India Indigenous People Adani Ports
Adani’s port developments create a sea of troubles
Feb 03, 2020
Adani’s port developments create a sea of troubles

Around the coastline of India, Adani’s plans to expand major ports have been condemned by community groups for their impacts on coastal ecology, wetlands, fish stocks and fishing communities. The group’s port activities are carried out by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) which has major operations at 10 dispersed locations around the coastline of India.


The fishing harbour of Vizhinjam, next to one of Adani’s massive proposed port expansions

In the far north-western Indian state of Gujarat is Adani’s massive port at Mundra. According to the company, the Mundra port is India’s biggest commercial port and the country’s biggest coal import terminal. The port and adjacent industrial complex comprise the company’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) – the location of major plants such as coal-fired power stations and an Adani Wilmar palm-oil refinery.

When complaints were made about the impacts of Adani’s industrial development at Mundra in 2013, an investigative committee found that there had been numerous violations of environmental guidelines, including widespread destruction of mangroves, blocking of creeks, potential contamination of groundwater by saline discharges, and problems with disposal of ash. The failure of various levels of government to address these issues or to penalise the company was described as a ‘sign of the spread of crony capitalism’.

According to numerous accounts, these impacts severely degraded the livelihoods of local people, with fish stocks decimated, groundwater contaminated by salt, and coal dust and fly ash deposited on homes and yards. Fisherfolk say they have to travel five times as far out to sea for a reasonable catch as they did before and that Adani is destroying their lives.

Ahmedabad-based environmentalist Mahesh Pandya has been quoted saying that “irreve­rsible and irreparable damage has been done to the area by the Adani Port and it is difficult to monitor the extent of the damage today. The mangroves have been des­troyed and it has created an environmental disaster. But if you ask the Gujarat Pollution Control Board or the state environment and forest department how many notices they have served to the company, you will find none. The fisherfolk and common people affected by this degradation cannot fight such a big company.”


Fisher in Ennore Creek

Adani, on the other hand, points to its afforestation program, saying that over 250 ha of mangrove seedlings have been planted in the Mundra area, earning the group praise from the International Association of Ports and Harbours. It also says that it has provided employment to ‘150 fisher-folk families’ in the Mundra area, and developed clean-water infrastructure and numerous community-development programs. Nevertheless, Adani’s expansion plans at Mundra continued to draw criticism as recently as January 2020, with community groups outlining their concerns about mangroves, streams and fishing impacts to government authorities and objecting to an apparent attempt by the company to avoid public hearings.

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About 300 km south-east of Mundra is the Adani port of Hazira. A port expansion here attracted controversy in 2016 when India’s National Green Tribunal fined the company’s subsidiaries over $US3 million for carrying out work without environmental clearance. The tribunal passed its order in response to a petition filed by 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.

Further down the west coast of India, near the popular and historic town of Goa, is the port of Mormugao. Adani’s operation here came under criticism in 2014 when handling and transport of coal led to air pollution from coal dust. The local environmental authority served the Adani Mormugao Port Terminal Pvt Ltd with a ‘show cause’ notice as to why its consent to operate should not be revoked due to alleged failure to abide by environmental conditions. A similar issue arose in 2016.

Further south again is the port of Belekeri, another trouble spot for Adani. In 2015, investigators prepared a case against numerous officials, accusing them of facilitating the illegal export of huge quantities of iron ore. Adani was implicated in the scandal. However, a court subsequently cleared all defendants of wrongdoing. In a response to the ABC’s Four Corners program in 2017, the Adani Group said that it had acted legally at all times.

In India’s far south-west, Adani has wallowed in a sea of troubles thanks to its port-expansion plans at Vizhinjam. This otherwise quiet stretch of coastline is a series of beaches and headlands with associated tourist resorts and fishing villages. Since 2015, Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Ltd has been constructing a deep-water trans-shipment port that supporters say will be a game-changer for the economy of western India. According to online news reports, Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani announced an opening date of September 2018 after the pact with the Kerala government was signed in 2015. However, the project has been beset by delays that the company has blamed on Cyclone Ockhi and a shortage of rocks for constructing the breakwater. When the Adani group missed the December 2019 deadline for completion of stage one, the government of Kerala signalled its intention to seek damages from the company.

Meanwhile, the Vizhinjam port development has made headlines for its likely environmental impacts and resulting community opposition. Dredging, reclamation and the partially completed breakwater are said to have already caused coastal erosion that has displaced villagers and damaged transport routes. Traditional fishers have blamed the port development for destroying mussel habitat and endangering the livelihoods of the people who harvest them. Other critics say that the increase in maritime traffic and associated pollution will jeopardise fisheries further off the coast. New coastal-protection laws, new arrangements for compensation and a new environmental impact statement have been called for.  In 2017, fisherfolk angry at inadequate compensation mounted a protest that halted work on the project for some days.

On India’s east coast, north of the huge city of Chennai, Adani is seeking government approval to develop yet another massive port into a series of dunes and wetlands. 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. In January 2020, local fisherfolk used a seafood festival as a novel means of protest against Adani’s plans.

On the far north-east coast of India is the port of Dhamra, likely to be the 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 strips of mangroves. During the port’s planning and establishment, between 2007 and 2012, there were protests by Greenpeace and local politicians about the likely impact of the port and associated shipping on the vulnerable Olive Ridley sea turtle. A subsequent collaboration occurred between the Dhamra Port Company Ltd (DPCL) and IUCN on a program to protect the nearby habitat of the turtle. 


Fishing boats at Vizhinjam, site of a massive port development by Adani

In 2014, DPCL was taken over by the Adani Ports and SEZ company, which inaugurated phase II of the development in 2018, part of a proposal to quadruple the capacity of Dhamra. 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 ports that have attracted less controversy include those at Dahej (extended in 2016) and Krishnapatnam, which Adani acquired in December 2019. Regarding its port developments generally, Adani claimed in its 2017-18 sustainability report to be amongst ‘the greenest port operators in the world’. It says it has developed an online tool called the ‘Sustainability Information Management System’ which currently applies to six of its main ports as well as a major system for engagement with stakeholders. However, with respect to stakeholder communities, the company does not explicitly mention critical environmental issues such as impacts on fishing resources. Water use is identified as an area where Adani is attempting to improve its sustainability, with various efficiency measures outlined; however, the company acknowledged that most of the water used at its ports still comes from public utilities, surface water-sources and groundwater. The report referred to the critical issue of coastal ecology in very generic terms, apart from enumerating quantities of shrubs planted. It also outlined a large number of community development programs in the fields of health, education, employment and empowerment of women.

Despite these measures, the Adani Group’s huge proposed port expansions continue to generate opposition amongst fishing communities and environmental groups.