Jindal, Adani, Vedanta are the Big Three who are transporting most of the millions of tonnes of coal unloaded at Goa’s Mormugao Port every year. In a painstaking investigation carried out over four months, Smitha Nair of The Indian Express tracked three key coal routes to find a trail of health hazards and environmental damage.
Nearly 25 million tonnes of coal – evenly spread across a standard football field, this toxic black mountain will rise almost 3 km into the sky. That is the amount that will be unloaded each year at the Mormugao Port Trust by 2020, just three years away. By 2030, official records attest, this is slated to double – up to 51.6 million tonnes each year.
In 2016-17, 12.75 million tonnes of coal was unloaded at the port and carried across Goa to power stations and refineries in Karnataka and beyond. By a clutch of importers, the biggest ones being JSW Steel Ltd and the Adani Group. And Vedanta – together they are The Big Three – which currently imports coal for its pig iron plant in Goa, is set to ramp up an additional 1.2 million tons of anthracite, 2.6 million tonnes of coking coal and 2.1 million tonnes of thermal coal for its proposed steel plant in Karnataka’s Bellary.
Over a four-month-long investigation, The Indian Express found that coal that arrives at the port takes three key routes, road, rail and river (see map below), that slice deep wounds in the ecological heart of the state.
The Indian Express travelled along each of these routes, following coal trucks and wagons, on a 600-km trail, to find that the transport of such huge amounts of coal is putting at risk entire habitations in villages and towns. The coal dust is blackening lungs, pushing up incidents of respiratory disorder; it’s threatening fragile forests, paddy fields, countless streams and rivers, at one place even a tiger corridor, at least two sanctuaries, and an entire hill.
Interviews with scores of residents, transporters and local administration officials and an investigation of port records show glaring gaps in the state’s regulation of this transport.
The three routes, one more coming
In villages across central Goa, men, women and children speak of how the “devil’s dust” (fine particles of coal) has changed life itself – scarred by soot-covered homes, a lethal cocktail of respiratory ailments and a ruined ecosystem. “We take pride in being conscious of our ecological status, our beaches, our orchards, our cultivation land. Most of our youth have left the state for lack of opportunity and now when these coal corridors are being designed, there is the danger of losing our indigenous identity, too,” says Dolvyn Braganza, 25, a teacher and part-time paddy farmer and vegetable grower in Utorda.
“India comes to Goa for its vacation. This is not just our problem, this is your problem, too. Once we become a coal hub, it will be too late. Nobody likes a black Christmas,” says Braganza whose ancestral farm is located near the “coal tracks”.
Currently, official figures show that, on average , 34,200 tonnes of coal is transported each day through the rail route from Mormugao port via Vasco, Margao and Kulem into Karnataka through Hubli and Hospet.
According to the last official update, JSW and Adani transported over 3 million tonnes of coal to Karnataka through rail and a land route between April and July 2017. A second land route is being cleared and there are plans to open up a waterway through the state’s network of six rivers, with banks fashioned as coastal jetties, designed to stagger coal silos from the port towards the east.
According to official projections, each mode of transport has its own limitations, and all three need to be used together to transfer the “benefit of scale and economy”.
‘This is abuse of life’
On the other side, are people and their way of life.
Savio Correia, from Vasco, is one of the legal warriors who continues to file applications under the Right to Information Act to fight the port – its coal plans are at the centre of a protracted battle in the courts but more of that later.
Talk to the 48-year-old about this coal trail and he describes trains that already pass near the backyard of his house in Vasco as “tarpaulin-covered graves”. “The tarpaulin covers fly against the wind. The coal they import is very fine dust, they fly across the tracks, enter our homes. If this is the kind of pollution and devastation we are facing now, what will we face with 50 million tonnes? This is abuse of life,” says Correia.
On the main road route through which trucks take coal past the 447-year-old St Andrew’s Church in Vasco town, Father Gabriel Coutinho says the coal dust can be seen on the prayer benches. “The first group of worshippers in the morning mass suffers the worst. The trucks ply in the night. By the morning, the black dust settles on the benches and the fans. When we start our prayers, switching on the ceiling fans, the coal dust spreads and falls on the worshippers. The first morning mass always begins with sneezes,” he says.
On the proposed water route, the fishing unions are the first to sound the alarm. Says Olencio Simoes, vice-chairperson, National Fishworkers’ Forum, “The dredging will collapse river beds and cause floods in neighbouring villages. Also, this will amount to violation of CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) norms as mangroves will be cut or destroyed along with the destruction of corals and reefs, turtle nesting grounds, horseshoe crab habitats, sea grass beds, mudflats, and nesting grounds of birds.”
Catch-22: Port needs coal
If that is the health and social cost of transport, for importers it’s cost-effective.
An investigation has found that the transport of coal is linked not only to the economics of the users but also to the future of the port itself. Indeed, it was the ban on mining and the resultant cutoff in export of iron ore – from 43 million tonnes in 2010-2011 to 11 tonnes in 2014 – that cleared the way for coal to come flooding into Mormugao.
During the iron-ore export days, the port contributed to 35 per cent of the state GDP, according to the Goa government . The coal that lands in Mormugao – mainly from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa – is currently consumed by an estimated 31 corporates.
Port records show that the Big Three have at least a berth each for themselves at the port. They show that JSW imported 10.11 million tonnes in 2016-17 for its plant in Toranagallu, Karnataka; Adani has an awarded capacity of 5.2 million tonnes for its clients in Goa, Bellary, and Hospet; and, the coal berth allotted to Vedanta has a capacity of 6.99 million tonnes, to be utilised for its proposed Bellary plant.
The Shipping Ministry, meanwhile, has identified 17 coal-backed power plants and 22 steel plants as “potential clients” in the pipeline for the Mormugao Port at Bellary, Hospet, Belgaum, Hubli, Kudgi, Solapur, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Vijayanagara and Raichur, according to the 2016 Sagarmala report for coastal upgradation.
While the coal berths used by Jindal and Vedanta cater mainly to their own plants, records show that Adani will mainly import coal for the new players. With 770 kg of coal required to manufacture one tonne of steel, the answer to why these routes are being used is simple: it makes economic sense for the companies and for the port itself.
Take the road route, for instance, used by Adani to carry 20 per cent of its coal. Coal transporters say that for every tonne imported, the carriage fare works out to Rs 850 for the 308-km journey from Mormugao to Koppal in Karnataka, where 28 factories receive coal from Adani Mormugao Port Terminal Ltd. Transporters say the comparative cost is Rs 1,500 from Mangalore Port, over 400 km south of Koppal; and, Rs 1,200 from Andhra’s Krishnapatnam, over 500 km east.
That is why experts advise better regulation than a shutdown. “The economy of Goa revolves around mining. When the mining ban was in place, everybody lost jobs, it hit the state’s GDP. Coal is a different matter; in this case, coal coming in is for industries outside. Still, the solution is not to ban any economic activity. The government has to ensure that the state has the infrastructure to contain the pollution caused, and corporates are allowed to import only after various measures are put in place,” says Peter F X D’Lima, board member and former director of the Goa Institute of Management.
‘Rules broken, limits crossed’
Vedanta did not respond to queries seeking comment. A spokesperson for JSW says the group “maintains high standards of environmental compliance”. A spokesperson for the Adani group says the company takes “utmost care to preserve the environment and comply with all applicable rules and regulations”.
In July, the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) issued show-cause notices to Mormugao Port Trust, JSW’s South West Port Ltd (Berths No 5A and 6A), and Adani Mormugao Port Terminal Pvt Ltd (Berth No.7) for allegedly violating pollution norms listed in the consent awarded to operate coal. The board also initiated the process to conduct a Proportionate Source Apportionment Study for Air Quality in Vasco through IIT Bombay and asked the corporates to “jointly/severally contribute periodically toward the expenses incurred…”
Along with the notice, the GSPCB listed a number of directions: coal stacks not more than 5m high, continuous use of water sprinklers, coal stacks and trucks covered with tarpaulin at all times. The two corporates were further asked why the consent to operate coal, which was issued by the GSPCB, should not be revoked since they were operating their unit in violation of the provision of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. The 2015-16 annual report of the GSPCB states that “as per their Ambient Air Quality Monitoring of Mormugao Port Trust, the PM10 reading exceeded the permissible limits on 14 out of 24 readings”.
The Goa government, meanwhile, informed the State Assembly during this monsoon session that it was planning to initiate criminal proceedings against South West Port Ltd for having violated pollution norms.
Official records also show that coal in excess of what’s been permitted is being handled at the port. For instance, they show, the JSW Group has been exceeding its import capacity since 2012, getting 10.11 million tonnes in 2016-2017 alone, against an awarded consent of 5.48 million tonnes. This year, the GSPCB wrote to South West Port Ltd to state that it was reducing its permitted capacity by 25 per cent, to 4.125 million tonnes annually.
A report prepared by the port itself admits: “The consent to operate was exceeded from the year 2011-12 onward and the PPP operator has not obtained permission from GSPCB for enhancing the limits. It is understood that South West Port Limited has submitted a proposal to MoEF under an amnesty scheme and (this) is under consideration.”
Adani responds: ‘We abide by all norms’
Responding to queries from The Indian Express, a spokesperson for the Adani Group writes:
Our berth No.7 in Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) has consent to operate for 5.2 MMT per annum, however we have handled only 1.9 MMT in 2016-17. This indicates that we are operating at about 36 per cent of the capacity allowed. We serve industries based in Goa and logistically advantageous destinations in Karnataka to achieve a higher throughput at MPT. This provides more employment and revenue to the state without violating the installed and revised capacity norms by GSPCB (Goa State Pollution Control Board).
For handling of coal, we abide by all established norms by MPT/GSPCB in order to control pollution well below the required parameters. The berth No.7 facility is equipped with state-of-the-art environment friendly mechanised cargo handling systems which ensure restriction of coal dust at each of the coal handling points, from vessel to conveyor systems, conveyor systems to storage yard, storage yard to dispatch stations.
We have installed AQMS, which displays ambient air quality readings at the site as well as live data feed to central and state pollution control authorities to monitor air quality of the region on real-time basis. Furthermore, monthly reports are submitted to authorities as required by the regulations.
JSW responds: ‘Committed to regulatory compliance’
Responding to queries from The Indian Express, a spokesperson for JSW writes:
JSW imports metallurgical coal and coke, raw material used for firing blast furnaces, for its Vijaynagar steel plant through Mormugao Port, Goa. It is a well-recognised fact that such grade of coal is not dusty and contains up to 8% moisture, which further controls fugitive emissions.
At Mormugao Port, Goa, JSW owns two berths (5A and 6A) cumulatively admeasuring 450 metres and can serve one vessel (290 metres) at a time. For storage and cargo handling, the port only has about 33000-m2 land, which further limits the handling capacity of these berths.
In our effort to upgrade, we are replacing the existing equipment with superior ones to further improve efficiency, safety and sustenance of these berths while ensuring that our operations continue to be in line with environmental regulations. Our focus in installing better technology and environmental-friendly equipment would further improve efficiency of these berths’ handling capacity within the confines of the same berth size and storage area.
We applied for necessary clearances with the respective regulatory authorities both at State and Centre in mid-2015 and are awaiting approvals. JSW is committed to all regulatory compliance. Our application towards the amnesty scheme was filed in 2016 and is currently pending for hearing leading to clearance. The final presentation on our facility upgradation is scheduled for the last week of October, 2017.
JSW’s steel plant at Vijaynagar is a 12 MTPA manufacturing unit and requires about 40 MTPA of raw material annually, which could not be met only by our berths at Mormugao Port, Goa, which is among many such facilities at other ports that are used for importing raw material and exporting finished goods. Our import cost as well as railway freight is in line with tariffs fixed by Government of India.
Express Investigation part 2: What the toxic train leaves in its wake
3,800 tonnes of coal per train, an average of 9 trains every day — The Indian Express tracks their trail across Goa and what they leave behind.
Express Investigation part 3: All along the road route, the black dust settles
If freight trains travel through the day, the night belongs to coal-laden trucks on highways that split the state — with few regulatory checks along the way.
Express Investigation part 4: Danger ahead, new coal corridor is coming up
Coal Burying Goa: New 4-lane road for coal in the works, avoids towns but ignores warnings to slice through hillocks, forest, wetlands and paddy fields
Express Investigation part 5: Lives touched by coal
Mormugao Port’s race to meet its coal targets, say Goans, has bypassed environmental concerns and their very way of life. From Vasco in the far west to Anmod on the Karnataka border, Smita Nair and photographer Amit Chakravarty traverse the coal trail to tell the stories
Express Investigation part 6: After road and rail, river at risk as coal floats by
Marine life, village farms in danger; terminals planned on Zuari, Mandovi
Express Explained | Cleaning Goa, the legal fight so far
Deepening of Mormugao Port channel had begun without Environmental Clearance, public hearing had been bypassed. The National Green Tribunal decried the ‘arbitrariness’, and ruled that the Environmental Protection Act and EIA Notification had been violated.