The state’s forest and environment department has ordered immediate closure of the three-decade-old Sachana ship-breaking yard in Jamnagar, saying it is a part of the Marine National Sanctuary and poses threat to the aquatic flora and fauna there.
Following a meeting on November 22 which was presided over by state forest minister Mangu Patel, the principal secretary of the forest and environment department sent a notice to his counterpart in the ports department.
According to the notice (a copy is with The Indian Express), ship-breaking activity at Sachana port, which ensures an annual turnover of Rs 200 crore for the Gujarat Maritime Board and employs over 5,000 skilled and unskilled labourers, is illegal and harms Marine National Sanctuary spread over 456 square km in Gulf of Kutch near Jamnagar. The release of arsenic, mercury, asbestos and oil pose threat to aquatic fauna and flora, the notice says.
This ship-breaking yard was set up in 1978.
The notice further mentions that this activity needs a permission from Supreme Court and that the GMB should make refunds to those who recently took plots on lease as the area is part of sanctuary. The notice has ordered immediate shutdown of the yard or else GMB officials will be held responsible.
The Marine National Sanctuary is home to octopus, dolphins, jelly, star fish and rare corals.
The forest department has done no survey or research so far to find out the scale of damage to ecology in all these years.
While GMB Chairman B K Sinha, to whom notice has been served, and vice-chairman Pankaj Kumar, did not respond to several calls by The Indian Express, other officials expressed their anger over terming an activity illegal 30 years later.
Though notice was served on November 22, the yard is yet to shut down, with port officer G G Pande saying he is yet to receive a copy of the notice.
Pande said of the total 18 breaking plots, 15 are operational at Sachana, which serves as a secondary breaking yard to Alang.
Sachana is the final destination for smaller ships weighing up to 5,000 tonnes and are too small to be dismantled at Asia’s biggest shipping yard at Alang in Bhavnagar district.
“The notice has been suddenly served. It is not possible to shut down an activity, which has been going on for 30 years now,” said a top official from GMB. “The matter is being referred to Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s office as he holds the port portfolio.”
At the heart of the controversy is the tussle between two departments since the settlement procedure was conducted by the revenue department during 1982 to 1998 following formation of Maine National Park and Sanctuary in 1980.
Until 1980, the area was under the port authorities and at time of formation of Marine National Sanctuary, it went to forest and environment department. To settle land issues related to this huge area of Marine National Sanctuary, the revenue department conducted a settlement survey, which began in 1982. Some 56 individual applicants, who owned salt pans, made their claim, but the GMB never made any claim on this land.
The state government, based on the settlement survey, declared disputed land as part of Marine National Sanctuary in 1992. The forest and environment officials say that since then, they have been communicating with the GMB to stop ship-breaking activity and vacate the land.
“All these years, we have been asking the GMB to vacate the land,” said Jamnagar Chief Conservator of Forest Ravidutt Kamboj.