Citizens' Issues
Andhra Pradesh CRZ authority clears Hinduja power project proposal despite encroachment

Former power secretary EAS Sarma complains to the environment ministry also against similar clearances to other projects like the Gangavaram Port, an SEZ and a luxury resort

At a time when industries and mining corporations are coming under increased scrutiny, the government authorities themselves seem to be in a strange hurry to sanction large-scale projects without getting the assessment reports and overlooking the loopholes in information furnished by companies.

The Andhra Pradesh government recently granted coastal regulation clearances to a host of big projects in the Visakhapatnam area, the most prominent among these being the thermal power project proposed by the Hinduja group. Environmentalists allege that the clearances have been wrongfully granted, as many of them violate several laws.

The Hinduja power project appears to be the worst case. The group had asked for permission to desalinate sea water for cooling purposes and laying down of railway tracks for the plant.

Concerned that the clearance has been granted on the basis of misrepresentation of facts by the company, former power and finance secretary EAS Sarma has written to the Centre, asking for an immediate reversal of the clearance and an inquiry into how the clearance was granted by the state.

"I have requested the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) to inquire into the misrepresentation of facts by the company to obtain a "revalidation" certificate for a lapsed environment clearance," Mr Sarma said. He has complained that no public consultation has taken place regarding the project, thus denying the local people the opportunity to raise objections.

According to information available, the Andhra Pradesh Coastal Zone Management Authority(APCZMA) gave the green signal for the power project, even after the Hinduja group encroached on CRZ land which was declared off-limits. A compliance report from Hinduja National Power Corporation (HNPCL) in April 2011, shows that it had started work on 622 acres out of 1,122 acres of non-CRZ land. However, a survey list shows that 730 acres of the 1,122 acres is within the CRZ, which means that the company has encroached upon the no-go area that is largely agricultural land and sand dunes.

"The company admitted to have drawn water from groundwater sources, an activity prohibited in the CRZ. HNPCL stated that APIIC (Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation) has 'allotted' water to it. HNPCL cannot get the promised water from APIIC and since no desalinated water to the extent needed will be available, the company is perhaps trying to tap groundwater from CRZ survey numbers covering an area of 730 acres in its possession. This is clearly prohibited," Mr Sarma pointed out.

The situation of water shortage first came to light when Mr Sarma filed a write petition in the High Court against water committed to Jindal Alumina Refinery. It was shown that water drawn by existing industries and localities is already beyond the limits prescribed by the authorities for 'future' enterprises, impacting the environment negatively. Till date, the government has not responded to the court's notice. However, the Hinduja group has already invited tenders for construction of a cooling system and allied services.

The land allotted to HNPCL has also stirred up more controversy. Mr Sarma says that this is Wakf property and that the courts have questioned the propriety of the government to hand over Wakf lands to a private party. "The intake facility covers D-Patta lands in Appikonda and other villages, the alienation of which attracts action under the AP Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfer) Act,1977," he wrote in his letter.

Also, if the railway track materialises, the area will be affected severely by coal dust pollution. Mr Sarma said, "Hinduja Power Corporation's compliance report of October 2010 requires that the company should work out a common railway facility with the adjacent Simhadri power plant of NTPC, so that the stress on the local environment is minimised. HNPCL has evidently not complied with this requirement, making it mandatory for the MOEF to invalidate its clearance for the project."

The Visakhapatnam industrial area has already been identified among the top 40 highly-polluted industrial complexes in the country by the Central Pollution Control Board.

Apart from the Hinduja project, APCZMA has also granted clearances for the Gangavaram Port (GPL), an SEZ of Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation, a luxury resort of Brook Fields and Resorts, and a 1,600 MW thermal power project in Nellore. The clearance for the Nellore power project was granted even though a writ petition filed by local inhabitants is pending before the High Court. The authority also seems to be oblivious of the massive amount of explosive substances like ammonium nitrate being stored by Shravan Shipping Limited in the area.

The authorities have been directed by the High Court to pull down unauthorised structures in the CRZ area, but they have not done anything. Instead, the APCZMA has decided to reduce the CRZ area along Meghadrigedda Creek. The National Institute of Oceanography(NIO), the custodian of the CRZ, seems to have turned a blind eye to all this, which makes it a party to the wrongdoings.

"I request the MOEF to return the proposals straightaway," Mr Sarma says. "I would also earnestly request the MOEF and the National Coastal Zone Management Authority to introspect on their role and responsibility as custodians of the CRZ. They should provide a vision to the states, not become rubber stamps to legalise illegalities."


India makes first payment for Iranian oil in five months

MRPL last week deposited an equivalent of $100 million in a rupee account in the New Delhi branch of Union Bank of India which then routed euros equivalent to state-owned Turkiye Halk Bankasi (Halkbank) in Istanbul. Other refiners that import oil from Iran are expected to use the new payment route

New Delhi: India has made its first payment in more than five months for crude oil its buys from Iran when a $100 million wire-transfer by Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals (MRPL) was received by Tehran via Turkey, reports PTI.

MRPL last week deposited an equivalent of $100 million in a rupee account in the New Delhi branch of Union Bank of India which then routed euros equivalent to state-owned Turkiye Halk Bankasi (Halkbank) in Istanbul.

Halkbank has since transferred the money to the account of the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC), sources said.

"The pipeline (for payments) has been opened... we have confirmation that money transferred has reached the intended beneficiary," a source said.

MRPL's was a test payment and now more refiners will use the same route to pay Iran. Essar Oil, the nation's second biggest importer of Iranian oil after MRPL, is to transfer money today and will be followed by state-owned Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, each sending $50 million.

This is the first payment Indian refiners have made to Iran since February when it had paid 1.5 billion euros through German-based Iranian bank Europisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG (EIH Bank). But soon after that payment, US convinced Germany to block that conduit.

India owes more than $7 billion to its second biggest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia.

Iran had yesterday stated that the payment problem, which arose when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in December last year unilaterally scrapped a long-standing mechanism of trade through region's central bank, with India has been resolved.

The Iranian oil ministry's website SHANA yesterday quoted NIOC managing director Ahmad Qalebani to say that "the problem of Indian payments for imported oil from Iran has been solved".

It quoted NIOC's director for international affairs Mohsen Qamsari as saying that "the two sides had reached an agreement on the arrear payments... related bank accounts have been announced to Indian side and the amount deposited into our accounts would be revealed by reopening of the international banks on Monday".

Iran's 4 lakh barrels per day of oil exports, which is 12% of India's needs, were "going on as usual", he said.

The RBI had on 23rd December last year scrapped the Asian Clearing Union (ACU), winning appreciation from the US, which is using sanctions to force Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.

Sources said Iran, which has been supplying some 400,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) on credit since the RBI move, had previously provided no plans for shipping oil in August but refiners can expect crude as usual.

Iran had on 27th June written about stopping supplies from August if the dues are not paid.

Mr Qamsari said, "A notice had been sent to Indian indebted oil refineries, but this did not mean stoppage of oil exports to the country."

"NIOC has no plan to suspend oil exports to India," he said, pointing to good relations with India.

Indian refiners had tapped Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to cover for any supply disruption from Iran.

MRPL is the largest buyer of Iranian crude, at 1,42,000 bpd, while Essar buys 1,10,000 bpd of oil from Tehran.


Swan Telecom wants to know actual loss in 2G scam

Majeed Memon, appearing for Swan Telecom promoter Shahid Usman Balwa asserted that the CBI's case is based upon the loss to the state exchequer but the government had stated in Parliament that no loss was suffered and instead the tele-density in the country had increased in 2010 from what it was in 2004

New Delhi: Swan Telecom promoter Shahid Usman Balwa Monday demanded in a Delhi court that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) 'must answer' as to what is the actual loss suffered by the state exchequer due to the second generation (2G) spectrum scam, reports PTI.

Opposing framing of corruption and other penal charges against him, Mr Balwa told special CBI judge OP Saini that the agency should have written a letter to the Indian prime minister or the finance minister to know the actual loss to the exchequer due to the scam.

"The CBI must answer as to what is the actual loss to the state exchequer. It (loss) is the basis of the prosecution and it has to be supported with documentation," advocate Majeed Memon, appearing for Mr Balwa, said.

Mr Memon asserted that the CBI's case is based upon the loss to the state exchequer but the government had stated in Parliament that no loss was suffered and instead the tele-density in the country had increased in 2010 from what it was in 2004.

Mr Memon also asked the CBI if any loss has been suffered by the state exchequer, who exactly was responsible for it and up to what extent.

He also said the probe agency must answer whether Swan Telecom was ineligible to get Unified Access Services (UAS) licence in January 2008.

Balwa's counsel also accused the CBI of adopting selective approach in arresting people in the case.

"It is surprising how out of various companies (which got licences for 22 circles) and persons, the CBI picked up A and B and left others. Why are they adopting the selective approach?" Mr Memon asked, accusing CBI of conducting "a biased, selective and discriminatory approach" in the investigation.

"You (CBI) have just picked up one man of your choice from one point and the other from another point. CBI is blowing up the case so that the court would be hesitant to consider liberty of a person even after months. It is guilty of misleading the court," Mr Balwa's counsel told the court.

Mr Memon also asked the CBI to explain as to why former telecom minister A Raja is in jail if ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government are not in jail despite evolving and following the same policy that Mr Raja had pursued.

Without naming anyone, Mr Memon submitted that MR Balwa is paying the price because of business rivalry.

"I (Mr Balwa) am a successful businessman and thus I am paying the price because of my business rivals. There is a feeling of vengeance (in my business rivals) as I am a threat to my competitors," he said.

Mr Balwa, arrested on 8th February, is presently lodged in Tihar Jail along with other 13 accused including Mr Raja and Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) MP Kanimozhi.

Charges of cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy and corruption have been levelled against Mr Balwa.

The CBI charge-sheet has alleged that bribe money of Rs200 crore had been channelized from Balwa's DB Realty to DMK-run Kalaignar TV through a 'circuitous route' via Cineyug Films and Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd for grant of licence to Mr Balwa's Swan Telecom promoter.

The agency, in its first charge-sheet, has alleged that Balwa along with other co-accused in the case entered into a conspiracy for manipulating the procedure for allocation of spectrum with the aim of favouring companies like Swan Telecom and Unitech Group.

Mr Balwa asked as to why no one ever objected to telecom majors like Airtel, Tata and Vodafone securing licences between 2004 and 2007 at 2001 rates, while grant of 2G licence to him at 2001 prices merely a few months later in 2008 is being questioned.

MR Balwa's counsel pointed out to the special CBI judge that the prices were fixed in 2001 and were followed till 2008.

"May I ask if after 2004, no one talks of giving licences to Tata, Airtel and Vodafone on the same price as fixed in 2001," he said, pointing out that Vodafone was awarded licences to operate in Madhya Pradesh Telecom circle on 2001 rates in March 2007.

"In March 2007, Vodafone was given licence at the price fixed in 2001 and 10 months later (in January 2008) eyebrows are being raised that I got licences at the price of 2001," Mr Memon said.

He will continue arguments opposing framing of corruption and other penal charges against Mr Balwa in the post lunch session.

Till now, the court has heard arguments on behalf of former telecom minister A Raja, his personal secretary RK Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura opposing framing of charges against them in the 2G spectrum scam.


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