Gahirmatha's seas are one of the world's largest breeding areas for the Olive Ridley Turtle. The Dhamra port could signal the end of this habitat forever.
Tata's surprise offer came after Greenpeace International
Chairwoman Lalita Ramdas questioned the Tata Group's environment
policy on the Dhamra port. Ramdas raised the issue during Tata
Steel's 102nd Annual General Meeting in Mumbai on August 27,
"I am glad that Mr. Tata has, for the first time, said he will
take a personal interest in the issue and meet us to arrive at a
solution to the impasse," Ramdas said.
The shareholders included former Chief of Naval Staff and
Magsaysay award winner Admiral Ramdas, who is also Lalita Ramdas'
husband. This was the third consecutive year that Greenpeace India
had raised the issue at a Tata AGM. Last year, Greenpeace India
campaigners had taken part in several protests to ask Ratan Tata to
stop the construction of the port, even blockading the group's
Bombay House headquarters.
Proceedings turned midway through the AGM when Admiral Ramdas
rose to speak. "I asked him (Ratan Tata) why he is building the
Dhamra port and a power plant at Alibag (in Maharashtra). I am
happy he has agreed to discuss the port. This is a good point
forward to clear all our doubts. The safety of turtles is
important," Admiral Ramdas said after the AGM.
The questions from Admiral Ramdas changed the tone of the AGM.
When her turn came to speak, Lalita Ramdas told Ratan Tata: "I
should tell you that I am also Board Chair of Greenpeace
International. You have done a good thing in Africa by putting on
hold a TATA Chemicals caustic soda factory in Tanzania because of
potential impact on flamingos.
At this point, Tata rose to intervene and say: "It is because of
my intervention that the project was put on hold in Africa."
Later, Lalita Ramdas said: "We had a constructive exchange
today. This is also an opportunity to show that we (at Greenpeace)
are not eco terrorists. We are a watchdog. But, we also work with
businesses on solutions."
She added that talks were the best option. "At this point, this
is the best step that one could hope for, that he is showing
personal interest and meeting with us and anybody else we could
bring (to Dhamra)."
The Dhamra port in Orissa is being constructed by the Dhamra
Port Company Limited (DPCL), a 50:50 joint venture between Tata
Steel and L&T. The project has generated a storm of criticism
for potential impact on the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle at the
Gahirmatha and Bhitarkanika sanctuaries.
The port's location has been of concern for years to
conservationists, scientists, turtle experts, and local and
national fisher groups, all of who have opposed it. They say an
environment impact assessment (EIA) for the project has not been
A four-month dialogue between the promoters of Dhamra and NGOs
including Greenpeace India stalled in February this year after Tata
Steel refused to suspend construction and commission an independent
assessment of impact.
One of the things Lalita Ramdas asked at the AGM was how the
Tatas could justify refusal to suspend dredging, when a
comprehensive impact assessment of the Dhamra port project was yet
to be done.
"Over one lakh Indians are waiting to see what Mr. Tata will do.
The Tatas have thus far missed an opportunity with Dhamra to set
high environmental standards for corporate India. A responsible
corporate entity must have an environment policy that, among other
things, keeps it away from ecologically critical areas," she
Greenpeace India has been campaigning for years for an
independent environment assessment, the results of which would
determine the future of the project.
The protests have largely been ignored, and DPCL had said
construction could be completed by April 2010. Since 2008, an
online Greenpeace India campaign has resulted in over a lakh
letters to Ratan Tata asking him to stop the Dhamra project.
Since inception, the project clashed with the habitat of the
Olive Ridley Sea turtle, an endangered species and accorded
Schedule I status in India, on par with the tiger.
The nesting beaches at Gahirmatha are among the world's largest
and last mass-nesting grounds for the species.
Save the turtles
Join the campaign to save the Olive Ridley turtle habitat.