WNPS goes to Supreme Court against Adani’s Mannar wind power project

Saturday, 18 May 2024 01:33 –      – 42

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  • Wildlife and Nature Protection Society contends decision to approve 250 MW Adani project was made without any appreciation of Mannar’s singular positioning as biodiversity hub, violating both national environmental protection laws as well as international Conventions
  • Asserts project cannot be approved with such escalated costs without overhauling EIA to reflect actual cost of power generation
  • Alleges project lacks competitive bidding process, and Swiss Challenge method has not been followed, violating procurement guidelines
  • Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera has tabled power purchase prices in Parliament far in excess of those assessed in EIA and entirely disproportionate with regional prices by same supplier
  • Petitioner highlights conflict of interest between SLSEA’s role as regulator and their purported role as agent for Adani Group
  • Calls for thorough review of decision-making process, emphasising need for transparency, scientific rigour, public participation

In a significant move aimed at protecting the unique ecosystem of Mannar island, the environmental protection organisation, Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), has filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court.

This legal action challenges the recent cabinet decision to award a wind power project in Mannar island to Adani Green Energy Ltd., of India.

The petitioner WNPS is represented by President’s Counsel Sanjeeva Jayawardana with Prashanthi Mahindarathe, Revan Weerasinghe and Rukshan Senadheera, instructed by S.W.A. Amila Kumara.

Indian giant and the world’s biggest renewable energy producer Adani is to invest $ 442 million for two wind projects 250 MW in Mannar and 234 MW in Pooneryn.

WNPS, known for its staunch advocacy for environmental conservation, argues that the project poses a severe threat to the island’s unique biodiversity and pristine landscapes especially in the Mannar island. The island itself is home to several protected areas such as the Adam’s Bridge National Park, the Viduthalaithivu National Park and the Vankalai Sanctuary. The former two were declared RAMSAR wetlands only a few months ago by Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. In addition, Mannar is the southernmost point of the Central Asian Flyway used by innumerable migratory species, while also being home to several indigenous water bird and bat species.

WNPS…

WNPS contends that the decision to approve the project was made without any appreciation of Mannar’s singular positioning as a biodiversity hub, violating both national environmental protection laws as well as international conventions. The island’s diverse ecosystems, including mangroves, coral reefs, and wetlands, play a crucial role in maintaining the region’s environmental balance. The organisation states that a severe threat exists that the construction and operation of the wind power project could lead to irreversible damage to these ecosystems. The Petitioner contends that the manner and form of these actions by various authorities grossly abuse the doctrine of public trust reposed in authorities like the Forest Department and Department of Wildlife that have blithely ignored the irreparable ramifications of this project in a protected area replete with vulnerable species and war affected population struggling to survive.

The proposed Adani project will potentially raise the number of turbines on Mannar island to 82, supplementing the 30 turbines already existing as part of the Thambapawani project which has already caused staggering numbers of bird deaths, more than anticipated by the ornithologists consulted on the project. If allowed to continue unabated the extension to the Adani project – titled Phase III – will pockmark Mannar island with 103 turbines across nearly 66% of Mannar’s land mass which has been declared Energy Development Areas.

As one of the oldest conservation organisations in the world, the WNPS challenges the credibility of the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Sri Lanka (SEASL) on behalf of Adani Green Energy. In fact, at page xxi of the Environmental Impact Assessment, it has categorically been admitted that “in the case of Thambapawani Wind Power Project, higher bird collision risks than predicted have occurred, as there are reported bird collision in the transmission lines.”

WNPS argues that this alone should act as a deterrent to proceed with this Project in Mannar, which contradicts the principles of sustainable development. While recognising the need for renewable energy sources, the organisation insists that such projects must be planned and executed in a manner that safeguards environmental integrity. This is particularly so when the EIA itself has identified alternative locations that are more suitable to set up a wind power farm and provides no rationale for how Mannar – the most vulnerable site – was chosen.

The Petitioner highlights a conflict of interest between SLSEA’s role as regulator and their purported role as agent for the Adani group. Given that SLSEA also functions as a regulator, this dual role is inappropriate and raises concerns about the integrity of SLSEA’s actions. The Petitioner deems it shocking that a regulatory body is acting as a project proponent, suggesting that SLSEA’s actions are motivated by extraneous considerations and self-interest.

Under Section 16 of the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Act No. 35 of 2007, no entity can undertake an on-grid renewable energy project without a permit from SLSEA. Section 17 grants SLSEA’s project approving committee the authority to issue provisional approvals, and Section 18 mandates this committee to approve or reject final project applications. Thus, SLSEA is the primary licensing authority, making its role as an agent for AGESL in seeking an EIA particularly inappropriate and illegal. The Petitioner is also concerned with the SEASL’s line Minister tabling power purchase prices in Parliament far in excess of those assessed in the EIA and entirely disproportionate with regional prices by the same supplier. The Petitioner is concerned that the Minister of Power and Energy intends to approve the project despite lacking the statutory authority to act as the Project Approving Authority, which should be SLSEA.

The EIA estimates the cost of power generation at $ 0.046 per kWh, while the Minister stated it would be $ 0.0885 per kWh. The Petitioner finds the discrepancy alarming, as the contract negotiations are based on a price nearly double the EIA estimate. Despite a later revision to $ 0.0826 per kWh, no valid reasons were provided for this increase. The Petitioner asserts that the project cannot be approved with such escalated costs without overhauling the EIA to reflect the actual cost of power generation.

Finally, the Technical Evaluation Committee recommended a tariff of $ 0.075 per kWh, yet the Cabinet approved a higher cost without explanation, violating procurement procedures. The Petitioner requests the court to call for the recommendations or reports made by the Technical Evaluation Committee and the Cabinet Appointed Negotiation Committee under Article 126 of the Constitution.

The Petitioner notes the project has been portrayed to the public as a Government-to-Government initiative with India, yet no details of contributions, grants, or loans from the Indian Government have been disclosed.

Additionally, the project lacks a competitive bidding process, and the Swiss Challenge method has not been followed, violating procurement guidelines. Given the project’s proximity to protected areas, it required assessments and approvals from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Coast Conservation Department (CCD), which were omitted, rendering the EIA void and unlawful.

WNPS’s legal challenge seeks to ensure that the Government adheres to the principles of environmental justice and accountability while supporting the Government’s push towards renewable energy. The organisation calls for a thorough review of the decision-making process, emphasising the need for transparency, scientific rigour, and public participation.

WNPS said as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s response, the outcome of this case will be closely watched by environmentalists, policymakers, and the general public on whom the tariff burden will eventually rest. “The decision will not only impact the future of Mannar island but also shape the broader landscape of environmental governance in Sri Lanka,” WNPS added.

 

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