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Adani Ports and its inextricable links to coal, environmental destruction and the murderous Myanmar military regime
Aug 05, 2021
Protest, controversy, Myanmar military connections, coal, climate change and environmental destruction associated with Adani Ports. Picture by Pooja Kumar Tamil

The flagship of the sprawling Adani Group is its ports company. The enterprise is a major player in the Indian transport industry and has operations in Myanmar and Australia. It enjoys the support of major finance companies such as BlackRock, reported as having an investment of US $108 million in the company, and has recently raised $70 million in bonds on the international market.

However, Adani’s ports have also been implicated in human-rights controversies, the destruction of coastal ecosystems, and a huge expansion of the coal industry in Australia and India. In April 2021, the company was removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index because its business arrangements in Myanmar are enriching the regime that carried out the illegal coup of February 2021 and which has subsequently killed hundreds of protesting citizens. The operations of Adani Ports have caused protests by indigenous groups, fishing communities, human-rights campaigners and other citizens across two continents. Adani's ports are an instrumental part of the Group's intention to double its coal power-generating capacity and to open huge new coal mines, including the infamous Carmichael mine project.

Fishing communities protest on the water against Adani's Vizhinjam port expansion

According to its website the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone company (APSEZ or ‘Adani Ports’) is India’s largest private port operator with operations at 12 locations in India, including the country’s largest special economic zone. Its annual report outlines its ownership of companies in Australia and Myanmar. It describes itself as ‘one of the greenest port operators in the world’, with policies to protect the coastal environment and assist local communities. Yet Adani Ports has been criticised by environmentalists, human-rights organisations, scientists and health experts for its impacts on coastal communities and the ecology they depend upon.

This article describes the contentious operations and legacy of Adani Ports. It is divided into three sections:

  • the company’s port operations in India;
  • the company’s association with the illegal and murderous military regime in Myanmar;
  • and the company’s servicing of what is arguably the world’s most controversial coal project – the Carmichael coal mine.
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Ports in India

The operations of Adani Ports in India have destroyed substantial tracts of mangroves, have degraded the livelihoods of communities dependent on fishing, and are entrenching the global coal industry.

The individual port operations are as follows.

Mundra (Gujarat)

The biggest port run by Adani Ports is at Mundra, in the Gulf of Kutch, in the north-western state of Gujarat. Adani describes it as India’s largest commercial port, with the country’s ‘largest coal import terminal’. The associated 15,000 ha of industrial land contains two coal-fired power stations and an Adani Wilmar palm-oil refinery. In this industrial estate, Adani Power Limited runs coal-fired power stations with a combined capacity of 4620 MW.

Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, Mundra, in the highly biodiverse Gulf of Kutch, India

Much of this infrastructure has been constructed on what used to be intertidal mud flats. Allegations of destruction of the area’s ecological resources and associated fisheries have been levelled against Adani Ports since at least as far back as 2010. Some reports have said that the company’s developments have pushed the high-tide level more than 10 km seaward. This is a massive loss of ecologically-productive ecosystems such as mangroves and tidal flats, with a corresponding loss of fish resources.

In 2013, a committee established by the central government’s ministry of environment and forests found that Adani Ports had breached conditions of its environmental approval, observing that:

  • There had been widespread destruction of mangroves, including 75 hectares on Bocha Island, a protected conservation zone.
  • Precautions to guard against blocking of creeks by construction works had not been taken. 
  • The company had not put in place stipulated measures to ensure that groundwater was protected from contamination by huge volumes of seawater used in the coal power plants.

The ministry was reported to have directed Adani Ports to restore creeks, mangroves and ‘reclaimed’ land, and to consider returning common land to the control of local communities. This directive was controversially overturned in 2015 under the newly elected Modi government, leading to media coverage critical of Adani Ports.

Fishing boats at Mundra - livelihoods degraded by destruction of coastal mangroves, mud flats by Adani Ports

In 2017, Environmental Justice Australia summarised the tortuous process by which environmental approval of developments at Mundra was conferred in 2015, concluding:

‘Although not entirely clear, it appears that this environmental clearance retroactively legalises the previous actions that [Adani Ports] had taken without the proper environmental clearance. However, this does not diminish the concern that [Adani Ports] had caused serious environmental harm, and had undertaken significant development for many years, without the required approvals.’

Another report, primarily focussed on the impacts of the Mundra power stations on human health, also referred to the destruction of coastal ecosystems by the port and associated industrial zone. It said that the local ecosystem, on which fishing livelihoods depend, had been devastated by ‘reclamation’ of intertidal mud flats, destruction of mangroves, dredging of reefs and waterways, and the blocking of creeks. This had seriously degraded the high-value prawn, pomfret and bombil fisheries. According to the report, the fishing season was drastically reduced and the incomes of 6-7000 fishers in the area had declined by 40-45%.

Local leaders of the fishing community, concerned at Adani Ports impacts on fish resources.  Image Soumya Dutta

At least one leader of protests against such environmental impacts has been bullied by state authorities. In 2015, a leader of the elected village government of Navinal, Mr Gajendrasinh Bhimaji Jadeja, was detained on flimsy charges and later freed by order of the Gujarat High Court. The detention of the village leader, who had filed petitions against Adani’s operations, was said to be at the behest of the Adani Group. Mr Jadeja said his village had ‘lost access to sea and the creeks near the same having completely taken over by the [Adani Ports], leaving fishermen of Navinal village without means of livelihood.’ In preparing a story about impacts at Mundra, AdaniWatch sought comment from Adani about the incident involving Mr Jadeja, but no comment was made.

Other victims of these impacts have described their plight in interviews and documentaries and in reports by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Economic Times, and Down to Earth.

Hazira  (Gujarat)

A port expansion at Hazira attracted controversy in 2016 when India’s National Green Tribunal fined the company’s subsidiaries over $US 3 million for carrying out work without environmental clearance. The tribunal passed its order in response to a petition filed by the Hazira Fishermen Committee that challenged the project on the grounds of damaging the ecology and displacing more than 300 families. The issue led to litigation and eventually the Supreme Court cleared the Adani companies and cancelled the fine.

Mormugao (Goa)

According to the Adani Ports website, Mormugao, in the state of Goa, is ‘a fully mechanised coal-handling facility’. The port is connected to neighbouring states via railways. The Goa state government’s moves to double-track these railways and to widen an adjacent highway and transmission line have provoked a storm of protests that have received international coverage. Opponents of the developments have accused the government and conglomerates such as the Adani Group of attempting to turn Goa into a ‘coal hub’. Despite being targeted by protesters, the Adani Group has denied that it has any responsibility for these infrastructure projects.

Courtesy RemicsComics

Vizhinjam (Kerala)

According to its website, Adani Ports is developing Vizhinjam as ‘India’s first mega trans-shipment container terminal’. This colossal expansion has been beset by delays and controversy. Local citizens and representatives of the fishing community say the development has had, or will have, the following direct and indirect impacts:

  • Degradation of local fisheries, particularly mussels, leading to large-scale, repeated protests by members of the area’s strong fishing community.
  • Coastal erosion – some beaches and seaside dwellings near the port have been catastrophically undercut or swept away. Some experts have claimed that the port development is to blame through having disrupted coastal sediment flows. In response, Adani Ports points to an expert report that clears the development of responsibility.
  • Creation of hazards at the ‘old’ Vizhinjam harbour – fishing boats have suffered capsizes and collisions with resulting injuries to crew as a result of what they say is a drastically altered wave regime at the mouth of the port. They blame the massive Vizhinjam breakwaters for the rebounding waves.
  • Destruction of forests and farmland by quarries in the hinterland. The quarries procure the enormous quantities of rock needed for the massive Vizhinjam breakwaters.
  • Loss of farmland and villages as a major ring road is constructed, partly to service the massively expanded port.

In late 2020, the Kerala government announced an official investigation by the state’s anti-corruption bureau into the contract made between the previous government and the Adani company developing the port.

Fishing community leaders and their boats block trucks at Adani Ports construction site, Vizhinjam, October 2020. Image Jisha Elizabeth

Kattupalli (Tamil Nadu)

The website of Adani Ports describes Kattupalli as having ‘enormous capacity’. Despite this, the company is planning a huge expansion through its subsidiary, Marine Infrastructure Developer Private Ltd. The port would be extended to occupy 2473 ha, which would include 927 ha of government land, 613 ha of private land and nearly 800 ha to be ‘reclaimed’ from the sea.

Fisherfolk, farmers and an active NGO have slammed the proposal, saying that it will destroy wetlands, disrupt the balance between freshwater and saltwater, and lead to erosion along a large stretch of coast currently inhabited by fishing villages. They say that the proposal by Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd, touted as an expansion of the company’s existing port on Kattupalli island, is actually a major new industrial project in its own right. Thousands of local people have protested against Adani’s plans. Of major concern is Lake Pulicat, India’s second largest body of brackish water and the basis for a thriving fishing industry. Opponents of the project fear that disruption of flows of water and sediment caused by the huge works will erode the thin, low-lying sandspit separating the lake from the ocean, effectively joining the lake to the sea.

Fishers prepare their nets at Lake Pulicat, threatened by Adani Ports expansion. Image courtesy K. Saravanan, S. Palayam

In February 2020, more than 400 people from the Kattupalli Kuppam fishing village blocked the entrance to the L&T and Adani Ports arguing that port owners had reneged on a 12-year-old agreement to provide 140 permanent jobs to the villagers.

Dhamra (Odisha)

On the north-east coast of India is the port of Dhamra, the intended arrival point for Adani’s imports of coal from Queensland if the Carmichael mine is ever completed. The port operates in an extremely sensitive environment at the mouth of the Dhamra River, adjacent to small islands and an estuary. Adani Ports inaugurated a second phase of the Dhamra port in 2018, part of a proposal to quadruple its capacity. In October 2019, it was reported that Adani had ‘Mundra-like ambitions’ for its Dhamra port and planned to invest about $US7 billion in its expansion.  It is difficult to see how a transformation of the environment on this scale can occur without irreparably harming the fragile ecosystem of mangroves, islets and feeding grounds within which it occurs.

Adani port of Dhamra, Odisha, intended intermediate destination of Carmichael coal.

Other Indian ports

  • Tuna – according to the website of Adani Ports, this terminal ‘handles all types of dry bulk cargo including coal’.
  • Dahej – according to the website of Adani Ports, this terminal has ‘state-of-the-art mechanised coal-handling infrastructure’.
  • Vizag (Andhra Pradesh) – according to the website of Adani Ports, this terminal was ‘developed to handle steam coal’ and has a ‘coal storage yard of 25 acres’.

 

Adani’s port project on the Yangon River in Myanmar

The project for a large container terminal in Myanmar’s biggest city has brought Adani Ports into a business arrangement with a company owned by the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s brutal military forces. This association has become an issue of international notoriety, leading to the decision strike Adani Ports off the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Adani Ports is developing a large international port terminal on the Yangon River, about six km from the centre of Yangon. The Hellenic Shipping News described the Adani Yangon International Terminal Co Ltd as a unit of Adani Ports. The deal was said to be worth $US290 million.

Adani identifies Myanmar as one of the countries where it has major business operations

The project involves an agreement between Adani Ports and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), which is identified by a UN report as a company owned and controlled by the Myanmar military, ‘the Tatmadaw’. It has drawn vehement criticism from human-rights groups and experts. The criticism arises from the Myanmar military’s genocidal persecution of the Rohingya people, the illegal coup of February 2021, and the subsequent killing of hundreds of civilian protesters.

The UN report said that ‘any foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw and its conglomerates MEHL and MEC poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law’. It said that a ‘stark example’ of such a link is that of ‘the Adani Group, of India, which is leasing land in Yangon from MEC for 50 years for USD 290 million for the construction of Ahlone International Port Terminal 2’ (p.51).

The links between Adani Ports and the Myanmar military. Courtesy ACIJ

In August 2017, the Myanmar military was found by United Nations investigators to have committed atrocities against the Rohingya people in brutal operations that caused an exodus of 700,000 people to bordering Bangladesh. Crimes committed included murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement, according to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. The treatment of the Rohingya was described by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. The head of the mission called for financial and political disengagement from Myanmar’s military to help deter human-rights violations.

UN special investigators said that top military commanders in Myanmar should be investigated and prosecuted for the ‘gravest’ crimes against civilians under international law, including genocide. Burma Campaign UK placed the Adani Group on its ‘dirty list’ for ‘entering into a business partnership with the Burmese military shortly after the UN said the military should be prosecuted for genocide’. Chris Sidoti, an Australian lawyer who was a member of the UN investigative team that documented the atrocities, criticised the Adani Group for its association with ‘genocidal generals’. On ABC Radio, Mr Sidoti said ‘so far as this port is concerned, it's putting money into the hands of the military and that's the bottom line’.

In May 2019, the issue was also reported by the Guardian, which quoted the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch saying that the Adani Group’s deal with the MEC would increase the military’s ‘chokehold’ over maritime traffic and international trade in Myanmar, increasing the wealth of senior commanders.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, coup leader and self-declared prime minister of Myanmar, subject to sanctions by the USA, honoured guest at Adani Ports in 2019.

In response to such criticisms, Adani issued a media statement in which it asserted that its investment in Myanmar breached no Australian, UN, US or other international sanctions and had been ‘guided by the Securities and Exchange Board of India and other key international guidelines’.  It confirmed that the land for the port development was leased from the MEC but that this occurred following ‘extensive due diligence’.

According to the website of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the Myanmar military, he toured Adani’s giant port complex at Mundra, India, in 2019 and exchanged gifts with officials of Adani Ports.

In December 2019, the United States imposed sanctions on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing for his role in presiding over the military while it perpetrated atrocities on the Rohingya people. 

Notorious Myanmar coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing being hosted by Adani at Mundra port, July 2019

In February 2021, the military illegally took over the government of Myanmar following a brutal coup. International media and human rights groups have said that about 800 people have subsequently been killed by the military’s violent response to civilian protests against the coup. In August 2021, General Min Aung Hlaing declared himself the country's Prime Minister.

In March 2021, the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) released a major report on the relationship between Adani Ports and the Myanmar military. The report outlined the structure of the MEC including its ownership by the Myanmar military, the commercial ties between Adani Ports and the MEC, some of the financial transactions that have occurred between Adani Ports and the MEC, and the responses by Adani Ports to the allegations of complicity.

Also in March 2021, the USA imposed targeted financial sanctions on the military’s two conglomerates, MEHL and MEC because of their links to grave abuses of human rights.

On 17 March 2021, more than 30 human-rights and environment organisations (including the Bob Brown Foundation, the publisher of AdaniWatch) signed a letter to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) calling for Adani Ports to be struck off the index due to its litany of environmental and human-rights transgressions. In April 2021, the DJSI responded by striking Adani Ports off its index, citing the company’s involvement in Myanmar. Calls by rights groups for an investor boycott of Adani have continued.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing pictured on protest barricade after the February 2021 coup

 

Infrastructure serving the notorious Carmichael coal project, Australia

The operations of Adani Ports in Australia are intended to service the Adani Group’s Carmichael coal project, arguably the world’s most controversial proposed coal mine. The project’s predicted impacts on the Earth’s climate and on local natural and cultural heritage have led to nationwide protests and to what amounts to a boycott of the project by the international finance industry.

The Adani Carmichael coal project has faced ten years of sustained local and global opposition due to its appalling cultural, ecological and climate impacts. Mine works and associated impacts on groundwater threaten cultural sites of immense importance to the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners. Burning the coal from the mine would release up to 77 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. While Adani has been forced to announce a shrinking of its project, former Adani Australia CEO Lucas Dow commented in a leaked video in 2020 that Adani intends to expand production over time. If Carmichael reaches the original target of 60 mtpa, it would be the biggest export coal mine in Australia.

Cultural leader, Adrian Burragubba, and fellow Wangan and Jagaligou opponents of the Adani coal mine on their Country.

The Carmichael project is ultimately owned by Adani Enterprises. However, Adani Ports would play a critical role in serving the mine. In August 2020, Adani Ports launched the Bowen Rail Company (BRC), a wholly owned subsidiary (as stated in its annual report). The role of the BRC is to establish and operate the haulage operations from the Carmichael mine to Adani’s North Queensland Export Terminal (NQXT). This makes Adani Ports a critical part of the development and operation of the Carmichael coal project.

The Adani Ports company also maintains ownership of all the ordinary shares in NQXT Port Pty Ltd (previously known as Adani Abbot Point Terminal), a company associated with ownership of the coal port, and is full owner of Abbot Point Operations Pty Ltd, the company responsible for the port's day-to-day operations.

Its ownership of Carmichael’s key transport infrastructure means that Adani Ports is part of opening up the Galilee Basin, an immense subterranean body of coal whose exploitation would consume 5-7% of the entire remaining carbon budget for the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree limit (420 GtCO2). It is widely accepted within the scientific community that new coal projects are incompatible with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. Global coal production must decline by 11% between 2020 and 2030 to be consistent with a path towards limiting global heating to 1.5°C. The commitment of Adani Ports to opening up the Galilee Basin therefore makes it a global climate villain.

Confrontation near Adani Carmichael project between police and Indigenous Owners of Country, August 2020

In November 2018, Reuters reported that Adani would be funding its Carmichael coal mine and rail link from its own resources. In 2020, Adani’s NQXT experienced an exodus of creditors and failed to refinance its debt, forcing the Adani Group to repay AUD $270 million out of its own pocket. In June 2020, it was reported that Adani Australia had incurred $794 million in losses on Carmichael so far, with one analyst predicting that Adani would have to shuffle funds from across the group to keep the coal project afloat. The financial capacity of the Adani Group more broadly – and Adani Ports in particular – is therefore a critical financial component of the Carmichael coal project and associated exploitation of the Galilee Basin.

These inextricable connections between Adani Parts and the destructive Carmichael coal project have damaged the reputation of the Adani Group generally. The most recent demonstration of these reputational impacts can be seen in Deutsche Bank’s reported refusal to participate in the bond issue of Adani Ports of January 2021, citing ‘environmental concerns in conflict with the sustainability goals of the bank’.

Meanwhile, however, finance companies continue to support Adani Ports, despite its ties to the global coal industry, to the brutal and illegal Myanmar military regime, to the degradation of India’s coastal environment, and to the impoverishment of fishing communities adjacent to its Indian ports. As the notoriety of Adani Ports intensifies, so, too, do the protests against it.

Launch of the 'Tour de Carmichael', a protest bike ride against Adani's coal project, May 2021