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August 2010

Casuarina trees near Cuddalore port face the axe

CUDDALORE: Thousands of casuarina trees raised as part of the bio-shield along the coast near the Cuddalore Port are facing the axe.

Forest Department officials are already numbering the trees and evaluating their worth as a prelude to felling them. The felling of the trees has become inevitable as Port authorities see them as a security threat.

Forester K. Natarajan told The Hindu that after the tsunami, over 7.50 lakh casuarina trees were raised along the 25-km long coast from Pudupettai to Suba Uppalavadi. In the past six years, these trees had attained their full height. These trees were planted on the sand dunes close to the shore so as to provide a “natural shield” against cyclones, sea erosion and the tsunami.

The tree cover had in fact instilled confidence among the residents of the coastal area who believed that these would provide them a semblance of security from the natural disasters originating from the sea. But the Port authorities had taken the differing view that the trees were posing a security threat.

Standing tall

Mr Natarajan said that the Port officials had reported that since the trees were standing tall and blocking the view of the sea. Hence, officials could not mount a close vigil on the movement of either any suspicious vessels or persons. Therefore, they wanted the trees to be cut down to get an unobstructed view. The security aspect outweighed the natural disaster angle, and the move to cut down the tress was initiated.

Solar fish drier launched

RAMANATHAPURAM: The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust (GOMBRT) has introduced a solar fish drier for the first time in the district.

It has been installed at Olaikuda in Rameswaram at a cost of around Rs.4 lakh. The operation and maintenance of the drier will be with the Eco Development Committee promoted by the trust.

Aruna Basu Sarcar, Chief Conservator of Forests, and Director, GOMBRT, told The Hindu that it was a major step to transform the fish drying practices by the fishermen.

In the traditional drying, fishes, which contain dust, bacterial moulds and other impurities, were dried under the sun.

It would also emit foul smell during cooking. But in the solar drying technology, the fishes would be carefully washed and kept in driers. The drier would enable the fishermen to dry fishes hygienically.

The solar drier would give maximum results in the day time. It would also pack the dried fishes in the packets. The EDC had been asked to repay actual cost of the drier gradually.

She said that 75 to 100 kg of fish could be dried per day. It could be dried using electricity during rainy days. Fishermen could visit the drier.

Governor roots for Navi Mum airport

MUMBAI: Civil aviation minister Praful Patel has found support from an unexpected quarter on his dream project-the state-of-the-art Navi Mumbai airport.

Governor K Sankaranarayanan on Thursday said that the state government, in collaboration with the civil aviation ministry, should take the lead in setting up the airport. "Navi Mumbai needs an airport. We have to take up the matter with the appropriate authorities urgently," he said.

The governor was speaking at the release of a book, Wildscapes, brought out by Rajya Sabha member Vijay Darda in the presence of Reliance Group chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani, and Patel.

Deviating from his prepared speech, the governor justified his stand, saying, the fuel burnt by the aircraft hovering over the city skies while waiting for permission to land was damaging the environment. "There is a strong need to balance the concerns of environment conservation with the exigencies of development," he said.

Earlier, Patel observed that with increasing air-traffic at Mumbai airport, it was imperative that the Navi Mumbai airport was completed on schedule. "If we get the environment clearance now, we will be able to complete the project before the 2014 deadline. If there is further delay, we will miss the bus," Patel said.

Ever since Patel obtained union cabinet nod for the project, it was stuck with the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), led by senior congress leader Jairam Ramesh. Initially, there was dispute over mangroves and two rivers passing through the land required for airport. The state-run Cidco, the nodal agency for implementation of the project, submitted a report on compensatory afforestation for loss of mangroves and diversion of the two small rivers. Now, Ramesh has asked for clearance from the state coastal zone regulation authority. The MoEF's contention was that as part of the land fell in the proposed coastal zone, Cidco should submit a no-objection from the competent authority.

Unexamined danger off the shores

In April this year, a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, caught fire and collapsed, killing eleven people and triggering an oil spill on a scale not experienced since the Exxon Valdez spill in1989. The full impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including its catastrophic effect on the marine environment, the fishing industry and regional tourism will only be fully evident in the years to come but it would be reasonable to believe that in its wake, governments across the world would be carefully re-examining the drilling operations off their own shores.

In the post-catastrophe examination of Deepwater Horizon from a regulatory perspective, the blame has fallen squarely on the weakness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in the United States in that it did not require a “worst case scenario” analysis. Any major project in India requires an EIA; that is, a focused and extensive examination of the possible environmental effects of any activity in the terms of the EIA Notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2006. All offshore oil and gas activities which were set up after the notification automatically fall into Category A set out in the Notification; that is, they require an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests based on the recommendations of a Central Environmental Appraisal Committee. A series of Right to Information applications filed by this writer to determine how closely the environmental impact of India's offshore petroleum installations have been examined revealed disturbing results, including on the manner in which these responses are given.

Fisherfolk oppose elevated expressway

CHENNAI: Hundreds of men and women belonging to 14 fishing hamlets from Light House to Kottivakkam in the city on Saturday formed a human chain demanding that the State government drop its proposal to construct an elevated expressway along the Chennai coast.

The fisherfolk who came together under the banner of Meenavar Vaazhvurimai Paadhukaappu Kuzhu, at the Elliots Beach, said the government should consider alternatives to ensure smooth flow of traffic .

The elevated expressway would only affect their livelihood, displace those living along the coastline and affect ecology.They also opposed the pre-draft on Coastal Regulation Zone – 2010, which they said would considerably water down the original regulation. The fisherfolk demanded that the proposed legislation on rights of traditional fishermen be based on the CRZ. Members of Save Chennai Beaches too participated in the protest.

Fly ash hits salt quality, say producers

Tuticorin: Though presence of industries and power plants are a sign of development in Tuticorin, small-scale salt manufacturers are not a happy lot since they allege that either smoke or fly ash that billows through a chimney from a 126-MW private power plant being established at Pudurpandiapuram village gets deposited on the salt thus affecting its quality.

Salt is being manufactured in an area of 400 acres at Keezharasadi of Ottapidaram taluk and in Ayyanarpuram and Tharuvaikulam areas. A.R.A.S. Dhanabalan, secretary, Tuticorin Small Scale Salt Manufacturers' Association told The Hindu here on Friday that fly ash was also affecting the health of workers at the saltpans since they had to inhale it.

He said that the problem was persisting since May and the authorities had not shown any concern towards it.

“During May and June, the windy season, the finished products get easily affected by dust particles which turn the actual colour into a dull one.

"It results in poor market value for the salt,” he said. The height of the chimney should have been increased.

Pollution Control Board sources ruled out any possibility of dust or fly ash being deposited on salt. “The company is importing coal which has only 9 per cent ash content and it will not cause pollution through smoke.

Moreover, the project site is far away from the salt pans. Salt in nature was hydroscopic and easily absorbs dust. We've been monitoring the situation and there is no written complaint from the affected parties yet,” the sources added.

R. Mayilvel, Vice-President (Technology) of the power plant said that the chimney had been set up at a height of 140 metres to blow ash high in the air and ruled out any chance of the dust getting deposited.

The plant was installing a modern electrostatic precipitator so as to absorb smoke.

GANDHI project for Dandi

DANDI (GUJARAT): Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh launched the Green Action for National Dandi Heritage Initiative project in the historic coastal village in south Gujarat on Wednesday. It was at Dandi that Mahatma Gandhi launched his salt Satyagraha 80 years ago.

Mr. Ramesh said the project was a “much delayed and very small step” but would go a long way in guiding the rest of the world on “how to conserve environment sustainability while ensuring overall development of society.”

Named consciously to ensure that the acronym forms GANDHI, the Rs. 25-crore project is intended to design a plan for integrated development and heritage conservation, embodying the Gandhian values of village development and environmental conservation, of Dandi and surrounding villages.

“Heritage area”

The activities to be undertaken include mangrove afforestation and bioshield development on an eight-km shoreline, conservation of coastal features and wetland, nature-based development of resources including setting up solar power projects, and promotion of integrated village and community development to support all activities to transform the “heritage area,” which includes Dandi and three surrounding villages, into a “carbon neutral” zone. Eco tourism to promote Gandhian values and networking will also be promoted.

“The focus should not be on developing tourism for commercial values; Gandhian values should be at the centre of all development in the heritage area while attracting tourists,” said the former West Bengal Governor and Chairman of the Dandi Memorial Committee, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

He mentioned about a Rs. 15-crore project of the committee to develop a Gandhi memorial in front of Saifee Villa, the house where the Mahatma stayed the night before he launched the satyagraha against the Salt law under the British rule.

Kerala theme park society moves court against closure

KOCHI: A society which has set up a controversial mangrove theme park in Kerala's Kannur district Wednesday approached the Kerala High Court seeking to restrain an order by the union environment and forests ministry to close the park.

Acting on the suit filed by Pappinessery Eco-Tourism Society, backed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the court directed the state government to implead in the case.

The central government's directive to close down the park was made to the state government July 14.

Following an uproar by the Congress-led opposition Monday in the state assembly, chief minister VS Achuthanandan directed the Kannur district collector to take action. The park was closed Monday evening.

The opposition alleged that CPI-M central committee member and former legislator EP Jayarajan was the force behind the park.

The park was in blatant violation of all norms because it came under the Coastal Regulation Zone, an ecologically fragile area, the opposition said.

Kannur Lok Sabha member and senior Congress leader K. Sudhakaran was the first to complain to the central government about the park.

"An advertisement on the new park shows that there would be a food court, a health court and a convention centre. They have flouted every norm and have gone ahead with the construction," said Sudhakaran.

On Tuesday, a seven-member expert committee formed to look into the controversial park visited the site.

The committee is expected to submit its report in two weeks' time after meeting environmentalists and political leaders.

Mapping of CRZ areas almost over

Ajai Sreevatsan
CHENNAI: Efforts to protect ecologically sensitive zones along the State's coast, estuaries, rivers and backwaters will soon have an unlikely ally. Using a combination of satellite imagery, GPS geo-referencing and village-level land survey details, the Department of Environment has almost completed mapping all the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notified areas in the State. The mapping of Chennai coastline has been completed till Kovalam and it is proceeding towards the Andhra Pradesh coast.

Of the 13 coastal districts in the State, the High Tide Line (HTL) in 11 districts has already been mapped and overlaid on top of a 1: 5,000 metre scale village level map that contain the land survey numbers. Once the exercise is complete, all the maps will be put up online to improve enforcement, said Environment and Forest Department Secretary Debendranath Sarangi.

Till now, authorisation for any construction that falls inside CRZ was just an estimate, said a senior official.

Spill may trigger long-term environmental problems

Vinaya Deshpande & Meena Menon
Mumbai: The oil leak from MSC Chitra could not have happened at a worse time. This is the breeding season for marine animals, and environmentalists fear that the spill may impact not only the breeding cycle, but also much more in the future if the oil contaminates the sediments and the sea bed. The spill is set to disturb the entire marine ecosystem, including the mangroves, in turn affecting the livelihood of the coastal population.

Environmentalists have called for a systematic study of the incident.

An ongoing survey by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has revealed that a six-eight inch oil sediment has already reached the shore of four villages on the Mumbai-Raigad coastline.

“Around 20 km coastline of Revas, Mandwa, Sasawne and Kihim has been contaminated,” Deepak Apte, scientist and head of the BNHS team, told The Hindu on phone. “A little contamination has also been found at Alibaug, but it may not necessarily be the oil spill from the leaking ship,” he said. Some oil-coated biscuit packets have also been spotted at the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

The exact impact assessment cannot be done as no one has the accurate information about the contents of the ship. But according to experts, India does not have the technology, the money, or the protocol to clear the slick once it reaches the beach. “The beaches where the oil has reached are virtually permanently damaged now,” Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, told The Hindu on phone.

Shyam Asolekar, Professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, Indian Instituteof Technology (IIT), Mumbai, told The Hindu, “The marine ecology consists of all the small and big living organisms in the sea, the particulate matter and the sediments. There are other living forms like the sea gulls that are dependent on the marine life for survival. Even they are a part of the ecosystem and may stand the risk of being affected.”