Adani’s joint venture oil storage in Chennai must be demolished: SC
A National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to tear down an oil storage tank in north Chennai was upheld by the Supreme Court. This was bad news for the Ahmedabad-based company. The tank was part of a joint venture between the Ahmedabad-based Adani Group and the Chennai-based KTV Group.
A three-judge bench made up of Justices KM Joseph, BV Nagaratna, and JB Paradiwala ruled on an appeal against the NGT order. They also upheld the authorities’ decision to fine the joint venture ₹25 lakh.
But they did two things to help. One was that the project was given six months to tear down the storage tank it had built in Tondiarpet on Ennore Expressway. Second, the company could ask the District Coastal Zone Management Authority to let the underground pipeline it had built move edible oil from the port to the storage tank.
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The request must be made within a month of the decision, and the authority should make a decision on it within one and a half months.
The judges said they would let the company apply for permission for the pipeline because the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification said it was okay ‘ex-post facto.’ But the government will decide if the pipeline can do the job without the storage tank.
‘In’ or ‘within’?
The NGT said that the storage tank had to be taken down because it was not ‘within’ or ‘in’ the Chennai port. The tank was used to store edible oil that the joint venture brought into the country through the port.
The business also got permission to send the edible oil from the port through an underground pipeline. From the storage area, the oil was to be taken to the refinery to be processed further.
On the advice of the Chennai District Coastal Zonal Management Authority, the Chennai Fishing Harbour Management Committee and the Chennai Port Trust agreed to let them do it. The National Highways Authority gave permission to put the underground pipeline under the Ennore Expressway.
Even though the joint venture was still waiting for approval from the Union Environment Ministry, the pipeline was already being laid. This led to a protester taking the pipeline to the NGT on October 19, 2016.
After the CRZ notification was changed on March 8, 2019, the Union Environment Ministry gave the pipeline the go-ahead. But the NGT threw out the change and ordered the building to be torn down as well as issuing the fine.
The order from the tribunal said that the storage facility was not in the Chennai port because of the CRZ I rules. The companies said that under CRZ II, it is okay to store edible oil ‘in’ the port area, so it could be okay even though it is outside the port.
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‘The authorities’ understanding, if that’s what the argument is based on, can’t be more important than our understanding of the notification.’ We’ll say it again: ‘within’ and ‘in’ cannot refer to things outside the port,’ the Bench said.
The venture said that putting in the pipeline would help the Chennai port handle more vehicles and allow more edible oil to leave the port, making the port more efficient. It also said that the port didn’t have enough room for its building. Both of these arguments were turned down by the Bench.