Mumbai, August 29th (odisha.in) On Tata Steel’s 100th annual general meeting (AGM) Wednesday Greenpeace activists asked the company’s senior management to live up to the TATA legacy of social responsibility by withdrawing from the Dhamra Port Project in Orissa.
The port is adjacent to the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest mass nesting sites for the endangered olive ridley sea turtles, Greenpeace said in a release.
The port’s location has generated opposition from conservationists and groups such as the National Fishworkers’ Forum and the Orissa Traditional Fish Workers’ Union, it said.
The Dhamra Port is being built by the Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL), a 50:50 JV between TATA Steel and Larsen & Toubro, in the Bhadrak district of Orissa.
Aside from ecological concerns, questions were also raised at the AGM on the financial consequences of the project, the release said.
With over 75 per cent of the project’s cost of 2,460 crores being debt financed, the project represents a significant financial liability to TATA Steel, particularly when it is looking to fund the hard-won and costly acquisition of British Steel firm Corus, it said
Ongoing legal battles at both the High Court and Supreme Court over the Dhamra project only add to the financial risk the project entails, opine market watchers.
Greenpeace activists pointed out that TATA Steel’s continued involvement in the Dhamra port project is at odds with the Precautionary Principle, which it is committed to as a member of the United Nation’s Global Compact.
A Greenpeace-commissioned biodiversity assessment, released in June 2007, recorded the carcasses of over 2,000 dead turtles at and around the port site, an indication of the presence of turtles in nearby waters, though the area is not a nesting site, the release said.
The study has also discovered rare species at the port site itself (1). The Orissa Forest Department has recommended that the area be declared an ecologically sensitive area (2), which would preclude any large commercial or industrial developments, including a mega port, it said.
Mr. Ratan Tata, scion of the Tata family and Mr. B. Muthuraman, Managing Director of TATA Steel, have in the past both promised publicly that the TATAs would never harm the turtles or the environment.
They would reconsider the project if there was evidence of the ecological significance of the area. However, the TATAs have thus far ignored the scientific findings of the biodiversity assessment, despite requests from Greenpeace for a public statement of their position in light of the new evidence, the release said.
“I have acquired TATA Steel shares as much because of the company’s reputation as a socially responsible corporate, as for its financial reliability” said Mallika R Iyer, TATA Steel shareholder and Greenpeace supporter.
“I am deeply disappointed to see my company is abdicating its environmental responsibilities on this project and not honouring its commitments” he further added.
“Paradip port is currently expanding, and will add 70 million tonnes capacity per annum by 2011, which is when Dhamra is envisaged to be operational.
Is it economically advisable to build a port from scratch when an alternative exists? It makes both financial and ecological sense to utlilise Paradip’s capacity, rather than build a new, hugely expensive project, which will also earn us the risk of us being branded globally as an environmentally insensitive company!” said a concerned Ajit Singh Matha, another shareholder of the TATA Steel, employed with the Bombay Stock Exchange.
As a consequence of shareholder pressure and repeated questions, and after months of stonewalling, Mr. Ratan Tata finally committed to shareholders that the company would meet with Greenpeace within the coming weeks to discuss the issue.
“Will Mr. Ratan Tata keep his promise to the turtles?” asked Areeba Hamid, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India. “The evidence that the TATAs sought is on the table.
This project is environmentally unsound and it’s economic advisability questionable. If the TATAs want to maintain their reputation for being sensitive to social concerns – a reputation built by stalwarts like JRD Tata – they have no choice but to withdraw from this ecologically disastrous project. Only this can keep the TATA legacy intact.” the release said