TATA tries to silence critics, takes Greenpeace to court

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New Delhi, July 23 (ANI): Claiming defamation and trademark infringement, TATA Sons has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace in the Delhi High Court, asking for Rs. 10 crore in damages. The case is listed for hearing on July 27.

In a press release, Greenpeace said it has been an outspoken critic of the Dhamra Port Project, being co-developed by TATA Steel, on account of the threat it poses to nearby protected areas and endangered species, including the olive ridley turtle.

The lawsuit filed by TATA is an act to silence its critics. "TATA's threat of legal action is a desperate attempt to stifle the growing criticism over their port project, and divert attention from the real issue of the impact it will have on a biodiversity rich area. Public opinion is on the side of the turtles - over 150,000 Indians, leading scientists and turtle biologists(1), politicians and national NGOs(2) have come out against the port. By first ignoring and now trying to silence these voices, TATA is showing that it cares only about its bottom line, and not the environment," said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

The Dhamra port has been opposed by researchers and wildlife groups since it was first proposed in the 1990s, on account of its proximity to the Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha protected areas. Bhitarkanika is India's second largest mangrove forest and the last stronghold of the saltwater crocodile, while Gahirmatha is one of the world's largest nesting grounds for the endangered olive ridley sea turtle. The port is less than 5 km from Bhitarkanika National Park and less than 15 km from the mass nesting beaches at Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.

The Dhamra port is scheduled to be operational within a few weeks, despite unresolved legal issues. Government documents obtained under the Right to Information Act show that the port is in violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Acting on these documents, prominent conservationists have challenged the project in the Supreme Court(3), where the case is currently pending. Earlier this year, over 20 national politicians (4) wrote to Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh asking him to take action on this issue; the Minister has thus far refused to take a public stand.

"Greenpeace believes in non-violent creative confrontation and our 'Turtle vs TATA' game is a result of that belief. The game has become very popular in the online world since its launch, even generating media articles(5) about creative activism," says Avijit Michael, Greenpeace Online Campaigner. "Over 150,000 people have supported the campaign against the Dhamra port - that figure should be respected and answered to," he added.

Over 300 ports are planned for the coast of mainland India. To ensure that mistakes like Dhamra are not repeated, Greenpeace is asking Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to strengthen the Coastal Regulation Zone notification to exclude new ports or expansion of old ones within 25 km. of ecologically sensitive (CRZI) areas. (ANI)

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