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Wednesday, November 19, 1997 Published at 07:41 GMT


Bombay port plan enrages conservationists

P&O spokesman Nikhil Naik with an artists impression of the proposed port

One of the world's biggest shipping companies has been criticised by conservationists over plans to build a massive new port in India.

Environmentalists and local fishermen are at loggerheads with P&O, who want to build a giant container port in virgin forest to the north of Bombay.

Many Indian politicians and businessmen are in favour of the Dahanu plan, which they say will maintain the momentum of India's economic growth.

Experts estimate India needs to double the number of ports it has and the developers want to build 30 cargo berths at Toluka, making it one of the biggest ports in the world.

[ image: India is chronically short of port space]
India is chronically short of port space
The area, described as the "lungs of Bombay", is one of only three in the whole country described as environmentally fragile. Opponents fear its development would lead to a great urban sprawl along the coast of Maharashtra state.

The proposed port sits on the site of a shrine to the god Shiva, where local people pray and scatter the ashes of the dead.

Residents are furious and say the port would not only desecrate a holy place but devastate one of India's last idylls.

But the natural rockshelf there makes it an ideal site for an international port, say P&O.

"There is a tremendous need for more port facilities and that is why there is why a need for a port at Toluka." says P&O company spokesman Nikhil Naik, "It must be allowed to develop as the rest of the country is developing.

"You can't have one small part of the country not developing."

[ image: Nergis Irani...opposed to port]
Nergis Irani...opposed to port
Anti-port campaigner Nergis Irani says: "It kills me to think about it is so beautiful. I don't think anyone has the right to destroy an area like this."

Fishermen have also been organising against the project which is backed by Maharashtra's state government.

One of their leaders, Ashok Ambire, says: "We don't want this multi-national company here. We don't want this port. They will just exploit our resources.

"We won't gain anything. They'll take our wealth abroad."

The port scheme does have some support locally.

Firdosh Patel, who owns a fruit orchard in Dahanu, says: "I don't see any reason why a modern port cannot come in and we can sustain the same lifestyle we have been enjoying for the past century."

[ image: Manohar Joshi...welcomes jobs]
Manohar Joshi...welcomes jobs
Maharashtra's chief minister, Manohar Joshi, is keen on pushing the port scheme ahead: "As soon as the port starts there will be at least 2,000 jobs created directly and we presume there will eventually be 15,000 people employed, not including ancillary industries."

Whatever the arguments, many cynics say the port will get the go ahead even if the state government has to change the law.

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Hindu Survey of Environment article on Dahanu

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