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Reef port builder Gautam Adani facing fines over India breaches

Written By Unknown on Friday, August 23, 2013 | 10:15 PM

Gautam Adani's energy and infrastructure conglomerate, Adani Group, is expected to spend big in Queensland

Gautam Adani's Gujarat shipping terminal has been the subject of a damning assessment. 

AN Indian billionaire industrialist at the centre of an environmental battle over the expansion of a Queensland coal port is facing multi-million-dollar fines for environmental breaches at his Gujarat shipping terminal and rising public anger about plans to locate a ship-breaking business in a sensitive coastal area.

A damning assessment of Gautam Adani's multi-billion-dollar Mundra port and special economic zone in the Indian state of Gujarat by a government-appointed panel has found "incontrovertible evidence" that his company violated environmental clearances and bypassed approval procedures.

The expert panel, which included officials from India's Environment and Forests Ministry, found those violations had resulted in large-scale mangrove destruction, groundwater contamination, river blockages and fly-ash pollution.

It noted other authorities, including a Gujarat court, had also previously found serious breaches by the company, which operates the country's largest privately owned port as well as factories and coal-fired power plants at Mundra.

The panel recommended the government revoke approval for an additional port at Mundra and that Adani pay at least $36 million towards environmental restoration.

That has failed to deter the company, however, which has sparked fresh alarm among local farmers and fishermen in recent weeks with plans to build a ship-breaking yard -- an industry synonymous with toxic pollution -- within the SEZ.

The latest furore comes as the Australian government is poised to reveal tomorrow whether it will allow Adani Power -- the company's Australian subsidiary -- to dump up to three million cubic metres of dredged sediment in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to accommodate a major expansion of its Abbot Point port in Queensland.

Adani Power bought the 99-year-lease to Abbot Point, near Bowen, in 2011 as part of a planned $10 billion Queensland coalmining project, and has sought approval to build a second coal shipment terminal adjacent to the existing facility.

BHP Billiton and another conglomerate, GVK/Hancock, also plan to add new terminals to the port.

Australian environmentalists argue dumping huge volumes of sediment within the marine park poses unacceptable risk to sensitive ecosystems.

Activists in both India and Australia say the federal government should take note of the Adani Group's record for environmental breaches before making any decision. "Adani are habitual violators of environmental law. Even before environmental clearance is given they begin projects," India's ToxicsWatch Alliance spokesman Gopal Krishna said. "Environment groups in India are coming together to work out how to deal with this (company) because every struggle cannot be fought in isolation."

Adani projects have also sparked alarm in other Indian states, including Madhya Pradesh, where it is accused of illegally diverting irrigation water for a power plant.

Greenpeace Australia campaigner Erland Howden, in Gujarat yesterday for the Adani annual general meeting, said the group had raised concerns about the company's poor Indian environmental record in its submission to the federal government over Adani Power's Carmichael coalmine project in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

"Adani has an extensive track record of very poor adherence to environmental regulations in India. We should not be entrusting major developments -- like the largest coalmine to be developed in Australia -- to a company with a record like theirs," Mr Howden said.

Adani yesterday denied all accusations of environmental breaches at its Mundra site in a written statement, though conceded it had not yet received specific clearance for a ship breaking yard.

"It is important to note that Adani Ports and SpecialEconomic Zone Limited has neither violated any environmental conditions nor bypassed any environmental approval process," the statement said.

"Adani is aware of its responsibilities under state and federal legislation and ensures its operations meet those requirements. Adani is a responsible corporate citizen and abides by all applicable statutory obligations."

by Amanda Hodge
South Asia correspondent
The Australian
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