trust and Pannaiyoor Region Citizens’ Welfare Trust petitioned the ministry and also the tribunal. Following this, a site inspection was conducted by the Additional PCCF and Scientist ‘F’ Regional office, MoEFCC, in Chennai on January 17, 2015. It was revealed that the project area indeed had sand dunes, and there had been instances of turtles laying eggs in the project area.
In fact, the latest gazette notification by the fisheries department on potential sea turtle nesting sites along the State’s coast includes Rajakkamangalam Thurai.

In the light of the above findings, the tribunal has rejected the case of Rajakkamangalam Thurai Fishing Harbour Private Limited that the environment ministry was not justified in cancelling the CRZ clearance granted. Though, the appellant counsel argued that sand dunes were found only in a portion of the project site, the bench opined that there could not exist a fishing harbour without causing irreparable damage to the sand dunes which lay between the project area and the sea.

Therefore, the order of cancellation of CRZ clearance is not to be interfered with, on the facts when it was clear that destruction would be caused to the very sand dunes in existence in CRZ 1A area. The appellant cannot be permitted to proceed with the construction of the project in violation of CRZ notification, 2011, the tribunal said.