Top specialists of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) had a meeting with Vizhinjam project stakeholders here on Tuesday to assure them that the environmental impact assessment study being done for the project would conform to the performance standards the IFC had set for itself.
The visit of Isabella Paris and Bhanu Mehrotra, senior environmental specialist and senior investment officer respectively at the IFC, to Thiruvananthapuram to interact with the stakeholders, follows a complaint sent by four persons to IFC’s ombudsman alleging that the IFC, as the lead transaction adviser to the project, had given “flawed advice” to the State government in the matter of the Vizhinjam port.
The complainants had stated that the project was economically and environmentally “flawed” and the negative impact the project would have on the tourism industry in the Kovalam-Vizhinjam area had not been subjected to a proper evaluation. The IFC’s ombudsman is scheduled to visit Vizhinjam next month to study whether the IFC had adhered to its performance standards in its consultative role in the project.
The essence of the turn of events is that the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) report for the project, now nearing completion, will be delayed by a few weeks to ensure that all issues raised by the complainants are comprehensively covered in the final report.
Mr. Mehrotra made it clear that IFC’s role in the project was that of a consultant with two responsibilities. The first was to help Vizhinjam International Seaports Limited (VISL), the company owned by the State government, to find a port operator for the project. This duty had been fulfilled with the global tendering process already gone through, with one bidder (a consortium led by Welspun Infratech) emerging from it for taking up the role of the port operator. (The State government rejected the offer of this sole bidder in July since it involved the payment of a grant of Rs.399.55 crore to the bidder). “That duty is over,” he said.
The second duty, he said, was to conduct the environmental impact assessment for the port part of the project (and not the study relating to onshore works). He said the documentation part of the study spanning a full year had been completed by Asian Consulting Engineers. He said he expected the ESIA report to be ready by December. There would be more consultations and the report would conform to the IFC’s performance standards and it would be published on the IFC website.
Local body councillors from the project area, leaders of fishermen’s organisations, and representatives of trade/industry organisations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Thiruvananthapuram Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting. The overwhelming popular sentiment in favour of the project, for which land acquisition work and initiatives for creating the supporting infrastructure like road and rail links are already in progress, was quite evident at the meeting, although the tourism stakeholders who would be directly affected by the project, in their presentation, sought to highlight their concerns about the project.
Press Release, September 26, 2012