Mumbai: Flamboyant billionaire Richard Branson, promoter of the Virgin group of companies, has displayed his new feathers as an environmental activist by taking on Indian industrialist Gautam Adani’s INR988bn ($15.5bn) coal mining and port project in Australia, describing the project as one likely to do incalculable damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
The project involves development of five Carmichael coal mines in Queensland through six open-cut pits and the building of a 310-km long railway line to transport coal from the mine site to a port at Abbot Point. It also involves dredging and dumping of an estimated 3m cu metres of seabed within the Great Barrier Reef, made up of the largest collection of corals on earth and considered one of the world’s natural wonders.
All the major American and European banks have refused funds to the project, citing environmental damage.
In a posting on his group’s website, Branson said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s world heritage panel will meet in Bonn, Germany, next month, to decide if the reef be put on the world-heritage-in-danger list.
“The massive industrialisation of the adjacent coastline for coal and gas ports is adding even more developmental pressures, including plans for dumping millions of tonnes of dredge waste into reef waters,” Branson said. “I fail to understand how the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage site, could be turned into an industrial dumping ground.”
Adani has been in the news for his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and for his string of acquisitions in port and power projects after Modi assumed office in May 2014.