Tag Archives: Puducherry

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?

sunita@cseindia.org

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Shipping Ministry Opposes Pondy Port

A Times of India article dated 8 April 2010 reports that the Shipping Ministry, as well as the Union Home Ministry, opposes the multi-crore deep water port proposed by the Puducherry government.  The Shipping Ministry argues in an affidavit that Puducherry, a Union Territory, does not have the power to approve contracts exceeding Rs. five crore without the consent of the Union government.  The estimated cost of the proposed port in Pondicherry is Rs. 2,700 crores.

Based on the findings of a special audit team, the Home Ministry filed a recall application of a Supreme Court judgment upholding a Madras High Court order in favor of the Puducherry government.  The special audit team reports that the Puducherry government did not exercise due diligence before awarding the contract to a private company and did not incorporate adequate safeguards in the agreement with the developer.  The Shipping Ministry is also urging the Court to recall its judgment.

The full text of the article may be found here.

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Article in The Hindu: “Integrated coastal management plan sought “

Date:05/05/2009
Staff Reporter

Concern at impact of harbours and ports on coastal ecology

PUDUCHERRY: Concerned about the impact of harbours and ports on the coastal ecology and livelihood resources, members of fishing communities from Puducherry, Karaikal and Tamil Nadu and environment activists emphasised the need for formulating and implementing an integrated coastal management plan taking into account the well-being of the coastal environment and its communities and an effective monitoring programme for the coastal environment, before State governments allowed construction of ports and commercial harbours.

A consultation on the government policies on ports and harbours and its impact on coastal ecology, livelihood resources and fishing communities was organised by Coastal Action Network (CAN) and Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN) on Monday.

Speakers at the consultation said the construction of ports and harbours in the coastal zone had extensive impact on the coastal environment, leading to degradation. This affected the livelihood of families in the coastal communities.

Sudarshan Rodriguez from Dakshin Foundation said there were 199 notified ports, of which 12 were major ports and 187 minor ports. The Central government, in the 11th Five Year Plan, identified 331 ports for development on the mainland, roughly one port for every 20 km.

He said there was poor science and planning in coastal management, development and environment planning and environmental de-regulation of coastal management and environmental impact assessment laws. Many port projects were coupled with Special Economic Zone, rail and highway corridors, he added

Another speaker Gandhimathi of CAN said river courses were affected due to the Karaikal port. Ports affected groundwater, contaminated water sediments, coastal and land ecology and caused beach erosion.

The consultation noted that harbours in Chennai, Ennore, Puducherry, Cuddalore, Karaikal and Nagapattinam have caused damage to the coastline in the form of coastal erosion, salt water intrusion, damage to agriculture and ecology, increased vulnerability to natural calamities.

Consolidating the recommendations put forward during the meet, the participants submitted a resolution that State governments should take appropriate action not to allow construction of ports and commercial harbours unless – coastal areas, which were already damaged due to man-made interventions, have been identified and studied, restored to its pristine and undisturbed condition.

With coastal communities not being consulted for developments along the coastline, the resolutions stressed the need to accept and accord the land rights of fishing and coastal community through a legitimate means and process. A consultative process to take in the views and requirements of all sections of the coastal communities was necessary.

The Coastal Regulation Zone notification related to coastal environment should be implemented properly, the members insisted.

© Copyright 2000 – 2008 The Hindu

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Beach Erosion in Karaikal

Erosion at Killinjam medu village

Erosion at Killinjam medu village - photographed at low tide

10 March 2009

The picture above shows the effect of coastal erosion in Killinjam medu, one of three villages affected by the construction of breakwaters for a fishing harbour in Karaikal, one of the non-contiguous territories of the Union Territory of Puducherry, located on the east coast of India, south of Pondicherry and just north of Nagapattinam.  As is evident from the picture, at high tide, the sea has started to erode the foundations of the first row of homes in this village.  (In Akkampettu village, just to the north of Killinjam medu, the sea is said to be two to three meters from the first row of houses.)

Killinjam medu is located approximately three kilometers north of the new fishing harbour at the Arasala river.  Construction of the breakwaters for the harbour were started about a year ago.  The southern breakwater is complete; the northern breakwater is near completion.  According to a 12 March 2008 report in The Hindu Business Line, the breakwaters are to extend 400 metres from the shore into the sea to establish the new fishing harbour.  Local NGO representatives of SNEHA (Social Need Education and Human Awareness) and the Law Center report that 100 metres of beach has been lost in in Killinjam medu in less than one year.

An even bigger threat to the coast looms on the horizon as the breakwaters for the new deep-water port in Karaikal, at the Nagapattinam district border, near completion.  The government of Puducherry has awarded MARG Limited the contract to develop and operate a port for 30 years (renewable twice for 10 years each) on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model on 600 acres of land.  The plan calls for a total of 9 berths (two for coal) at a depth of 16 meters.  The first two berths will have a length of 460 metres.

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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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Erosion of Puducherry-Villupuram Coastline: Why a ‘Hard’ Solution for a ‘Soft’ Problem?

Excerpts from a letter to Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (with copies to relevant Central, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu government officials) by Commander John Jacob Puthur, Charge Hydrographer, FIS, FCA, FGS, Indian Navy (Retired), dated 10 February 2009, in which he:

Questions the “authorities” on the reasons for taking ‘hard’ solutions to tackle coastal erosion:

Apparently, your long struggle to put in place an eco-friendly ‘soft’ solution to tackle coastal erosion seems to have had little impact on those in authority. The experts and those in authority seem determined for a ‘hard’ solution in the guise of a groyne-field. What exactly is their motivation to construct the groyne-field? Is it that they have failed to see the truth or they simply don’t want to see the truth?

It’s obvious that the people concerned are not ignorant, so there is hardly a need to explain the matters afresh. Nevertheless, I shall explain Puducherry’s coastal erosion problem as briefly as possible, in an everyday language. You may find that useful to make things clear to the common citizens likely to be affected—the non-specialist stakeholders…

So what is this truth about coastal erosion affecting the Puducherry-Villupuram Coast? And how can we get the experts to see that, and so get them to adopt the correct approach to tackle the problem of coastal erosion?

There is an old Chinese saying though—”You cannot wake up a man who is only pretending to sleep.” Therefore, getting them to see the truth, when they are pretending to not to see it, is definitely going to be a difficult affair. That does not mean that you must give up easily.

Explains the problems of coastal erosion in layperson’s terms:

Let see what this truth they are refusing to see. First let us be clear—erosion is not natural to the coast, any coast. If it was natural such a coast would never exist. However, the movement of sediments, sand, along the coast, along most coasts, particularly along the East Coast of India, is natural. The Puducherry-Villupuram Coast forms a tiny segment of this long East Coast of India. Sand moves along this coast from south to north during the Southwest Monsoon—from April to September. Then during the Northeast Monsoon—from October to February—the sand movement is reversed, and it moves from north to south.

What causes the sand to move along the coast? Even this has been established to certainty. The waves crashing on the coast at steep angle pushes the sand along the length of the coast. During the Southwest Monsoon, the waves meet the coast at a sharp angle from the south; hence the sand is pushed along from south to north. The wave direction almost reverses during the Northeast Monsoon, with the waves meeting the coast at a steep angle from the north, consequently, the sand moves from north to south. Millions of tons of sand are thus moved either way, every year.

The wave action during the Southwest Monsoon is more intense and lasts much longer than that during the Northeast Monsoon. Therefore, the amount to sand moved from south to north is much more. So we can say, annually there is a net movement of sand from south to north. You don’t need to be an expert to understand this. It is not easy to physically observe this movement of sand taking place on a normal shoreline. This movement of sand however becomes apparent when someone manages to interrupt the movement.

What happens when this movement of sand along the coast is interrupted? Before I attempt to answer that let me share with you what can cause such an interruption. The sandy coast is ‘soft’ and so highly dynamic—prone to movement. Anything ‘hard’ erected on this ‘soft’ coast will interrupt the movement of sand—jetty, wharf, pier, breakwater, seawall, groyne, groyne field, and even large ship beached (sometimes they use beached ship as a breakwater, for example, at Vishakhapatanam). When any such a ‘hard’ structure comes up on the coast, sand begins to accumulate on its upstream, which in the case of our coast will be to the south of the structure. This then would result starvation of sand downstream of the structure, that is, north of the structure, along this coast. To make good this starvation of sand for onward movement along the coast, the waves, which continue to the lash the coast, begin to erode the coast. The process of coastal erosion is as simple as that.

Gives the history of the recognition of the issue of coastal erosion on the East coast of India:

This truth became known for the first time along the East Coast at Chennai, some two hundred odd years ago. A small wharf was built on the coast, off the Fort St. George, probably to receive the Governor General’s Yacht. Soon the sand began to accumulate on the southern side of this wharf—the birth of the now famous Marina Beach. At the same time, on its northern side, the coast began to erode. In a few years time, the eroded stretch became an indentation on the coast, which was otherwise straight as an arrow for miles and miles. This shoreline indentation went on to become the Major Port of Chennai. Nevertheless, the accumulation of sand to the south still continues. The Marina Beach getting wider every day. Just as the accumulation of sand on the south of Chennai Port is continuous, so is the erosion to the north. And so, beyond Chennai Port, yet another indentation began to form, which in due course became the Fisheries Harbour, hoping it will bring to an end the erosion. Erosion hasn’t yet stopped. The erosion continues northward, taking away precious coastal landscape. Who is going to pay for this environmental disaster? Is anybody doing anything about it? That is not the only example of coastal erosion due to ‘hard’ structures on the coast.

Gives other examples of erosion along the Eastern coastline:

The Ennore Port has repeated the same story. The coast north of Ennore Port is now steadily eroding. Kakinada is yet another example, where to the north of Port, nearly two kilometres of the shoreline has already been lost due to erosion. Vishakhapatanam Port is the next example, where erosion to the north of the port is to some extent controlled by a ‘soft’ solution—sand-bypassing. I understand that it is the Vishakhapatanam Port that is footing the bill. So we may look at this as precedence in your favour. Further north, the Paradip Port is causing relentless erosion north of it. More new ports fast coming up along this coast will only compound the problem. As yet no one has arrived at a port design that wouldn’t cause erosion. The experts in question must surely be acquainted with these examples of coastal erosion.

Gives the history of erosion along the Pondicherry coast:

Erosion along the Pondicherry coast began long ago, when the first pier was constructed. And when that pier was wrecked in a cyclone, a new one was built. So the erosion northward continued. Then the Pudhucherry Port was created further south. After the creation of the port, it became the main cause for the disruption of sand movement from south to north. The New Pier ceased to be the culprit any longer. In case of erosion, the culprit is easily caught. Wherever the sand is accumulating is the give away of the obstructing structure. We can now see sand accumulating south of the new port.
The sandy coast along the Beach Road gave way to an ugly seawall. (Then someone decided to drape the seawall with sand. That doesn’t make the coast any soft.) Despite this seawall, the erosion continued unabated further northward—north of hardened shoreline.

Tells us why groynes are not the solution:

A groyne or groyne field is not going be anything different, but only serve to harden up yet another section of the shoreline. So the erosion will spread further northward. There will be no end, until it reaches the next river mouth on the coast—the Palar River. Are we to go on building groyne-fields or seawalls all the way north, perhaps up to the mouth of Palar River? Is that the eventual solution that the experts are contemplating?

Questions “pliable” experts and vested interests:

Why are the experts not looking at the more eco-friendly ‘soft’ solution, but insisting on a ‘hard’ solution—the groyne-field? The case seems to be more a matter of self-interest, and of questionable integrity, at least, for some parties involved in the project process. Who are these individuals with vested interest in a groyne-field? The answer will become clear if you look at what goes into the construction of a groyne field. There is no complicated technology, specialised equipment, or even technical expertise involved in the construction of a groyne or groyne-field. All that you need is a huge quantity of rocks and boulders. Therefore a rock quarry must be involved. So the quarry owner(s) will be interested. Then, to transport the rocks and boulders from the quarry to the coast a large number of tipper-trucks will be needed. So the owners of the tipper-trucks will also have a serious stake in the project. Then of course, a large workforce of unskilled labour; at the quarry, in loading up, in transporting, and also at the work-site on the coast. Such a workforce is often resourced through powerful labour contractors—the vote-bank managers. These three vested interests are moneyed, and politically powerful; in fact, some of them may themselves be calling the shot seated on the seats of power. They have thus huge ‘illicit’ power and material resources even to engineer experts’ opinions. Without the help pliable experts it is hardly possible to get such projects through on file.

Don’t expect these arguments will in some way convince the already blinded Experts and the authorities led by them. The nexus of quarry owners, transporters and labour contractors simply cannot be wished away. A social action approach could do the trick, but it may not be easy task to convince the local fishing community, who may want a groyne-field to protect their own stretch of coast, unmindful of what may happen to the people further north, or even if the beauty of the coastal landscape is marred forever. These simple coastal folks mistakenly think that seawall or groyne, made of huge rock as and boulders, works just like a fortress wall on land. Getting them to see a seawall or a groyne as something potentially destructive, unlike a protective fortress wall on land, may not be easy.

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The People Fight Back

Rally in Support of C. Balamohan, Pondicherry

Yesterday was a good day for democracy in Pondicherry. The people took to the streets to protest a government which, time-and-again, deftly protects the private interests of its corrupt officials, disregards the public good, and holds itself to be above the law.

The issue concerns the ongoing battle over the illegal concession given to a private developer by former Chief Secretary Khairwal and Minister Valsaraj to build a huge port complex in the heart of this tiny heritage town, and the vast environmental, economic, and social devastation this development.

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