With Australia’s Federal Court declaring invalid the approval of the Adani Group’s $16 billion coal mine in central Queensland, there is speculation that the Gautam Adani-led Indian conglomerate may decide to walk away from the controversial project.
According to Australian media reports, the approval was set aside by the court after it was found that Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt had not properly considered advice about endangered species like the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.
The Tony Abbott-led federal government had approved the mega open-cut and underground coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basic region in July 2014.
From the very beginning, the project has been dogged by a number of controversies. Various environment groups and indigenous people have been opposing what is projected to be the biggest Australian coal mine project. While the Federal Court has ruled in favour of an environment protection group, the challenge mounted by the indigenous Australians is yet to get a hearing.
The Mackay Conservation Group had challenged the project earlier this year over the risk to vulnerable species like the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.
To make the matters worse for the well-connected Indian conglomerate, Australia’s Commonwealth Bank has withdrawn financial support for the project.
It appears the Adani Group has already made up its mind to look somewhere else for the fuel to power its energy plants. A strong hint came a few months back, when it was announced that the company had “frozen” the project because of uncertainty over various court challenges and state government delays – and that it might scuttling the mine.
Another strong message that the Adanis are bailing out came when a spokeperson of the Indian group denied that the Australian bank had withdrawn because of lobbying by environmentalists.
The group said, on the contrary, that it had ended the relationship with the Commonwealth Bank.
“Adani terminated the mandate on the basis of its own concerns over ongoing delays to a now five-year-long approvals process here in Australia,” Australian media outlets have quoted an Adani spokesperson as saying.
The “concerns” are understandable as the Adani group has already sunk about AUS$3 billion ($2 billion/Rs.140 billion) on the project. This investment includes purchase of the Abbot Point port.
Regarding the legal setback, a challenge to the Federal Court decision is highly unlikely as both the Adani Group and the federal government “consented”, or agreed, that the ruling was correct.
Instead of being embarrassed about its approval being labelled “invalid”, the Liberal party government is putting up a brave face.
“What the department said is ‘look, we have a sense that the court might find something new as a new standard and so it might be better to remake the decision’,” Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt told reporters on Wednesday.
While environment protection groups are buoyed by the Federal Court decision, the so-called coal lobbyists are not amused over the delay in the project.
If the social media is considered a standard, an overwhelming majority of Australians would have to be labelled “anti-coal” as Twitter and Facebook have been plastered with hundreds of messages praising the court ruling.