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Dhamra port controversy: dialogue fails, TATAs refuse to suspend dredging

Press release - February 26, 2009
BANGALORE, India — The dialogue between an alliance of environmental organisations and TATA Steel and other promoters of the Dhamra Port hit a dead end on 20 February 2009, after TATA refused to consider any suspension of dredging work at the port. TATA had earlier committed ‘in principle’ to an independent and comprehensive threat assessment. However, the promoters were unwilling to suspend critical elements of the construction, particularly dredging, which conservationists fear could be causing irreversible harm to the ecology. Suspension of dredging would be fundamental for any scientifically credible and meaningful study to be conducted.

Dredging continues posing irreversible impact on the area.

"We find this reluctance to suspend dredging inconsistent with TATA Steel's commitments to reconsider the project if an independent study were to indicate an environmental threat from the port" said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace. "It is illogical to expect a biological assessment of the area to go on even as large scale habitat alteration from dredging and landfilling continues," he added.

The year 2008 saw heightened protests and over 100,000 Greenpeace cyber activists calling on TATAs to relocate the port. In response, at the TATA Steel AGM in August 2008, Mr. Ratan Tata committed to a dialogue process with Greenpeace and other organisations (1). The negotiations involved the need to suspend construction pending an independent and comprehensive biological threat assessment of the Dhamra Port on adjoining areas, including Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and Bitharkanika National Park. These protected areas harbour rare species such as the olive ridley turtle and the saltwater crocodile.

More recently, a Greenpeace snap-poll of 5000 TATA customers, conducted between 16 and 24 February, 2009, revealed that 98% believed that port construction should be stopped immediately. MPs and politicians across party lines have also written to the Ministry of Environment at the Centre, raising concerns over the port's impacts and seeking its intervention. (2)

Commenting on the impasse, Belinda Wright, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India said, "The TATAs reluctance to suspend dredging does not make sense as this would create a fait accompli and prejudice the results of any assessment. Stopping the dredging is essential for any study to be meaningful, as this may be causing irreversible impacts to the area and could even be preventing the turtles from nesting." 

"It seems that while TATA's are making positive statements, they are unwilling to back these up on the ground. We are still hopeful that TATA's will demonstrate as much concern for the health of the environment as they do for their balance sheets. The best way to do this is by suspending construction, specifically dredging pending the independent assessment that is needed," Fernandes concluded.

For further information, contact

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India, ,
+91-99801 9930
Saumya Tripathi, Communications Officer, Greenpeace India, ,
+91-93438 62212
Ankur Ganguly, Greenpeace Communications, Greenpeace India, ,
+91-98453 73818

Notes to Editor

1) The organisations that have interacted with TATA’s in the course of this dialogue process include the Wildlife Protection Society of India, Wildlife Society of Orissa, the National Fishworkers Forum, Sanctuary Asia, Conservation Action Trust, WWF-India, Reefwatch Marine Conservation and Greenpeace.
2) For Letters from MPs and other stakeholders concerned about the Development of Dhamra Port to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, refer http://greenpeace.in/turtle/