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NDTV stops Sagarmala project – from making losses for shareholders to making losses for India

Ministry of Home Affairs under Modi Government has issued Notices to 10,300+ NGOs. We have seen earlier how these NGOs obtain foreign funding and are actively involved in scuttling developmental projects at the behest of their foreign masters. Till date all opposition to any infrastructure or other projects was from NGOs. The media’s role was limited to reporting these cases. Apparently now Modi Govt has to fight even non-NGOs if they are to execute ambitious projects. Here is the story how an alleged media company “NDTV” is acting like an NGO.

History of Sagarmala Project:

We know that India enjoys enviable coastline of 7500 kms which touches upon 13 states and union territories and some islands. With India’s strategic location in the Asian Continent, there indeed is no doubt that a string of “pearls” or “sagarmala” would help India play a pivotal role in international trade. Every developed Country has ports which can handle huge capacities. Somehow India lags behind in port facilities in comparison to China or other nations.

Keeping this in mind Modi Government undertook the ambitious Sagarmala Project to deliver impact through over 150 projects which shall lead to an estimated annual logistics cost saving of 35,000 Crores! These projects are estimated to boost India’s merchandise exports to $110 Billion by 2025. It is further estimated that 1 crore new jobs out of which 40 lakhs will be direct employment shall be created from these projects.

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The Cabinet approval for the project was given in March 2015. The Shipping Ministry is the nodal ministry which is implementing this ambitious project. Shipping Ministry also released the project reports which can be accessed here and a notice inviting comments from the stakeholders was also released with last date of submissions as 31st August 2016. The Ministry also formed a “Special Purpose Vehicle”  under the name and style of Sagarmala Development Company Limited which was incorporated on 31st August 2016.

NDTV Approaches NGT

Curiously, NDTV, a media company, filed a petition before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) making a “Direct Attack” on the Modi Government’s Sagar Mala plans. An Analysis of the proceedings together with news items throws some interesting details. NDTV in its petition has prayed for:

  • “stopping of work” on all new ports as an interim measure,
  • “civil and criminal action” be taken against authorities, governments and private companies
  • formulation of a “national coastal policy”
  • creation of a restoration fund
  • cumulative environmental, economic and social impact assessment

A few quick questions:

  1. How does a media company become an expert on environmental issues?
  2. On what basis did NDTV conclude that Governments deserve civil and criminal action for their “neglect, over-sight, and complicit actions”?
  3. Did NDTV submit any “reports” from “experts” to back their claims?
  4. Has NDTV challenged the Environmental impact assessment” as done by ministries?
  5. Is NGT empowered to direct formulation of “coastal policies”?
  6. Is NDTV’s demand for a blanket scrapping of the Sagarmala projects justified? Or does it reek of some obstructionist tactic?
  7. How is NDTV “empowered” under its Memorandum and Articles of Association” to take up “environmental issues”? A quick analysis of the Memorandum of Association of NDTV shows they have a vague power under Clause 3 (B) (32) to investigate value of any “asset” but it is still not clear if they can file a case or not.
  8. Are all the shareholders of the company aware of these antics of NDTV, which is clearly drifting away from its stated goals of being a media house?
  9. Any spend on legal and other fees on an activity which NDTV is basically not supposed to indulge in, is justified?
  10. Does NDTV itself being embroiled in numerous tax scandals, have the moral right to be pontificating on other issues?

The only tenuous link of a media company like NDTV to this NGO-esque action can be their 2011 “Save The Coast” campaign which “highlighted” how developmental activities are hazardous to India’s coastline. But most of the above questions, still remain unanswered and valid.

Proceedings Before NGT

A quick glance at the proceedings before the National Green Tribunal show the following:

NDTV filed its petition in 2015 against the Ministry of Shipping, MoEF, and 11 States as well as Union Territories. Initially in an order dated 20th January 2016 the Bench ordered a bailable warrant against the Resident Commissioner of Daman and Diu at New Delhi which was subsequently cancelled. It imposed costs of INR 50,000 each on Maharashtra state and Gujarat State for non filing of replies. Maharashtra later complied with the order. The case, as per the orders, has not been taken up on “merits” as yet. In fact as per the latest order some respondent state has also challenged the time limit of filing this petition before NGT (6 months as per NGT Act,2010) which is pending. All in all the orders show that a flurry of activities is happening in this petition.

What is intriguing is that hardly any news channels or for that matter even NDTV published any articles on this until recently. In fact this is probably the first case where a media Company has taken up an “environmental issue” with the Courts. In this era of micro news, an action as this didn’t attract ANY attention?

Counter Views to NDTV Claims

It is pertinent to note that any project undertaken by the Government together with the assistance and partnership of State governments and private entities will not be implemented without proper studies. Amongst other things the government appoints independent experts to study environmental impact of projects. This EIA forms a very important part of the “project feasibility”. It is still not clear how NDTV has come to a conclusion that these projects are not feasible. It is clear that a single TV campaign will not give deep insights which government/private agencies undertake while deciding project feasibility. So did they carry out their own independent analysis? Which is that agency? Who paid for these reports? Why should report by NDTV be given weightage and not that by other agencies? Did NDTV provide its suggestions to the Ministry of Shipping on the draft plans they put forth for pubic comments?

“Stop Work” and its ill effects

Here is a small anecdote: while constructing an expressway between two cities, a group of environmentalists (pre NGT era) approached the High Court stating that the mountains which are to be cut are homes to a certain variety of “rats”. This delayed the project by 6 months causing monetary losses etc but nevertheless it was built. Today in 2016 these same “environmentalists” use the same highway to commute and the “rats” be dammed. None of these guys care for them anymore.

There indeed is no doubt that development should be sustainable and that both development and preservation of nature should be balanced. However going to Courts and challenging every power project, every mine, road port dam has become a quick and fast route to achieve fame.

It is clear that many “protests” are done at the behest of foreign hands/money and guidance. This not only hampers the economic activity it also leads to huge monetary losses. Take for example this Sagarmala project. While the Government has clearly put the  project reports in public domain the Petitioner NDTV has not clearly and specifically mentioned why and exactly how these projects are dangerous for the coast line. They haven’t even spelt out how NDTV as a media company is concerned with this issue in first place.

Now that we have a brand new NGO like NDTV out in open waging a war on a project which is ensuring capital flow, cost savings and 1 crore jobs, it is time for us citizens, for whom the projects are being executed, to rise up and ask them, what is your problem.

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Ashutosh Muglikar
Articles on Corporate Laws, Policy, Economics and Politics. Maverick. Lover of Ideas. Slayer of Hoaxes.

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