Tag Archives: Probir Banerjee

Sunita Narain: Where are the beaches?

The Business Standard has published an article by Sunita Narain called:  “Where are the beaches?”  based on Ms. Narain’s visit to the eroded beaches along the coast of Pondicherry.  The text of the article, dated 9 May 2011, appears below:

We were on a beach, somewhere close to Puducherry. It was a surreal sight: half-smashed houses with fronts wide open, and people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village so there was no protection between the sea and the village.

Why was this happening, I asked. My guides were members of the Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN), which has worked tirelessly to draw the nation’s attention to beach erosion.

To understand this, we walked a little distance away from the devastated village. From the beach, I could see massive granite stones piled up to build a groyne stretching into the sea. This structure, constructed to protect villages from erosion, ends up protecting one village and destroying another, explained my guides.

But I could still not see the connection. How could one small structure like this change the coastal ecology? Civil engineer Probir Banerjee and marine engineer Aurofilio Schiavina explained that a beach is not just a lot of sand. “Beaches are rivers of sand” because each year sea waves transport huge quantities of sand from north to south and south to north. During the southwest monsoon, some 600,000 cubic metres of sand is moved towards the north. Also, during the three months of the northeast monsoon (when winds are fierce), as much as 100,000 cubic metres of sand gets transported towards the south across the eastern coasts of the country.

So beaches are living creatures – winds and waves bring sand in one season and take it away in another. My teachers further explained marine science: “Then, think of the groyne as a dam in a river which will block the movement of sand, not water.” In this case, the groyne has stopped the movement of sand to the beach ahead. Thus, the beach does not grow and when the wind changes, the monsoon gets fierce, and the sea moves in. There is no beach to protect the land beyond.

The lesson did not finish yet. Our next stop was the Puducherry harbour, with a breakwater making its way into the sea to protect boats. This structure, which was built in 1986, marked the beginning of devastating changes at the coast. Once the harbour was built, it first changed the beach closest to it – the beach along the city of Puducherry.

“I played on the beach as a child,” said V Narayanasamy, member of Parliament from Puducherry and minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office. “What beach?” I asked. All I could see for miles were black granite stones piled along the ocean promenade. By then it was evening. People had gathered to enjoy the beach and the sunset. But there was neither sand nor beach – only rocks.

All this had been lost in living memory in 15 to 20 years. People had lost their playground. More importantly, a city had lost its critical ecosystem, which would protect its land and recharge its groundwater. And fishermen had lost their livelihood.

But this is just the beginning, explained Mr Banerjee. This structure, small by modern standards of harbours or ports, has spun an entire chain of changes in the beach along the coast. The groyne that we saw earlier was built because the length of the coast stretching 10 to 20 km was now destablised. We could see piles of sand accumulated before the harbour, blocking way to regenerate the beaches. Now every beach needs a groyne and every groyne adds to the problem of the next beach.

Ports are interventions in the natural ecology of coasts. But we neither understand the impact nor worry about dealing with the damage. A few years ago, Puducherry woke up to the reality that its harbour required to be rebuilt and contracts and concessions were awarded to transform it into a massive port (some 20 million tonnes annually). The citizens’ group, which was against the project, went to the court. But the developer – who, strangely, had no experience in ports, and built shops and malls – is not letting go. This is a sweet deal, which brings real estate benefits since the port concession package comes with cheap city land for cost recovery.

In this stretch of some 600 km, you can count seven ports that exist and another three are proposed. This is when each existing port is not used to capacity and is still being upgraded big time. Then why are we building more ports? Is this development? Or land grab?

Interestingly, there is an absence of policy on siting and the number of ports in the country. The Central government knows only about “major” ports and leaves the rest – permission to locate and build other ports – to state governments. There is no distinction between a major port and a state port. It is just a matter of how many one can fit into the coast as fast, and as profitably, as possible. Nobody, therefore, knows how many ports are being built. Nobody cares about the cumulative impact on rivers of sand.

Surely, this cannot be called development. Can it?


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Saving India’s Beaches: Jairam Ramesh’s Responses – NDTV Reports

June 22, 2009

In the report above, Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of Environment and Forest, declares his priority to ensure that the CMZ 2009 does not adversely affect the livelihood of fisher families as well as doing an inventory of port development.

July 7, 2009

In the video above, Vivekanandan, member of the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS), reports on his meeting with Jairam Ramesh.  In his meeting, the Minister has agreed that the CMZ, in it’s current form, will be allowed to lapse and a new process of dialogue with the fishing community will start, including 5 consultations across the coast (Chennai, Bhuvaneshwar, Cochin, Goa and Bombay) to provide feedback to help the ministry to re-work or improve the CRZ.

July 7, 2009

In the report above, NDTV interviews Jairam Ramesh and Probir Banerjee, President of PondyCAN.  Probir Banerjee speaks of the water and food security issues as a result of port and SEZ (Special Economic Zone) development.  Jairam Ramesh has commissioned a study of the overall, cumulative impacts of the port developments.

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“The Fight to Save India’s Beaches” – rediff.com

June 5, 2009

A. Ganesh Nadar of rediff.com interviews PondyCAN president Probir Banerjee on World Environment Day on “The Fight to Save India’s Beaches.” The text of the interview is posted below:

Don’t we all love spending a day out on the beach? Our beaches are not only spots of fun and beauty but they preserve our eco system, protect us from disasters and are a way of life. But if we don’t preserve and look after them all we will be left with is black rocks instead of glistening sand.

On World Environment Day, Probir Banerjee, President of Pondycan, a Pondicherry citizens’ action network highlights a road map to fight the loss of beaches.

Banerjee, an engineer recently gave up his various business interests, to devote himself to saving the beaches he once played on during his childhood.

The crusader explains the crisis to A Ganesh Nadar, and suggests solutions which are practical and simple. But will the government listen?

Could you explain the movement of sand from south to north? Does it happen only on the east coast or also on the west coast?

The sand movement depends on the monsoon. It is one of the highest in the world in India and especially on the east coast.

For nine months in the year, the monsoon travels from south to the north. This moves the sand along the coast towards the north. As the sand moves north the balance is kept by nature by bringing sand along with the rivers. If you see the map of India you will see that the eastern terrain is much larger than the west.

The sand outflow on the western side is much lower than the sand outflow on the eastern side. It comes out from the river’s mouth and moves north along the beach. The beach is actually a river of sand.

Any obstruction that you create acts like a dam and blocks this movement of sand. So the sand in the north will keep moving. And thus there will be a vacuum north of the obstruction.

It’s also happening on the west coast. In Goa, the Taj had a cafe on the beach. Suddenly they saw that the sand was disappearing and one day the cafe collapsed. People thought that it was a natural phenomenon.

It has happened in a village in Tamil Nadu, north of here. They built a groyne into the sea (a groyne is a wall created by dumping huge rocks into the sea). Within three months, 60 metres of the beach disappeared.

In Goa some structures were built south of this beach where the Taj was. They realised that that was the cause only after we explained it. People just say tsunami, global warming or natural disaster without realising the cause.

The beach is dynamic, it is never static. If you stand in the sand in the sea, you can see the movement around your feet. Imagine what happens when you put a permanent obstruction.

The beach has so many functions. It protects us from cyclones and tsunamis. It stops the salinity of the sea water from getting into the ground water inland. It promotes tourism. Festivals are held on it like Ganesh Chaturthi.

The moment erosion happens, the entire ecosystem is lost.

Also people think of development only. They don’t look at the economics of the environment. They look at the profits of development. They should also look at the cost of restoring the environment.

What will be the cost of restoring these beaches? What will be the cost of the real estate lost? What will be the loss of agriculture? What will be the cost of restoring ground water to its pre saline days? What will be the loss in tourism? We should look at all this.

Lack of knowledge is why people are doing whatever they want.

In Pondicherry a wall was built into the sea to protect the harbour. Is that the cause of this problem according to you?

Absolutely! The harbour was built from 1986 to 1989. Twenty crores (Rs 200 million) was given for this harbour. We started seeing the erosion in the early 1990s. It has now traveled 12 kms along the beach. You now see a stone wall all along this beach.

It has affected fishing. If you see photographs on Google earth or any satellite picture you will see there is a huge accumulation of sand south of the harbour. But north of the harbour there is no sand. The dividing line is that harbour. That makes it very evident.

The government is aware of this. They dug a submarine tunnel and put up pumping machines to pump the sand from south to north. Why did that not work?

The designers of the harbour were aware of this problem. So they decided to mechanically do what nature does by herself. They put up dredgers to pump it mechanically. They bought two dredgers.

But they did not do this regularly. This was and is a commercial harbour. As there was no revenue, how do you expect them to spend money on dredging?

Actually, the sand has accumulated along the wall and spilt over into the mouth of the harbour. They keep dredging this mouth so that ships can keep moving in and out.

Suppose the central government underwrites the whole thing. They pay for dredging 24 hours a day for all 365 days. Will that solve the problem?

Yes! If they can keep that up perpetually it will solve the problem. It should be for a lifetime. They should have alternatives if the dredgers break down or if there is any other excuse for stopping the work. They can replace nature’s work if they do it continuously and forever.

What actually happened in Pondicherry was that they knew what was happening so they put up stone walls all along the coast. This added to the problem by blocking further movement of sand.

But they continue doing it because for the PWD (public works department) it’s a big project. The lorry owners are happy. The quarry owners are happy. The panchayat presidents are happy. It’s a money-making racket.

It’s a perpetual project. Today you throw in stones. By next year it will sink. You continue throwing in rocks. It’s a win-win situation for some of the people and a lose-lose situation for a majority of the people.

You have told me what the problem is. What do you think is the solution?

The harbour supports 150 fishing families. To protect these families, 12 fishing villages have been destroyed along the coast. There is a ten feet high wall to protect these 12 villages. Thus their boats cannot go out.

So the government gives them free rice and subsidy for other things. Is this justification? Earlier these Pondicherry fishermen were using Cuddalore port. By holding onto this port the water has become saline in this entire coastal belt.

Nature has a sand bar along the shore to break the waves. Here erosion has removed the sand bar. Now huge waves hit the rocky shoreline and when the water recedes it does so with the same speed. It pulls out the sand from under and in between the rocks further weakening the shore line.

So the shore is sinking as the sand under it is being eroded.

I think closing the harbour is the best solution. Your solution of dredging 24 hours will cost 3 crores (Rs 30 million) a year. Give it to those 150 fishing families. They will find alternative employment.

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The Death of India’s Beaches – NDTV Report

On 28 May 2009, NDTV aired a report on “The Death of India’s Beaches”, featuring an interview with PondyCAN’s president, Probir Banerjee.

To view the video on the NDTV site, click here. The text of the report is given below.

NDTV plans a weekly broadcast with reports from each state to examine the effect of ports and rock walls on the coastline and economy of the states.  The next report will be on Orissa.

If you appreciate this kind of reporting, please contact NDTV and let them know.  Also, please let them know of situations and contact information for people working on coastal issues in other states.

The death of India’s beaches

NDTV Correspondent, Thursday May 28, 2009, Chennai

Over the span of a few decades, India has lost almost half its beaches along its once beautiful coastline.  And in a few years from now, India won’t have a single beach left.  We are losing our beaches every second because of simple man made errors.  It’s not too late – many miles of beaches can still be saved but the government is doing nothing. In fact most state governments are making things worse.

It’s known around the world as the murder of India’s beaches. Even though it’s not clear to the naked eye, beaches are constantly moving, the sand moves up the coast line pushed by the winds and the waves especially during the monsoon.

Now when a port is built, it breaks this natural movement of sand.  As a result sand piles up south of the port.  But north of the beach the sand gets eroded as it moves further north.  If it goes on there will only be rocks, not beaches left.

That is why marina beach in Chennai has so much sand – but if one goes north of the port, the beaches are gone, lost.  They are destroyed.

In other parts of the world, it is mandatory for all ports to dredge sand from one side and place it on the other side, but not in India.

Instead in India the government gives lucrative contracts to businessmen to fill the eroded beaches with rocks and build walls of rocks.  India is building so many miles of rock walls where beaches used to be, that may be 20 or more years from now our entire coastline will be one long rock wall – longer than the great wall of China.

What’s killing the beaches even faster is the number of ports India is building.  Instead of 5 or 6 big modern profitable ports, India is commissioning a small new port every few months; most are loss making and cannot afford to dredge the sand.

There is another devastating effect of the death of our beaches.  The sand on beaches acts as a filter and stops the salt in sea water from going inland.  The problem with rocks is that they can’t act as a filter.  So wherever the eroded beaches are replaced by rocks and rock walls, more and more villages on our coastline have discovered that the underground water in their area has become saline, which in turn means that their crops and livelihoods are dying.

India used to be famous for its ‘necklace’ of beaches unless something is done fast. There will be no beaches but India will be famous for another kind of necklace, a necklace of rocks.


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Benefit Dinner to Save Pondicherry and Auroville Beach – 14 March 2009 at 7pm

Save Puducherry and Auroville Beach

Pierre Elouard and Satsanga are hosting a benefit dinner to “Save Puducherry and Auroville Beach” on Saturday, March 14 at 7pm at the Satsanga Annex at 54 Labourdonnais Street in Pondicherry.

In addition to dinner, there will be an introductory talk by Probir Banerjee, President of Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN!) about PondyCAN!’s activities to bring back the beach, a short film:  “Save Our Beach”,  music (fusion, classical Brazilian, reggae) and giant puppets!

Tickets are Rs. 600.  Please join us if you are in Pondicherry.  If you cannot attend, do consider a donation for PondyCAN! activities to Save Our Beach.

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