India's Adani Enterprises says work on a giant coal mine near Australia's Great Barrier Reef will begin in August despite mounting opposition to the long-delayed project, local media reported Sunday.
The controversial $16 billion Carmichael mine -- destined to be one of the world's biggest -- has encountered numerous regulatory and legal hurdles, leading to over six years of delays.
Company chairman Gautam Adani said his board was expecting final approvals from the Australian federal government by May or June, after which construction could begin in the state of Queensland.
"We need just about three months from there to actually begin the work on the mine. Which means we can kickstart work from August this year," Adani told The Press Trust of India.
The project still faces several legal challenges, with a final investment decision by Adani reportedly pending.
The mine plan has attracted considerable controversy in Australia, where environmentalists fear it will harm the reef, a World Heritage-listed biodiverse site already threatened by climate change.
In a letter to Adani last week a group of prominent Australians urged him to abandon the project, citing public opposition and risks to miners' health and India's reputation.
"We urge you to think about global warming and public health and listen to the wishes of the people," stated the letter, signed by Australian Test cricket captains Ian and Greg Chappell, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks and rock group Midnight Oil among many others.
Adani however rejected the demand as "a motivated attempt by a very small group of 76 misled people", the Press Trust of India reported.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who visited India in the past week with a 25-strong delegation, was quoted as saying she did not believe there would be any obstacles to the federal parliament's approval of the project.
The plan is for a massive open-cut and underground coal mine 160 kilometres (100 miles) northwest of Clermont in central Queensland, and a 189-kilometre rail link to port. Coal would be exported to India.
Adani forecasts it will produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export, with its Australia chief Jeyakumar Janakaraj in December insisting it would have a "net positive impact on climate change in the world".