The local protest is anchored on genuine fears against a suitably dubious project. There is a strong case for more transparency
Just a day before the much-awaited inauguration of Kerala’s Kochi Metro rail, an agitation caught the attention of media in the State and beyond. Natives of Puthuvype, an upcoming industrial area in the suburbs of Kochi, ended up on the wrong side of police aggression while protesting a proposed LPG Plant by state-owned Indian Oil Corporation. For obvious reasons, visuals of the police excess triggered massive outrage from the civil society. The very next day, after the Metro inauguration, another incident was reported from the same locality where the police action turned brutal. Images of children protesting police action was widely circulated and it was evident that there was massive outrage against the proposed LPG plant in Puthuvype.
Puthuvype, an area falling under Elamkunnapuzha panchayath in Ernakulam district, is a densely populated island region. The panchayath is estimated to have a population density of 4,106 per sq. km. Indian Oil Corporation proposed this LPG plant to be constructed at Puthuvype in 2008 for receiving, storing and distributing imported LPG. The project proposal reveals this involves unloading LPG from ships, transferring it to mounded bullets storage facilities, storing it in those mounted bullets and loading the same to tankers for distribution. This storage facility will have eight mounted bullets which will be constructed in two clusters.
The project proposal got the nod from the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority and it also received an environmental clearance after an Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted and evaluated. Environmental Clearance (EC) as well as recommendation from Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA ) states that the proposed land falls under SEZ and is outside Coastal Regulation Zone 1 where construction is not permitted. It also makes note of the latitude and longitude and states that proposed site falls between 200 to 300 metres from the High Tide Line of the sea. This appears to be a necessary condition on which the approvals are obtained. By definition High Tide Line means ‘the land upto which the highest water line reaches during the spring tide.’ The compliance report against EC which is available at the IOC website does not seem to make a mention of the 200 to 300 metre condition which is appearing in the EC.
According to IOC as well as the State Government, security measures which will be implemented in the plant will be of the best international standard. The company maintains that construction is happening at the proposed site in compliance with the regulations put forward by NGT. They also reiterate that there is no violation of the rules related to Coastal Regulation Zones when it comes the project.
People of Puthuvype who are protesting against the proposed plant have a different story to tell. The images from the construction site which shows that the construction is happening within the High Tide Line, forms their main argument. They tell that this is a clear violation of the conditional Environment Clearance. They are also citing the lack of approval for construction from the Elamkunnappuzha Panchayath. IOC’s argument is that since this falls under SEZ, local body cannot put a restriction on the construction that is happening.
According to a study conducted by Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), a left-leaning organization promoting scientific awareness, the construction is happening without adhering to the norms. The study also points out that awareness among the natives is not done in a proper manner. Locals also complain about the issues caused by sand piling which is used in construction. Janakeeya Samara Samithi which is leading the protest is calling for cancellation of the project. Apart from the concerns about safety, they also raise a host of environmental issues. Impact of livelihood for fishermen, environmental impact caused by loss of mangroves are some of the concerns they have. Drinking water is still an issue for the residents of Vypeen and people are worried that large amount of fresh water required for fire fighting in the plant would lead to a disastrous state of freshwater availability in the island.
With the protests gathering a lot of attention, State Government intervened and decided that there would be an evaluation by experts before any construction work is started at the proposed site. For any favourable decision from the court or from the NGT, the task for the people of Puthuvype will be to prove that there is violation of the conditional Environmental Clearance. Seeing the project as a development initiative, the Left Government says it is willing to support the project. But for the project to move ahead without causing trouble for the natives, the government and IOC would have to do some hard work to allay the fears of Puthuvype residents.