This is a critical look at ADB’s compliance of its safeguard policies in the Tata Mundra project and the failure of the Compliance Review Panel (CRP) process. 8 years after people complained to CRP and 6 years after their report, people are left disempowered, where communities approached all possible avenues available to them to seek redressal, none of their issues addressed, or their livelihood options improved, or environment restored, while the company continues to do business as usual and neither ADB or CRP showing any intent or capacity to implement the safeguard policies.
Brief Background to the Project:
The northern coast of the Gulf of Kutch has been witnessing large–scale industrialization for the past two decades while a very large Special Economic Zone is also situated in the vicinity. Among several polluting industries housed across the sea coordinates, the Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project or Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd (CGPL) is discernible because of its continuing saga of glaring multiplicities but all in the wrong directions: from little cognizance of the area’s local economic activities to disregard of the specificities of its ecology and a lack of reading of its social identity –resulting in miring the coastal communities of Mundra district in a trying and unfair predicament. In 2007, clearance was granted to Tata Power by the Government of India to set up a 4150MW ultra mega thermal power project (Coastal Gujarat Power Limited) on over 1,250 hectares near Tunda–Wand village, close to the port city of Mundra on the coast of the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP) are ambitious power projects India envisaged in mid 2000s, with an aim to generate 100 GW by 2022. Out of the 14 UMPPs, Tata Mundra was the first one to be awarded. Of the total area, about two–thirds comprises the Rann of Kutch and the Banni grasslands. Owing to this, most of the rural population derives a livelihood near the coast, and Mundra, because of its topography, also happens to be home to a large number of fishing communities benefiting from the area’s estuarine potential. These fishing settlements thrive for eight to nine months and then the families return to their villages for the rest of the year. The area also supports other economic activities like salt–making, animal rearing, and cash crop cultivation. The groundwater levels in this taluka (block) are higher than in other parts of Kutch and hence the area is suited for intensive agricultural activities. However, it is these ecological specifics that at once render the dependent population vulnerable to large–scale development projects. Hence, particular stewardship is required on a number of fronts but especially in relation to environmental and social impact.
The project, based on the supercritical steam technology, is designed to use low–ash imported coal from Indonesia, and thus was located in the coastal area adjacent to a port. Cut to April 2008: amongst many other financiers (for a total project cost of US$4.14 billion), the Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a loan of US$450 million with a 20–year tenure for five power generation units, of which three units became operational in 2012 and two in 2013. Between 2006 and 2014, i.e., before and close to the years in which the complaint was made (i.e. 2013), a number of benchmark environmental and social assessments were carried out. Needless to say, these reports also formed the basis of project clearances at multiple levels. The anomalies in these assessments are the major points of contention between different stakeholders on various outstanding issues. The case becomes even more complicated when non–compliance by the financiers is attributed to the lack of baseline data on what happens to be some of the most obvious features of the geography in question.