Author Archives: saveourbeach

“A Way of Life Swept Away on a Current”

Akash Kapur writes a “Letter from India” for The New York Times about lives and livelihoods destroyed by coastal erosion in a small village near Pondicherry.  The full text of the article is given below or may be read here.

CHINNAMUDALIARCHAVADI, INDIA — For centuries this village lived in harmony with the ocean. Fishermen earned a reliable, if meager, living off the sea. Boys played cricket on the beach. In summers, while the rest of South India simmered, a gentle breeze cooled its unelectrified huts.

Something has gone wrong in recent years. In 2004, as fishermen sorted through the day’s catch, the Asian tsunami roared through the village, destroying huts and boats. No one was killed, but hundreds of lives — and livelihoods — were devastated.

Then, just as the village was recovering from that disaster, a slower, but in many ways more insidious, tragedy began taking shape. Villagers started noticing that the ocean was drawing closer. The stretch of sand in front of their huts was shrinking. The beach was eroding.

In a matter of months, the waters were entering the village at high tide, infiltrating huts and public buildings. Scores of homes were destroyed. Their owners, many of whom had rebuilt after the tsunami, were forced to retreat to rented accommodations farther inland.

The erosion eating away at Chinnamudaliarchavadi is the continuation of a process that started more than two decades ago, when the city of Pondicherry, about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, from the village, decided to build a new port. Environmentalists warned that the port would block replenishing sand flows carried by currents from the south. They were overruled in the name of progress: Politicians promised the port would bring investment to the area.

So the port was built, in 1989, and the prediction came true. First Pondicherry lost its beach, a bank of yellow sand that I had played on since my childhood. Then the erosion began creeping north, eating away the shoreline at an estimated rate of 500 meters, or more than 1,600 feet, per year.

In 2007, several groynes — imposing piles of granite, some of which extend around a hundred meters into the ocean — were built in a desperate attempt to halt the erosion. They succeeded in slowing erosion around Pondicherry but only pushed the problem up the coast, dramatically accelerating the process in Chinnamudaliarchavadi and neighboring villages.

A few months after the construction of those groynes, I visited Chinnamudaliarchavadi and wrote an article about its problems. The devastation was evident: uprooted trees, collapsed electricity poles and an ocean that roared dangerously close to homes.

Now, revisiting some three years later, I found the destruction even more pronounced. The entire front of the village, about two or three rows of huts, had been eaten away. The beach was littered with debris: concrete and clothes and bits and pieces of Styrofoam.

A slice of a women’s public latrine, stripped of plaster, reduced to bricks and rusted steel, reclined on the narrow beach, half-buried in sand like some ancient ruin.

Standing on high ground, with waves lapping below us, M. Segar and his wife told me about the loss of their village. They talked about how the ocean had swallowed their house. Mr. Segar said he had grown up in that house, as had his father and grandfather.

They talked, too, about how difficult it had become for fishermen to earn a living. The sea had changed, Mr. Segar said. It had become rougher, more unpredictable. Not long ago, three fishermen died when their boat overturned near the shore. They had been the sole breadwinners in their families.

“The village is disappearing,” Mr. Segar said. “I try not to think about it. What can we do?”

He said that the village had made several appeals to government officials, pleading for assistance. A group of fishermen had traveled to Chennai, about 160 kilometers away, and stayed there for a week before getting an appointment with an influential minister.

Everyone promised, he said, but no one had helped. He asked whether I thought my article would make a difference. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mr. Segar that the village’s situation was only likely to get worse.

Across the country, beaches — and, with them, villages and professions and human lives — are disappearing. According to the Asian Development Bank, 26 percent of India’s shoreline suffers from serious erosion. In Goa and Kerala, hotels and beach resorts (some of them constructed in violation of environmental building regulations) are crumbling into the Arabian Sea. Villagers and farmers along the country’s 7,500-kilometer coast are struggling with rising salinity in their wells.

The scale of the unfolding disaster is overwhelming. Around a quarter of India’s population — some 250 million people — live along the coast. Their plight will be exacerbated by the predicted rise in sea levels due to global warming. Millions will have to be relocated. Millions will lose their livelihoods.

Some of the devastation is being caused by natural forces. Much of it, though, is the result of human activity: unchecked and unregulated construction, the destruction of mangroves and other natural barriers, the relentless pursuit of wealth.

In Pondicherry, the government, keen to be part of India’s rapid development, is now talking about building a new, bigger port. Environmentalists are protesting again, arguing that it will worsen an already grave crisis. Once again, they are being overruled.

Behind Chinnamudaliarchavadi, where a stretch of highway has been upgraded from a country path in recent decades, the pace of development is rapid. Beach resorts and movie theaters have gone up. Thatch huts have come down, replaced by air-conditioned restaurants and guesthouses.

The new money, the evidence of prosperity, is undeniable. Villages along the road have seen their prospects brighten, their horizons widen.

But standing on that dwindling beach with Mr. Segar and his wife, listening to stories of how their lives have shrunk, how their village is literally vanishing, it’s hard not to wonder: What’s a fair price to pay for all this progress?

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Audit: Discrepancies in Selection of Private Partner for Puducherry Port

MHA report terms project economically “unattractive”

No analysis made in selecting private partner: report

Interest of Puducherry government compromised

Rajesh B. Nair, of the Hindu, reports on a recent audit report issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on the selection of a private partner for the Puducherry port project.  The full article is given below.  An online version can be seen here.  A PDF version of the MHA audit report can be found here.

Thursday, Jul 29, 2010

Rajesh B. Nair

PUDUCHERRY: Besides finding fault in the process of selecting the private
player for the development of the port here, a team appointed by the Union
Ministry of Home Affairs has found the project economically “unattractive.”

The team, in its special audit report on the port project, has found several
discrepancies in the process followed for selecting the developer and also
in the contract agreement entered into by the developer with the Government
of Puducherry. The full audit report which runs into 200-odd pages had been
posted on the Ministry website.

The report pointed out that “no pre-qualification” criteria such as
financial status and work experience was analyzed before selecting the
developer. The criterion of selection of M/S Subash Projects and Marketing
Limited (SPML), New Delhi, the developer, was based on the
first-come-first-serve basis.

Due diligence and justification in considering the financial status of SPML
“was not” taken care of. In fact “no” analysis was made in selecting of the
firm for the development of the Pondicherry Port, the report said.

In the selection process,, the consultant who had prepared the detailed
project report was given the task to develop the port, thereby violating an
internationally accepted practice of not allowing the agency that prepared
the project report to participate in the bidding process, the report added.

The report also faulted the government for not conducting the mandatory
Environment Impact Assessment before undertaking major projects. Questioning
the government for selecting the developer without verifying the antecedents
of the firm, the report said the credentials of the developer were
“doubtful.”

Looking into the concession agreement signed between the territorial
administration and developer, the report said the agreement does not provide
the government any control over the port management and inspection during
the development stage. Also, the agreement does not have provision for
appointment of an independent engineer and development standards for the
project, which was contradictory to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of
Finance in this regard.

“Low” viability

Further, the lease rent was for “a meagre amount” and has got a direct
“revenue loss of Rs 14. 50 crore per annum.” The financial viability of the
project was also “low” and the internal rate of return with full cooperation
from all stakeholders and assuming favourable situation was “quite low.”

“Therefore it can be clearly seen that the interest of Government of
Pondicherry has been clearly compromised and the developer has been favoured
unduly by the agreement,” the report went on to add.

Adherence to all prescribed norms in allocating the work with adequate
guidance from the Ministry of Finance would have made this project a model
for other initiatives. Due to non-adherence to the guidelines of the
Government of India, the project has become economically unattractive, the
report said.

The Supreme Court after reading regulation 6 (b) of the Pondicherry Act 1962
and the relevant portion of the Indian Ports Act had come to a conclusion
that the power in respect of Pondicherry port necessarily vests in the
government of Pondicherry and not in the Central Government.

The report said, in this regard, it can be stated that “the plane reading of
regulation 6 (b) of the Pondicherry Act 1962, clearly means that any
reference to the State Government shall be construed as reference to the
Central Government. This is the correct interpretation of the regulation,”

It added, “because of this interpretation of the above mentioned regulation
a considerable damage to the powers and the responsibilities of the Central
Government has been caused. The above situation maybe because of the reason
that the correct facts in this regard were not brought before the Honourable
Supreme Court by the Government of Puducherry.”

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Environment Ministry’s Pre-draft CRZ Notification 2010 Rejected by Fishermen, Environmentalists

“Commitments broken, hopes betrayed”

Greenpeace India reports on the rejection of the pre-draft CRZ Notification 2010 by fisherfolk and enviornmentalists in this article below (also found on their website):

The National Coastal Protection Campaign (NCPC), a collective comprising of a broad range of fishworker groups including the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), fishworker support organisations and environmental groups jointly rejected the Ministry of Environment’s ‘pre-draft’ CRZ 2010 notification for being anti-people, anti-environment and pro-industry (1). Most of the concerns and issues raised during the public consultation process undertaken by Minister Jairam Ramesh between August 2009 and March 2010 have been ignored in the ‘pre-draft’, despite assurances from the Minister that these would be taken on board.

“The ‘pre-draft’ is doubly disappointing as we had high hopes that Mr. Ramesh would ensure a much improved legal regime that would better regulate destructive development on the coast, and protect the livelihoods of traditional fishers”, said V.Vivekanandan, Convenor, NCPC. “The contents of this pre-draft are extremely disappointing as it is grossly inadequate to control the rampant industrialization on the Indian coastline. It also fails to address the dwelling and livelihood rights of the fishing community, providing only token concessions”

Notably, many of the recommendations contained in the “Final Frontier Report”, submitted by the MS Swaminathan committee in 2009, have been completely ignored (2). On the issue of port development, the Swaminathan committee had recommended a moratorium on new ports until their cumulative impacts were studied (3). However, the pre-draft makes no effort to control the growth of ports through a zoning system that keeps port developments at least 25 km. away from the most critical habitats (CRZ 1 areas), as suggested by many.

“The issue of the carrying capacity of the coastline with reference to developmental projects is completely missing. The proliferation of mega ports near CRZ1 and other ecologically sensitive areas has been a matter of controversy for some time now, from Dhamra on the eastern coast, to Mundra and Tadri on the west. Not only does the pre-draft ignore this burning issue, it is opening up coastal areas to further unsustainable development,” said Sanjiv Gopal, Oceans Campaign Manager, Greenpeace India.

There are currently over 300 ports proposed along the coast of mainland India, of which over 200 are notified (4). This would translate to roughly a port every 20-25 km! Besides its own impact, port development is invariably accompanied by other industries, power plants, railway lines, highways, hotels, SEZs, residential complexes, etc. that can have multiple detrimental impacts on the coast. The premise for port expansion on this scale also needs to be questioned given that all major ports are currently under-utilised and operating below capacity.

“There has been a consistent demand to recognise the rights of fishing communities in management and protection of the coasts. This requires a fundamental shift from providing concessions to recognising the rights of fishing communities” said Matanhy Saldanha, Chairperson, National Fishworkers Forum and former Minister for Tourism, Government of Goa. “We are calling on the Ministry to incorporate the specific inputs that have been provided to them by groups such as the NCPC and the National Fishworkers’ Forum, and come out with a notification that strengthens, not dilutes, the protection of India’s coasts and the communities that depend on them,” he concluded.

Notes to Editors:
(1)The NCPC is a platform of fishworker organizations, environmental and conservation groups who are concerned about coastal and marine issues. Its membership is broad based and includes the National Fishworkers Forum, South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, Tamilnadu – Pondicherry Fisherpeople’s Federation, International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, Greenpeace India, World Wide Fund for Nature, Conservation Action Trust, Centre for Education and Communication, Pondy Citizen’s Action Network, Dakshin Foundation and TRINet, amongst others. Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/docs/letters-to-moef-on-crz-proposals for Greenpeace and NCPC’s submission to the MoEF.

(2)In July 2008, the MoEF issued a draft notification under sub section (1) and clause (v) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986) inviting suggestions and objections from the public. In response, the MoEF received large number of suggestions and objections on this draft notification, which was examined by a committee under the Chairmanship of Prof. M. S.Swaminathan. This committee after examination of the comments received submitted the Report titled Final Frontier”. This Report recommended to let the draft Coastal Management Zone Notification, 2008 lapse and to strengthen the CRZ Notification, 1991. The MoEF accepted the recommendations of this Report and let the draft CMZ Notification, 2008 lapse and undertook public consultations with fishermen and coastal communities and other civil society representatives, across the eight coastal states, between August 2009 and March 2010. These consultations were organized by Centre of Environmental Education (CEE), who submitted the Report of the consultation process in 25th March, 2010

(3)Refer to http://envfor.nic.in/mef/cmz_report.pdf “page 20 – Introduce regulations to manage the proliferation of ports along the coasts, with possible impacts on the coastline, by considering cumulative impacts of these developments.”

(4)The Working Group Report on Shipping and Inland Water Transport for the Eleventh Five Year Plan – http://planningcommission.gov.in/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp11/wg11_ship.pdf

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CMZ a Threat to India’s Beaches – NDTV Report

June 13, 2009

The Government of India’s (GOI) proposal to replace the existing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) with the Coastal Management Zone (CMZ) has met with stiff resistence from the public.  (This post, dated May 20, 2008, outlines the objections to the CMZ from the perspective of the fishing communities.)

NDTV’s report – “New Coastal Policy Threatens Beaches” indicates that the GOI will soon be coming out with a revised notification soon based on public pressure.

The text of Sam Daniel’s report is given below.

New coastal policy threatens beaches
Sam Daniel, Maya Sharma
Saturday, June 13, 2009, (Chennai, Bangalore)

The livelihood of the fishermen and an entire stretch of coastline in Tamil Nadu is under threat. The tough Coastal Regulation Zone that protects beaches and sea side areas will soon be replaced by a diluted version called the Coastal Management Zone or the CMZ.

To begin with, this will lift the existing ban on construction within 500 metres from the high tide line. Instead there will be area specific guidelines which are not clear yet. Fishing communities are apprehensive of displacement, to make way for tourism or industrial development.

“Already every year the sea is coming into the land and actually we may need more area in future like say around 1000 foot. If this law comes we will be badly affected,” says a fisherman.

Even ecologically sensitive areas like mangrove forests could be cut down. This will be a disastrous move, given that when the tsunami struck in 2004 these mangroves actually saved hundreds of lives.

Environmentalists say this is a clear move to allow industrial activity in the garb of coastal management. They say this new law could actually legalise many corporate violations on our beaches.

Says environmentalist Sudarshan Rodriguez: “It allows recreation and tourism facilities to come in front of the set back line towards the sea. But when it comes to fishing settlements and other houses, these should come behind the setback line.”

A parliamentary standing committee too has recommended the CMZ to be kept in abeyance. Under pressure, the government says it will soon come out with a modified notification.

Says Minister of Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh: “We’ve set up a small team that will consult with all states and come up with a hybrid model having the best of both, something that will satisfy both sides.”

Since the tsunami they are fishing in troubled waters. But it is not just fishermen, saving our beaches is something each one of us need to be stakeholders in.

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Online Petition and SMS Campaign to Save India’s Beaches

In addition to its coverage of “The Death of India’s Beaches” and the subsequent series called “India’s Dying Beaches”, which has covered Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Kerala and Gujarat so far, NDTV has started an online petition and SMS campaign to save India’s beaches.

To add your name to the petition, please enter your name and email id here or copy and paste this URL in your brower:  http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/new/Ndtv-Show-Special.aspx?ID=169  You may enter comments on the site.

Also SMS (India only)  “Beach. Your Name. Your Town.” to:  56388

Please “sign” the online petition and send your SMS to NDTV by Sunday, June 14.  NDTV will forward your messages to the relevant ministers after the conclusion of their series on Sunday.

Take action to Save India’s Beaches!

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Gujarat’s Mangroves Under Threat – NDTV Report

June 8, 2009

The fourth report on NDTV’s “India’s Dying Beaches” series covers the destruction of a mangrove forest at Mundra, the site of India’s largest private port and Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which covers 60 kilometres of Gujarat’s coastline.  10,000 fisherfolk have lost their livelihoods due to the privatization of coastal property for port and allied developments.

The report highlights the gradual dilution of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), first established in 1989, with 21 ammendments to date, to allow such things as the storage of liquid natural gas (LNG) and petrochemicals within 500 metres of the coastline.  Incredibly, the environmental clearance authority for ports was transfered from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to the Ministry of Surface Transport and Shipping – a clear conflict of interest!

The text of the report is found below:

Gujarat’s mangroves under threat
Tejas Mehta
Monday, June 08, 2009, (Mundra)

Gujarat, the state which has India’s longest coastline is home to one of the country’s largest ports and special economic zone. One which will occupy over 60 kms of the coast.

This is the stark reality of what is happening here in Gujarat, at one of India’s largest ports. Hundreds and hundreds of mangroves hacked with complete disregard and apathy in a zone that is high eco-sensitive and protected.

The strip of land was originally part of the port plan but later dropped because of mangroves. A crucial cover that protects the coast from erosion and storms.

An example of how much of the development on our coasts takes place haphazardly. Unlike in the West where port projects are based on environment studies and rights of coastal communities is respected.

Ironically, 20 years ago India came out with forward looking policy — the Coastal Regulation Zones or CRZs.

In 1989, CRZ was introduced before UN’s Climate Change Convention, but since then the CRZ policy has undergone 21 changes effectively diluting it.

So, now rural land 200 metre from the sea is no longer a no-development zone. Now, storage facilities for LNG and petrochemicals are allowed.

Then the environmental clearance authority for ports was transferred from the Ministry of Forests to the Ministry of Surface Transport and Shipping.

As a result regulator and regulated became one.

A conflict of interest ensued since the regulator and the regulated became the same. At Mundra port a top government official had warned against damage to the coast.

A 2006 report used satellite pictures to issue this warning:

The Adani Private Port at Mundra and other projects pose a threat to the neighbouring mangroves. Controversy regarding the gradual and smooth destruction of mangroves near Mundra was raised again and again. The industrial development.. has already caused serious damage and the process of degradation continues by intentional and unintentional approach of the industries,” wrote H S Singh, former Chief Conservator of Forests (Research), Gujarat.

“They first blocked the creek, stopped the water from flowing in. The mangroves died and they dumped dredged sand on it. Following which, they tell the government the land is ‘unsurveyed wasteland’, give it to us,” said Bharat Patel, Marine Environmentalist.

Allegations, the Adani group has denied in the past.

But the worst hit over 10,000 fishermen. Today with coastal belt sold to the port their livelihood is gone.

“We kill fish, we eat fish. Fish is our only source of livelihood. We want the sea and the shore. Nothing else,” said Haroon Siddique, fisherman.

“The industrialists are happy. But one day the government will have to think about us. We will fight till death. We won’t leave them,” said Ibrahim Majalia, fisherman.

Core of that battle perhaps, already lost.

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8 June: Gathering to Celebrate World Oceans Day at 6pm on Beach Road in Pondicherry

Pondicherry People’s Protection Committee is organizing an informal gathering to celebrate World Oceans Day at 6pm on June 8, 2009, in front of the Gandhi statue on Beach Road (Goubert Salai) in Pondicherry.

This year’s theme is:  “one ocean, one climate, one future.”

Please come and join the citizens of Pondicherry in taking a pledge to protect the oceans:

I promise to protect the World Ocean as it is critical to maintaining our planet’s ecosystem and essential to human health, well-being and survival. I shall not pollute the ocean with my garbage, sewage water and industrial effluents or disturb the ocean’s ecosystem and the beaches.

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