Archive for May, 2008

Mired in Garbage

Garbage dumped in Thengaithittu

Garbage being burned in Thengaithittu. Photo by T. Singaraveluo, The Hindu

The residents of Thengaithittu and Uppalam villages have been living with the pollution, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss of illegally dumped garbage in and around the Thengaithittu River and along the main road leading to Thengaithittu for years. An article in today’s Hindu quotes the Municipal Councillor for Ward 39 in Thengaithittu saying:

“Vehicles of both private contractors and the municipality dump the garbage here. The site allotted for garbage dumping is at Karuvadikuppam, but they do not go there owing to the distance factor.”

Pleas to local government authorities to stop the dumping have gone unheeded. The article, by Serena Josephine M, titled “No end to garbage dumping here” reports:

…the officials said it was unauthorised dumping of garbage and private contractors were doing it without the knowledge of the authorities. “We had issued strict instructions to the private contractors not to dump the garbage at Thengaithittu. But they dispose of the garbage during nights,” an official said.

Ah, what can a government do when its own contractors break the law?  And if it is done during the night, how can the government know about it?

Residents have filed complaints, stopped trucks, and even raised money to clean up the mess last year, but the dumping continues. Government officials offer a solution when a Rs. 47 crore (approximately US$ 11 million) proposal for an “integrated solid waste management project” submitted by the Puducherry (Pondicherry) government is approved by the Central government.

No point enforcing the law until you have a more permanent solution in place no matter how long it takes, eh?  Who can blame the contractors for taking shortcuts at the expense of the citizens?  After all, they can save so much more money if they don’t have to drive all the way to the legal dump at Karuvadikuppam.  What’s a little smell, ruined wetland habitat, loss of biodiversity, and mosquito-borne diseases?

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PondyCAN’s Aurofilio Schiavina Interviewed on Auroville Radio

Aurofilio Schiavina, a member of PondyCAN, was interviewed by Auroville Radio on 16 May 2008 regarding the consultation meet on “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration” held at Town Hall on 15 May. Aurofilio’s comments make up the first part of the report.

A Passion for the Environment
Written by Radio Team
Friday, 16 May 2008
Dr Anand - Secretary of Ministry of Urban Development In today’s English news an interview with Aurofilio is presented; he speaks about his passion for the environment and how that gets him into various involvements.

To download the news click here or in the picture.

For a more personal interview with Aurofilio, in Italian, French and English, listen to the program below.

Eclettico Aurofilio
Written by Radio Team
Friday, 16 May 2008
Aurofilio Chi e’ nato per primo ad Auroville? In questa parte dell’intervista in italiano Aurofilio sfata la leggenda.
En Français, il nous parle de ses multiples activitées dont l’eau, la 3D et l’écologie.
And in English Aurofilio tells us about the difficulty of having so many poles of attractions and how he arrives to integrate them.
To listen (per ascoltare) click the logo play.

To download (per scaricare) cliquer ici .

Happy listening…

Comments on Coastal Management Zone Draft Notification due 30 June 2008

On 1 May 2008, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) released the Coastal Management Zone (CMZ) draft notification with 60 days (until 30 June) for comments.  The CMZ is to replace the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) that has been in effect since 1991for the 8,000 kilometres of coast in India.

The pdf of the CMZ draft notification can be downloaded below or from the MoEF site.

Draft CMZ released 1 May 2008

V. Vivekanandan, advisor to the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS), has elucidated the objections of the fishing communities to the CMZ.  The major points are listed below.  The full draft of Vivekanandan’s analysis can be downloaded from the link below.

Comments on CMZ Draft Notification by V. Vivekanandan, SIFFS

1. Conceptually and fundamentally different: Fundamentally, the CMZ and CRZ have different motivations. The first obvious difference is the move away from “regulation” to “management”. While one could argue that management includes regulation, it is more amenable to abuse and nothing is really sacrosanct. However there is an even more fundamental difference. CRZ was essentially meant to protect the coast from environmental degradation while recognising that some provision had to be given for use of the coast for coastal and fishing communities and for activities that required foreshore access. The CMZ is not as much about protecting the coast as about protecting the human beings and their assets from the fury of the sea. The set back lines under CRZ (200 m and 500 m) were intended to create a buffer zone to regulate activities close to shoreline for minimising the impact of shore based activities in degrading the coastal ecosystems and to reserve a zone close to the shoreline for fishery and other activities which require shorefront facilities. However the set back line under the CMZ regime is only a hazard line. Hence, the CMZ cannot replace the CRZ if we still believe in coastal protection on environmental grounds.

2. Dilution of coastal protection rules: Not surprisingly, in view of the previous point, the CMZ systematically goes about diluting the rules that protect the coastal environment under the present CRZ regime. The elimination of the no-development zone and bringing even “ecologically sensitive areas” under an “integrated coastal zone management plan” makes a mockery of the concept of coastal protection. CMZ I has none of the sanctity of CRZ I and is a serious threat to eco-systems that are already vulnerable. The expansion of the coastal areas under CMZ II (the equivalent of CRZ II) to include coastal panchayats with higher density of population once again is an attempt to dilute the protection afforded to coastal ecosystems under CRZ.

3. Set back linean unknown entity: While the 200m and 500m set back lines used by the CRZ regime are certainly arbitrary, they have the advantage of being simple and easy for all to understand. The new set back line proposed in the CMZ regime is an unknown entity. Till it is actually drawn, no one can understand its implications. Under the name of “scientific objectivity” we are handing over what should be societal decisions (taken by coastal people, administrators and political leaders with scientific inputs) to scientists and scientific institutions with no competence or expertise to find a balance between conflicting requirements: short term vs. long term, safety vs. livelihood needs, environmental vs. economic, etc. It is foolhardy to make such a regulation before even mapping one stretch of the coast and demonstrating the use of the set-back line to the coastal population and other stakeholders. It will not come as a surprise, if the set back line, once it is drawn, will throw up nasty surprises and prove to be a set back to the MoEF itself. It is also to be noted that the use of two set back lines (200 m and 500 m) under the CRZ regime is more pragmatic and recognises that one needs a graded response to coastal protection while the CMZ seems to depend entirely on one magic line that solves all problems.

4. Integrated coastal zone management plan—a coastal utopia? Like the set back line, India has no previous experience with integrated coastal zone planning. It is a shame that we have not even implemented one genuine ICZMP in India while many other countries have been working on this concept for many years and with limited success. Given the complexities and pitfalls, it is incredible that MoEF believes that India can develop in a short period ICZMPs for a significant part of the 8000 km coast without even a successful pilot over 80 km. Some administrators or scientists or politicians drawing up plans do not constitute an ICZMP. It requires long drawn out processes to address conflicting interests in the use of coastal resources as well as the difficult task of coordinating the plethora of Govt departments and agencies that have a connection with the coast. Even the GOI has not been able to bring about any coordination between its own ministries concerned with the coast. The importance of participatory processes for ICZM needs to be understood. India is a signatory to various international instruments like the Convention on Bio-diversity that require us to undertake integrated coastal zone planning in a participatory manner and protecting the interest of local communities. So, while it is not our contention that coastal zone planning is irrelevant or impossible, it requires a more modest beginning and it is not something that one can make the basis of the current regulation for an entire coast. If the MoEF is serious about ICZMPs there is nothing that prevents it from getting into it without tampering with the existing CRZ regulations.

5. Ignoring the rights of fishing communities: If the latest CMZ draft seems to make some concessions to the fishing community, it is only after a huge campaign across the coast that indicated the disenchantment of the community. The fact that the fishing communities were not consulted by the Swaminathan Committee[1] and there has not been any significant or meaningful consultation since then by the MoEF, raises serious doubts about the Ministry’s intention and commitment to integrated coastal zone planning. How can a five-million strong community that lives in 3200 coastal hamlets (CMFRI Census 2005) and occupying at least 50% of the coast line of the mainland for its livelihood be ignored in a coastal zone planning scenario? Housing and livelihood needs of the fisherfolk (admittedly one of the most vulnerable sections of our population) have not been addressed satisfactorily till date. A huge developmental effort is required to address this. The CMZ concept (as understood from the Swaminathan committee and the various draft notifications) makes no attempt to tackle this. Fishermen housing and habitat cannot be too far from the sea and whatever be the safety considerations, the sea and the fishermen cannot be separated. While it is not our case that fishermen should be allowed to make indiscriminate use of the coastal space, a proper provisioning for the development of the fishing community needs to be made and this can only be in the coastal space. The CMZ notification is basically a discriminatory document that allows a number of new stakeholders to enter the coast while ignoring the claims of those who have been traditionally linked to the sea and have been the real owners and protectors of the coast. Proper coastal management in India requires that we find a balance between environmental protection, the use of the coast by its traditional inhabitants and the entry of new users of the coastal space and resources. This balance is absent in the CMZ regime. It is biased in favour of the new users of the coastal space and resources and against the interests of the traditional users. The traditional users are at best tolerated but not given much scope for improving their lot. Coastal development is not conceived as something for the benefit of those living on the coast, but as a tool for opening up the coast to others and for the development of industries and big business. Fishing communities are not seeking concessions but demanding their rights!

6. Toothless tiger and cringing dragon: The CRZ regime has failed to protect the coast as visualised due to absence of any serious enforcement. The State Coastal Zone Management Authority is completely ineffective and a toothless tiger. The MoEF, despite all its powers, has preferred to be a dragon that cringes before the powerful moneyed interests and has allowed anarchic development to flourish on the coast. There is nothing in the CMZ notification that gives any hope that enforcement issues will be addressed. There is no provision for strengthening the enforcement or powers for taking strong punitive action. In fact, the switch to CMZ is seen as an attempt to help CRZ violators go scot-free.

7. Dubious process and poor track record: The road to the current CMZ notification is paved with many attempts by the MoEF to dilute the CRZ regime (through a series of amendments) with stiff resistance from environmental groups, fishing communities and other civil society groups. It is but natural that the latest offering of the Ministry is viewed with deep suspicion and seen as another attempt to scuttle a very essential regulation for the benefit of various business interests. The failure to consult the fishing communities during the Swaminathan committee process and the belated and poorly organised fishermen consultation in Bombay last year has alienated the community and it is not ready to take at face value any new notification issued by the MoEF. That the CMZ notification does not specify what will be done to punish those who have violated the CRZ till date, once the CMZ comes into vogue, is seen as yet another indicator of the real intentions of the Ministry.


[1] The Chairman Dr.M.S.Swaminathan is on record suggesting the invitation of fishermen representatives for the meetings but this was not followed up by MoEF.

All those wishing to comment on the CMZ draft notification, please do so before 30 June 2008.  BY post to: Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex, Lodi Road, New Delhi – 110003 or electronically to: secy@menf.nic.in

Letter from Pondicherry, India

When I was growing up in Pondicherry, a former French colony on the south-east coast of India, I would go with my family each Sunday to the beach. Everything about the beach seemed perfect back then: warm waters, yellow sand, swaying coconut trees, and lines of soft white surf that stretched across a green-blue horizon. It was like something from a postcard.

Thus begins Akash Kapur’s essay titled Letter from Pondicherry, India, published in Granta 101, a magazine published in the Spring of 2008.

But time does not stand still. The beach as I once knew it does not exist any more. It began to die in the late 1980s, when the government built a new port to the south of Pondicherry. Politicians promised that the port would bring in investment and power economic development. Who could argue with that? Within a few years, however, as even a cursory environmental assessment would have predicted, the yellow sand started disappearing, carried away by new currents that swept around the port, starved of replenishment when natural sand flows were blocked. Today the beach I used to visit with my family is gone.

Akash goes on to describe an encounter with a woman from the village of Chinnamudaliarchavadi, about ten kilometers north of Pondicherry.  The government of Pondicherry built three groynes (stone walls built perpendicular to the coast) intended to halt erosion, but which in fact, accelerated the process.  These groynes were built without environmental permission.

Outside a thatched hut, close to the ocean, M Valli, a single mother of two teenage boys, tells me that every night at high tide the waters advance into her hut, seeping into the single room where she tries to sleep with her sons. ‘At night, the sound of waves is like an earthquake,’ she says, in Tamil, her fingers pulling at her purple sari. ‘My children want to move away, they want to go somewhere else. But where can I go?’

Fishing communities north of the town of Pondicherry have all lost homes and livelihoods.

Valli has nothing. And the future holds nothing for her. I ask how she makes a living and she says she used to buy fish from the fishermen and resell them in the market. But now, since the beach has been eroded, there are hardly any fish.

And Pondicherry has become a walled city, looking more like a fort than the fabled city by the sea where “time stands still.”  The government has plans to build a new port, 20 times larger than the existing one, which has never been viable as a commercial port.

In the distance, I can see the town of Pondicherry, its sea wall a dark blur through the heat waves. I can’t see the port from where I’m standing, but I know that the Pondicherry government is talking about building a new and bigger one, just south of the existing site. Local environmentalists have warned that a new port risks destroying a hundred-mile stretch of the coast. But the government is insistent: India is developing, modernizing, and Pondicherry can’t be left behind.

Read the full essay as well as see the video on “The Disappearing Beach“.

List of Attendees for “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration”

To view the list of the people who attended the Consultation Meet on “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration” on 15 May 2008 at Town Hall in Auroville, please click on the link below.

List of Attendees

Welcome Speech – “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration”

Here is the text for the welcome speech delivered by Probir Banerjee, President, Pondy CAN, at the opening of the consultation meet on “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration” held at Town Hall in Auroville, 15 May 2008.

Good morning, bonjour, vanakkam.

Chief guest of today’s consultation meet Shri Harjit Singh Anand, Shri Negi-ji, distinguished panelists, senior government officials and friends,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this seminar on “Water Management through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration” jointly organized by Town and Country Planning (TCP), Govt of Pondicherry, L’avenir d’Auroville, Pondy CAN and INTACH.

We are indeed privileged to have with us this morning, Dr Harjit Singh Anand, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India. He was earlier head of the National Capital Region Board and is highly respected for his profound knowledge and vast experience. The National Capital Region is carved out from 5 states, namely Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan. We are most grateful to you Sir, for kindly accepting our invitation.

We are thankful to our eminent panel of speakers, our distinguished guests and the press for kindly agreeing to be with us this morning.

Friends, you will agree that it is time we take up this issue of water very seriously. It is said “The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water”. We keep reading in newspapers about people being killed in water disputes. Water is life. Water truly is everywhere; still most take it for granted.

Water is a key component in determining the quality of our lives. Contrary to the past, our recently developed technological society has become indifferent to this miracle of life. Our natural heritage, the lakes, rivers, seas and oceans, has been exploited, mistreated and contaminated. So much so that today, treatment of water for drinking is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity!

Integrated water management is vital for poverty reduction, environmental sustenance and sustainable economic development. National Water Policy (2002) envisages that the water resources of the country should be developed and managed in an integrated manner. Clean water is an investment in the future of our country.

We are happy that today we have all agreed to discuss the issue of water with a regional perspective as water knows no boundaries. As we look forward to learn from the distinguished speakers and specialists, let me quickly recapitulate some of the challenges we are facing regarding water in this region.

There is depletion of ground water due to over extraction, salt water intrusion into the aquifers, poor ground water recharge from the rains, contamination from open defecation, garbage, and industrial waste etc. The waste water is not treated (and thus not available for re-use) and just runs off into the sea thereby polluting that environment.

We are also happy that we have started off a consultative planning process involving all the stake holders, including the government agencies from both Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu, NGOs and citizens.

I have attempted to flag a few critical areas with the hope that this would elicit responses and reactions from the experts and practitioners present here. Seeing such a distinguished gathering, I am confident, significant recommendations and strategies will emanate from today’s deliberations, which will go a long way in helping us to develop strategies for this region’s water management.

And what better place to start this regional planning on water than Auroville. This once dry and arid land has become a forest, a classic example of excellent water management. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity. Auroville is conducting practical research on sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.

It is only by creating harmony not only among ourselves but with our environment that we can make this world a better place to live.

With these words, I once again welcome all of you.

Thank you.

Conclusions of 15 May 2008 Consultation Meet on “Water Management Through Integrated Planning and Regional Collaboration”

Dr. Harjit Singh Anand concluded the 15th May meeting by coming up with a strategy on how to collaborate to come up with The Habitat Plan for the Pondicherry Geographic Area (HPPGA).

The following Task forces are to be set up made up of the Chief Town Planner (CTP), Pondicherry, and appropriate members of the Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu administrations, PondyCAN, INTACH, L’avenir d’Auroville and necessary resource persons.
Task Force 1: Regional Planning
Task Force 2: Water
Task Force 3: Energy, including electricity, hydro, renewable, alternative, etc.
Task Force 4: Transportation, including MRTS
Task Force 5: Health, Education, Livelihoods (income generation), Rural and Urban poor
Task Force 6: Heritage, Conservation, Arts and Culture, Tourism
Task Force 7: Demography, Economics
Task Force 8: Environmental management and sustainability
A Component plan will have to be worked out on all these 8 issues.
In addition to setting up these task forces, the first task of the CTP, Pondicherry is to delimit the region and get back to Dr. Ananad on this by the 15th of June.
The next meeting is planned for the end of July and Dr. Karan Singh, Board member of the Auroville Foundation, will attend.