Environment gets the axe

The first thing that strikes one about the report of the high-powered committee to review six top environmental laws, headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, is the sheer audacity of preparing it in just three months. It hardly does justice to the complexity of national and state-level legislation to do this in such indecent haste.

As may be expected, there was hardly any public consultation. Environmentalists could only submit up 130 words on each of the six major laws that were being reviewed. In Bangalore, the committee walked out of a public hearing midway. This negates the arduous work that has gone into drafting these laws and the people’s struggles that have led to such enactments. Green laws are not, as is often thought, a whim on the part of some autocratic leader – Indira Gandhi’s promulgation of the Coastal Regulation Zone legislation being a frequently cited example – but a much-delayed response to flagrant violations on the ground.

Contrary to public perception, the UPA government was by no means the custodian of the nation’s environment. The feisty environment minister Jairam Ramesh was replaced by a more pliant Jayanthi Natarajan who, in turn, made way for Veerappa Moily who cleared virtually anything that came his way. Between 2007 and 2014, power plants with a capacity of 250,000MW were cleared, twice what the Planning Commission estimated was needed by 2022. The Subramanian committee itself admits that 99 per cent of cases were cleared.

As much as the letter of the report, it is the spirit that has to be scrutinised. What was the provocation for reviewing green laws? Minister after NDA minister have made it abundantly clear that the present government views such legislation as an obstacle to economic growth. While there is indeed a case for simplifying laws and procedures, the intent is quite different. The report specifically cites the need to make “doing business easier in the country”.

Coastal zones: focus of multi-disciplinary studies

The National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), at Anna University is developing a huge database to map coastal resources, including offshore wind resources to identify things like sites for offshore wind energy. The scientists are also identifying particularly sensitive coastal ecosystems such as Chilika Lake in Orissa.

Chilika Lake is an important source of biodiversity, but it is affected by problems such as over fishing, excessive nutrient loading from fertiliser runoff, and coastal flooding. The NCSCM has identified desired conditions that should be aspired to, as well as scientific methods for assessing overall ecosystem health.

Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change sanctioned Rs.180 crore to Anna University for setting up the NCSCM and related research into land ocean interactions in the coastal zone (LOICZ). This is part of the Rs.1,055 crore granted to various projects involving coastal zones in India clubbed under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) initiative.

The move gains significance and importance given the fact that coastal zones around the globe are crucial for a number of reasons.

They are places of enormous ecological, cultural, social and economic significance sustaining about 50 per cent of the world’s population. About 46-48 per cent of global economic activity is generated in the coastal zone. The coast contains unique and sensitive eco systems of great natural and economic value and is home to numerous endangered species.

Along much of Earth’s coasts, a warming climate and sea level rise are already negatively affecting natural ecosystems and human communities.

The impacts
The impacts of global change such as these are intensely felt by small island states, along Arctic coasts, at river mouth deltas and in urbanised coastal zones.

Minister inspects Poompuhar fishing harbour work

The fishing harbour under construction at Poompuhar will fetch annual revenue of Rs.150 crore for fishermen of 20 villages in the district, said K.A.Jayapal, Minister for Fisheries, here on Thursday.

After inspecting the harbour under construction, Mr. Jayapal said that retaining walls would be constructed to a cumulative length of 1,490 metre, including 390 metres on the northern side.

The project involved an expenditure of Rs.78.50 crore and it would benefit fishermen of Thoduvai, Tirumullaivayil, Melammovarkarai, Keezgamoovarkarai, Chavadikuppam, Naaickarkuppam, Madathukupam, Thazhampettai, Pudupettai, Perumalpettai, Vellakovil, and Kuttiyandiyur.

Mr.Jayapal said the harbour, once commissioned, would generate direct employment to 12,000 fishermen in the area. T.Munusamy, District Collector, and S.Paunraj, Nagapattinam MLA, accompanied him.

Indian Navy ignored during tsunami for want of media policy (Comment: Special to IANS)

Boxing Day reminded me of Dec 26, 2004, the day the tsunami trampled Aceh in Indonesia, Galle and Trincomalee in Sri Lanka and devastated the east coast of India. An air force plane enabled me to be in Galle that fateful day.
Captain Murlidharan Nair, Captain T. Asokan and a host of other naval officers from Kochi were holidaying on the high seas with their families when news of the tsunami reached them. Families returned home in smaller boats even as reinforcements arrived for the navy to advance with 37 ships to ports in the eye of the tsunami.
Galle's ample harbour was choked with debris, which included giant trees, smashed boats, furniture, doors, household goods and bloated carcasses.
The host country, Sri Lanka were astonished at the efficiency with which Indian officers and men could clear Galle and Trinco harbours. It was a heartwarming Indian show along a vast stretch of the coastline from Indonesia, Sri Lanka to India.
Then something quite extraordinary happened.
A giant US warship docked a few meters at sea, visible from the Galle airport from where I was to be flown to New Delhi. The first passengers to disembark from the warship were two US cameramen. A speed boat brought them ashore where a high platform was in readiness for the cameramen to position themselves.
Then came the marines with gear that would be impressive on film. Americans had arrived on relief duty with great fanfare.
It was dark by the time I reached New Delhi. Next morning's newspapers were a shock. Across six columns of the Times of India was a photograph of the US ship disgorging marines, engineers, grenadiers. The headline in heavy font was: "American ship brings relief." Not a word about the Indians.

India announces US $1 million for UN tsunami fund

Ten years after a massive Tsunami triggered by an earthquake smashed the coastline of around 14 nations, India announced one million US dollar contribution to a UN fund for strengthening early warning systems for natural disasters.

India's Ambassador to Thailand Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday announced the contribution of one million US dollar to the Tsunami Trust Fund of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to further strengthen the process of building resilience to natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a statement of UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan.

The donation will also ensure that vulnerable communities receive the timely warning information that is required to save lives and livelihoods in disasters.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary, Shamshad Akhtar said that they are extremely pleased to partner with the Government of India to further strengthen regional early warning systems and build resilience to natural disasters.

A 9.3-magnitude earthquake off Indonesia's western point generated a series of massive tsunamis that smashed the coastline of 14 countries, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Somalia.