Millennium Post

Growing at the cost of coast

The Beach Road in Puducherry leaves one high and dry for a beach. The problem began in 1989 when a commercial harbour was built in the southern end of the union territory. A seawall and two breakwaters were also built as part of the harbour. Breakwaters are vertical sea walls extending into the sea from land. They obstructed the littoral drift or natural movement of sand from south to north along the coast. Sand from northern Puducherry continued to move north but there is no sand to replenish it.

By 2002, northern Puducherry had lost most of its beach and the breakwaters had developed cracks. ‘The government built a 7 km seawall to check the erosion but it offered temporary relief,’ says Probir Banerjee of non-profit Pondy Citizen’s Action Network (PondyCAN). The government then tried to correct the situation by building a series of groynes, or small breakwaters.

This aggravated the problem and erosion spread to neighbouring Tamil Nadu. ‘The structural interventions were done without much thought. It caused saline ingress into groundwater and deprived many of livelihoods,’ says Banerjee.

Rappo Beach in Tamil Nadu, which is adjacent to Puducherry, is the latest casualty of the erosion. Uprooted trees and remains of houses can be seen along the narrow stretch of the beach. G Rajaram of PondyCAN informs that fisherfolk who lived on the beach for generations have shifted to
others beaches.

Puducherry and Tamil Nadu provide glimpses into the future of the Indian coasts, dotted by 189 minor and 13 major ports, and several hundreds of harbours and jetties. The government plans to set up more ports. Since 1992, a year after the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification came into force to regulate development activities along the shoreline, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has cleared 99 ports and 630 projects related to special economic zones, ship manufacturing, fish harbours, golf courses, roads and the railways. MoEF has also given clearance to 27 thermal power plants with a capacity of 19,391 MW and is considering 59 more of 92,025 MW capacity in the coastal districts.

Another industrial activity, which has proved equally detrimental for the western coast of India is ship breaking. It involves dismantling a ship after it reaches the end of life and recycling its components, such as scrap metal. Most of the ship-breaking activity is concentrated in Alang and Sosiya shipyards in Gujarat. Following economic liberalisation in 1991, the industry has grown rapidly, particularly to meet the increased domestic steel requirement.

According to the Gujarat Maritime Board, the state has 171 ship-breaking yards; 92 are in Alang. These yards have a capacity to produce 4.6 million tonnes of scrap metal a year, sufficient to meet about three per cent of the country’s steel requirement. But the industry has severely polluted the coastal region. Over the years, fish catch along Alang has reduced by 60 per cent. Studies blame dismantling of ships for the declining catch. According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the concentration of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury found in the seawater and sediments along the 10 km coast of Alang is much higher than that in the rest of the country. However, the details are not available in the public domain.

Even the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) does not have proper pollution data for Alang, alleges Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance, a non-profit working on hazardous material. Hardik Shah, member secretary of GPCB, however, says, ‘We are taking adequate steps to curb pollution in the area. We have installed ambient air quality monitoring stations and set up asbestos containment facilities.’ These facilities are landfills to dispose asbestos waste, used in ships for insulation. Exposure to it can cause serious lung diseases like asbestosis and lung cancer.

Blatant violations

Industrial activity is not the only problem ailing the Indian coast. Increasing tourism is pushing the sensitive coastal ecosystem to the brink. Consider Goa, a favourite tourist destination. Every year, more than 2.5 million tourists visit this smallest state of the country, which has a population of 1.5 million. This is seven per cent of the foreign tourists visiting India. Close to 20 per cent of the state’s population depends on tourism for a living.

A 2012 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) tabled in the Goa Assembly notes that the state’s beaches are degrading, groundwater table is going down and there is lack of sewerage and solid waste management. It blamed this degradation on tourism.

The National Institute of Oceanography in its 2011 report also stated that the coastal waters of Goa are unsafe for bathing or fishing.

The level of faecal coliform found in the waters is double the safety limit of 100 units per millilitre specified by WHO. In June this year the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a special court for hearing environment-related cases, ordered the closure of all outfits, including hotels, that do not have a sewage treatment plant (STP) as required under water pollution law. ‘We have asked hotels with more than 25 rooms to install an STP,’ says Sanjay Joglekar of Goa State Pollution Control Board.

‘This is just lip service,’ says Claude Alvares of non-profit Goa Foundation. In December 2012, Goa Foundation appealed to NGT against hotels and resorts that were located very close to the shore, violating the CRZ notification. In September this year, following an order from NGT, the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority issued notices to 11 hotels and resorts for having constructed in no-development coastal zone. ‘These big players are destroying coasts of Goa,’ says Alvares. What Alvares says holds true for the entire country.

The latest violation by Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd is a typical example. The company has a coastal Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Mundra of Kachchh district in Gujarat. It is alleged that the company deliberately broke the project into smaller parts to avoid comprehensive environmental scrutiny.
According to the report of the Sunita Narain Committee, set up by MoEF in September 2012, Adani has been applying for and getting clearances in piecemeal fashion for its activities at Mundra.

By arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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