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January 2014

Cleaning up the environment mess

 Ritwick Dutta

Pulicat hurdle for Dugarajapatnam port

 The Pulicat lake bird sanctuary, the second largest brackish water lake in India, proves to be among the immediate hurdles for the proposed Dugarajapatnam major port near Sullurupeta in Nellore district here.

As the Central Government has made an announcement regarding the implementation of the port, efforts began to pave the way for launching the project a few months back. A difficulty arose in the beginning when the Sriharikota space centre had some objections to the location of the new port in its neighbourhood.

However, the Government reportedly prevailed upon the space centre on the plea that the port activities would be designed in such a manner that there would be no disturbance to the launch of any space mission from Sriharikota.

As regards the Pulicat lake, which is located within 2 k.m. range of Dugarajapatnam port site, a clear hurdle lies in the form of buffer zone of the lake within which the proposed port falls. There is no clarity as yet on whether the eco-sensitive buffer area of 10 k.m. around the lake would be reduced to 2 k.m. to clear this hurdle.

Sources in the wildlife division (Forest Department) say that there was already a lot of concern over the possible damage to the overall eco-system of Pulicat on account of proliferating industries and special economic zones on either side of the National Highway 5 in the vicinity of the lake.

It was in this background that the creation and protection of eco-fragile buffer zone assumed paramount importance.

If the port project has to be implemented, there is the tough task of getting environmental clearances from the Central Government. The highly sensitive clearances regarding reduction in buffer zones would have to be sanctioned at the highest level.

Independence from environment ministry key for success of new environment regulator

 NEW DELHI: After the Supreme Court ruling on Monday, it is now clear that India will soon have an independent environmental regulator.

What is less clear is whether this regulator will be a watchdog with teeth or without. In environmental circles, the news was received with some scepticism. "This is yet another instance where the problems of a faulty regulatory design are sought to be resolved by the creation of a new institutional structure," says environmentalist Kanchi Kohli.
Today, environmental governance in India is divided between the Centre and the state governments.

At the Centre , the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) makes laws and clears large projects. Its counterparts at the state level clear smaller projects and oversee the state pollution control boards, which monitor compliance by units and handle some part of the clearances.

Overall, it is a system that has been found wanting. Projects clearances are riddled with delays — and graft. Speaking to ET on the condition of anonymity, a former environment minister had referred to the MoEF as an "ATM ministry". Further, as the Sunita Narain Committee report on the Adani Port and SEZ Complex at Mundra shows, both monitoring and compliance can be poor.

The existing system of clearances is based on data provided by the project proponent. Further, the bodies that appraise the projects — the expert appraisal committee (EAC) at the Centre and its counterparts at the state level — are part-time bodies that meet periodically and whose members have tenures of a couple of years. This results in, as the SC notes in its judgment, a lack of continuity and "poor institutional memory".

Centre has 11 weeks to appoint eco clearance regulator

 The Supreme Court on Monday directed the government to appoint a Regulator with offices in States under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for appraising projects, enforcing environmental conditions for approvals and imposing penalties on polluters.

A Green Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik, T.S. Thakur and Ibrahim Kalifulla gave the Centre time till March 31 to make the appointment and directed it to file a compliance report. The Bench told Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran that it would have ordered the appointment with immediate effect but granted the government time keeping the interest of economy in mind.

Writing the order, Justice Patnaik said: “The present mechanism under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification dated 14.09.2006 ... is deficient in many respects and what is required is a Regulator at the national level having offices in all States which can carry out an independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of the projects and also monitor implementation of the conditions laid down for environmental clearances.”

The Regulator could exercise “only such powers and functions of the Central government under the Environment (Protection) Act as are entrusted to it and obviously cannot exercise the powers of the Central government under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.” While exercising powers under the Environment Protection Act, the Regulator would ensure that the National Forest Policy, 1988 was duly implemented as held in this court’s July 6, 2011 order in the case of Lafarge Umiam Mining.

The Bench rejected the Centre’s contention that the government alone was the Regulator. “We do not find any force in the submission of Mr. Parasaran that as under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Central government alone is the Regulator, no one else can be appointed as a Regulator.”

Sea surge damages wall of Kursura Submarine Museum

 NIO scientist in-charge says the surge is due to spring tide

Significant sea surge led to partial collapse of boundary wall of Kursura Submarine Museum fuelling speculation on the probable cause for the phenomena on Saturday.

Regular visitors going to the beach for a stroll and others were shocked to see the huge wall broken and the sea taking a forward march. Many were seen clicking photos on cell phones with the sea and broken wall in the background.

Sea erosion, change in beach morphology due to variety of factors and growth in concrete jungle syndrome violating restrictions imposed under Coastal Regulation Zone are said to be some of the reasons for sea surge. In the past, the seawater entered some hamlets near Mangamaripeta on Visakhapatnam-Bhimili beach road.

Scientist In-charge of National Institute of Oceanography (Visakhapatnam Regional Centre) V.S.N. Murthy told The Hindu that the sea surge was due to spring tide. “High tide has occurred on the third day of new moon. Generally there could be low or high tide as fallout of new moon or full moon, when the current will be more. In the event of low tide, the sea takes a backward march,” he said.

A VUDA official admitted that due to sea surge and strong waves part of the wall at the submarine museum maintained by them caved in.

A couple years ago, the sea took a backward march of up to 10 to 30 metres. Scientists say the phenomena will continue for a day or two.

During high tides, the tides attain a height of 1.5 to 1.9 metres at the local beaches. It is not good for those desiring to have fun with sand and sun on the shore.

NIO scientists took samples of beach sand and observed that the colour near YMCA and Rushikonda beaches changed to red due to entry of red sand dunes probably near Bhimili in the seawater.

Preliminary study ruled out the possibility of marine pollution due to release of industrial effluents.