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UMARGAM PORT ! More losses than benefits !!

Villagers of Umbergaon, gathered at the Police Station on April 22,2000.

The people of the Umbergaon area in Gujarat are opposing the Rs.1200 crore Maroli port project. Their right to livelihood is threatened by the recent motions of the state government to proceed with the construction of the Maroli port. Despite the overwhelming opposition of the people of the Umbergaon taluka in Gujarat to the proposed Maroli port project, the state government continues to proceed against the collective will of the local communities in a manner that undermines the democratic fabric of the nation.

Having exhausted several democratic avenues for dialog with the state government, and having filed a petition with the Gujarat HC, the people of Umbergaon now request the support of concerned citizens all over the world in their their cause and urge readers to write to the authorities.

The construction and commissioning of this port, will result in considerable loss of livelihood for fisherfolk, fall in agricultural yield and consequent loss of livelihood to farmers due to salinization, and devastation of the environment and associated marine life. The communities at Umbergaon taluka have cited these and other reasons for their opposition, which has has been ongoing for more than 15 months.

Introduction
Umargaon
, a large fishing village at the southernmost tip of the coast of the state of Gujarat, India, has a population of 25,000. The Umargaon Taluka has a population of about 175,000 people of whom 100,000 are employed in fishing and the rest in agriculture. Opening investments in the energy sector, the Gujarat government has decided to develop a series of ports in various locations including Dahej, Hazira and Maroli. The contract for development rights of the 1200 crore Rs (300 million $) Maroli port has been given to a Natelco-Unocal consortium.

The three main investors with one-third equity each are:Natelco, a small private telecom company, Unocal* (see footnote), a California-based MNC having interests in gas, oil, power, pipelines, fertiliser and chemicals; and the Gujarat Maritime Board. The port has also been allowed to issue "tax-free infrastructure bonds" and the right to develop downstream projects in the port area, including an industrial zone. Located about 100 km from Mumbai, this port is expected to handle all general cargo including coal, containers and other dry cargo, besides being an LNG import facility (two million tonnes per annum). India is the largest and most important future market for natural gas and the multinational companies are seizing this opportunity. The Natelco-Unocal consortium, which also proposes to take up other important projects in the state, including an LNG project, a power project, and an industrial estate with export processing zone, would thus supplement the efforts of the state government to speed up overall development of the region.

The proposed Maroli port has gained importance, since the earlier proposal to set up a port at Wadhvan, near Dahanu in Maharashtra, had to be abandoned because of public opposition. More recently, police brutality against local opposition has resulted in death of a local leader.
 
Concerns Economic - is the port really needed?

  • There is resistance from port and dock workers from the West Coast (Kandla, Kochi, Mumbai and Goa) because the establishment of this mega -port will result in diverted traffic from existing developed ports further to the south. The Mumbai Port Trust and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust are not being used to their full capacity; Hazira, Pipavav and Dahej are developed ports and Adani, an upcoming port, in Gujarat in proximity to Maroli.

  • Over 100,000 people in the Umargaon taluka depend on fishing for a livelihood. The construction of a port in this region will lead to a drastic reduction in marine life and hence thousands of fishermen will be deprived of their livelihood.

  • Poor fishermen fish for prawns, crabs, etc. in the marshy lands, which span thousands of acres in this region. This land is held by the government in a sort of trust for the people and cannot be given away, sold or leased for commercial purposes against the public interest. This land will be destroyed due to the construction of the lagoon harbour.

  • The fertile areas affected by the project house orchards of coconut, chiku and mangoes, including Kalpavriksha, the famous organic farm of Bhaskar Save. Agriculturists will lose their land for setting up of infrastructural facilities and salinity will drastically reduce the agricultural yield of the marginalised farmers

Human Rights Violations

  • Police and the government have resorted to undue violence against the protestors.

  • Recently, Pratap Save, a decorated and retired Lt Col., who put in 33 years of meritorious service and saw action in the 1964 and 1971 border conflicts with Pakistan, was brutally beaten by the police and was denied medical assistance which lead to his death. He was a leader of the local Kinara Bachao Movement, leading the opposition to the project.

  • The demands of the local people are not being considered at all. Despite heavy opposition by a majority of the locals and the passing of resolutions by Gram Panchayats (local elected bodies) opposing the port, acquisition notices have been sent out.

Environmental Concerns

  • Despite assurances to local villagers by local forest department officials to the contrary, thousands of trees have been cut down in the reserved forest area at Nargol to facilitate the port. The trees have been acting as the only natural barrier against the salinity ingress in these coastal areas. (TOI - http://www.timesofindia.com/261299/26mahm9.htm)

  • The entire sea front of this taluka being very shallow, enormous dredging operations will have to be carried out to build 20 meter deep channels in waters, in order to facilitate traffic in huge ships. The incessant dredging and the construction of breakwaters will inevitably lead to the ingress in salinity into the groundwater and consequently a fall in the agricultural yield.

  • The constant dredging will eventually destroy the wetland ecology. Wetlands protect filter sediments and pollutants out of water and thereby maintain water quality. They also protect coasts and inland areas from floods.

Alternatives

  • Upgrading of the existing underutilized ports estimated to be around 200 crores ($50 million)

An Independent Enquiry into the ProposedMaroli-Umbergaon Port Project (Gujarat)

 

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