Even now, Chennai's oil spill incident in January can affect larvae and juvenile fish

CHENNAI: The Chennai oil spill disaster is still unfolding. Though the issue with its massive ramifications has gone out of focus due to dramatic political developments in the State, the environmental damage it has caused and future threats it poses can’t be discounted, warn marine biologists.

The major worry now is the oil deposited on the seabed can harm larvae and juvenile fish during the current breeding season.

“This is the first litmus test for the Chennai coast. When the fishermen go back into the sea in June after the fishing ban is lifted, we would have a real sense of the extent of damage caused,” said RS Vasan, regional director, National Maritime Foundation.

Meanwhile, reliable sources in the Department of Environment (DoE) told Express that the State government has ‘finally’ formed a 13-member high-level expert committee to conduct an environment impact assessment study.

The committee has been given three months to file a consolidated report. The committee is headed by H Malleshappa, director, DoE, and the first meeting was held last week. Sources said the committee will also be finalising short-term and long-term restoration plans. Kamarajar Port, Chennai Port, IIT Madras, fisheries department, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), health department and couple of NGOs are on the committee.

Close to three months have lapsed since the massive oil spill has hit Chennai coast at 3:45 am on January 28 after two ships collided off Kamarajar Port coast in Ennore. Scientists at the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management (ICMAM) Project Directorate in Chennai, who are analysing the ecological footprint of the oil spill, said it has affected over 230 km of State coast from Pulicat to Cuddalore as on date.

High Tide Line out of limits for several ecologically sensitive areas in Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI: In what might be a major error, the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) has allegedly left out large tracts of ecologically sensitive and tide-influenced wetlands in the state from within the boundary of the new High Tide Line (HTL). Activists fear this would allow widespread exploitation of the coastal area.

The NCSCM has marked the HTL along the entire Tamil Nadu coast using high-resolution aerial images from 2011-12. The data sets have been given to the Department of Environment, Tamil Nadu, which has examined them and contracted NCSCM to prepare the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP).

The 31st meeting of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA), on May 24 last year, had also concluded that the demarcation of the HTL by NCSCM was complete and quality checked.

However, the NCSCM HTL maps, accessed through RTI by the Coastal Resources Centre, show gross discrepancies and are different from what the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) had created earlier.

Activists argue that HTL identified by IRS was closer to ground realities. But it has been ignored by NCSCM.

For instance, in Karungali in Thiruvallur district and Yedaiyanthittu Kazhuveli in Kanchipuram/Villupuram districts, the HTL has been moved several feet into the water body, reducing the area deemed protected by the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. Thus, nearly 888 acres of developable real estate was created in the two locations.

The areas left out were salt pans, claims Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resources Centre. Another example is the Adyar River in Chennai. The CRZ limits of Adyar Creek stops at the Foreshore Estate bridge, though IRS records tidal influence further downstream.

NCSCM maps do not account for the Tholkappia Poonga ecological park, which was created in 2008 after the IRS had collected their data. This clearly shows that the HTL demarcation has not been subjected to ground-vetting.

Press Release: Scientific Body’s High Tide Line for TN Wrongly Drawn to Create Real Estate: Coastal Activists

Chennai: Nearly 900 acres of tidal wetlands in two locations have been wrongly identified as land by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) which got a multi-crore contract to demarcate the High Tide Line for Tamil Nadu under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. This and other inconsistencies were revealed during a ground truthing exercise conducted by the Coastal Resource Centre (CRC). The erroneous demarcation shortchanges fisherfolk by showing tidal waterbodies as developable real estate.

The inconsistencies cast a shadow on NCSCM’s demarcation exercise and the robustness of the verification process by the State and Central Coastal Zone Management Agencies, CRC said. NCSCM’s High Tide Line cannot be relied upon for preparing the State Coastal Zone Management Plans.

NCSCM had denied access to these maps under RTI claiming that disclosure would prejudicially affect their scientific and economic interests. The maps were later accessed through the State Coastal Zone Management Authority.

“Public scrutiny of such foundation data sets is critical as this forms the basis of the CZMP. An inaccurate HTL can result in a flawed CZMP, and throw open ecologically sensitive areas for development,” said Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre.

Activists flay proposed coastal zone notification

Environmental activists and fisherfolk organisations fear that the already skewed compromise between urban planning and coastal protection would be distorted even further if the recent proposed Marine Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification were allowed to sail through.

The National Coastal Protection Campaign (NCPC), an umbrella network of NGOs, fish-worker organisations and environmental activists, has, while condemning the “dilution” of the Coastal Regulation Zone 2011 under the proposed notification, flayed the move as one which “will not enhance coastal governance, but rather open up India’s coastline to further commercialisation”.

Probir Banerjee, convenor, NCPC, while rejecting the proposed notification of April 17, pointed out that while the CRZ itself remains to be implemented and enforced as per the letter of the law, the new notification further dilutes the CRZ 2011.

Added problems

Mr. Banerjee, who also represents the NGO PondyCAN, which as a member of NCPC, helped bring out the Challenged Coast of India report, expressed concern that easing the current regime would exacerbate existing problems of coastal governance and leave fisher communities who share collective claims to common spaces such as beach space, further marginalised.

“In a struggle between communities and short-term commercial interests, the existing power balance alone has meant that communities are often displaced or are left with heavily altered/restricted access to precious livelihood spaces. The proposed changes to the CRZ 2011 seem set to further marginalise and exclude these communities. A provision that allows communities to build houses is meaningless when all available space can be legally claimed by other, more-powerful interests,” he said.

Govt plans to ease coastal rules, allow land reclamation for commercial use

Bringing in some significant changes in the way it governs its coasts, the government is moving to remove the ban on reclamation of land in coastal areas for commercial or entertainment purposes while also allowing tourism activities even in ecologically sensitive areas along the shores.
The Environment Ministry is learnt to have finalised a new notification to replace the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2011 that regulates all kinds of activities along India’s coastline. The new order, to be called Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification, is likely to be issued soon.
The draft MCRZ notification also allows setting up of fish-processing units, makes allowance for facilities meant for patrolling and vigilance activities of coastal or marine police, and removes the necessity of obtaining environmental clearances for constructing housing units, and related infrastructure, for local fishermen community. The new order, however, does not make any changes in the definition of areas that would be classified as the regulation zone. The MCRZ would extend to at least 500 m towards the landward side from the high-tide line demarcated by the government.
Activities within this zone would continue to be regulated but certain activities like land reclamation for commercial purposes that were banned earlier can now be taken up. The demand for permitting reclamation of land had been voiced mainly from Maharashtra. The Environment Ministry has reasoned that reclamation of coastal areas was being undertaken across the world to address economic, social and security issues, and that such reclamation could be allowed in India as well after detailed studies.