Shifting sands: A fishing village lost to sea


By Nityanand Jayaraman at  http://tnlabour.in/, a bilingual blog site dedicated to discussing issues related to labour in Tamil Nadu. This site is set up and run by a small group of volunteers.

A photo taken in June 2011. As of 6 November, 2012, the building is in ruins, and the beach has disappeared into sea

P. Jagan is a kattumaram fisherman, a trade that has changed little in centuries. Early most mornings, Jagan launches his boat through the pounding surf and paddles his way to the fishing grounds of his choice. The sea, it appears, has been kind to him.

His house, situated in a row of identical concrete houses closest to the sea, is well-lit and spacious. A washing machine, refrigerator, wide-screen TV and other assets suggest that Jagan has not done too badly for himself with just the kattumaram. As boats go, the kattumaram — with its five logs hewn from the wood of the Albizzia tree, and lashed together — is an efficient and light surf-riding, beach landing vessel. Jagan has been facing one problem, though. The beach outside his home is shrinking.

“The sea has come in,” he says. Looking east from his house, the proof of his claim is visible. A 2-metre high wall of granite boulders lines the village. Unlike many of the other fishing villages on the East Coast Road, Jagan’s village — Sulerikattukuppam or Kattukuppam for short — has no beach. On the Northern edge of the village, near the temple where the line of rocks end, there is a small beach. But this too is rapidly shrinking, as the boulders divert the waves northwards. With every pounding wave and its backwash, a valuable piece of Kattukuppam is lost to the sea.

“We had 47 fibre boats, and 17 kattumarams in our village before the Thane cyclone (2011),” Jagan says. “The cyclone damaged the boats, and many didn’t feel it was worth replacing the boats. Now, there are only 24 boats and 14 kattumarams. There is no place to park our boats. The ocean trade (kadal thozhil) is finished. That’s all sir,” he says.

The cause of Kattukuppam’s misery is a 100 million litres per day desalination plant being constructed at the southern edge of the village by VA Tech Wabag for the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

Beaches are dynamic formations, waxing and waning with changing seasons. India’s east coast is influenced by two monsoons – the Northeast and the Southwest. For nine months, including during the southwest monsoon, ocean currents move sand northwards feeding the beaches along the way. Briefly, for three months during the Northeast, the silt is transported from south to North. It is a known fact that any hard engineering structure constructed on India’s eastern coastline will cause erosion of the beaches north of the structure.

Such erosion, they said, would not only expose them to the fury of storms but also cost them precious beach space. Besides being the space for storing craft and mending gear, beaches are also used for fishing. Kattukuppam has eight shoreseine nets. These nets are dragged into sea by a boat, with one end held on to by 10 to 15 fishermen standing on the beach. The boat then makes a loop and returns to the beach encircling the target shoal of fish. The other end of the net is handed over to a second team of 10 to 15 able-bodied men, who then drag back the heavy net, hopefully made heavier by a healthy catch of anchovies or shrimp. Shoreseines are communal nets that are deployed when the sea is flat as glass, usually in the late and post-monsoon months of December, January and February. But these nets require vast amounts of beach space, wide enough to accommodate 15 men standing 2-3 metre apart and long enough to allow for the net to encircle a 100 metre-wide shoal of fish in the nearshore waters. On a lucky day, a shoreseine can haul in several lakhs worth of fish.

Jagan is rueful. “This year, it looks like the shoreseine will not touch water even once. We even lost one net last month. We had kept it on the beach. The sea took it,” he said simply. “We have moved the remaining into the casuarina grove. They are very expensive. Each net costs more than Rs. 2 lakhs.”

Even when it was coming up, fisherfolk protested. They complained that the highly saline rejects from the desalination plant will poison the sea near their village, and harm fishing livelihoods. More importantly, they worried that the structures built in sea for sucking in seawater or discharging wastewater will trigger sea erosion.

In typical fashion, the wisdom behind the fisherfolk’s protests was brushed aside. Protestors were brutalised by the police; a few contracts were given to a handful of big people in the village. The collector assured the villagers of jobs in the water factory.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board issued a Consent to Establish in August 2009. Experts nominated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests claimed to have studied engineering and environmental impact assessment reports and granted CRZ clearance to the project. Scientists averred that there would be no detrimental or unmanageable environmental consequences. The drone of the institutionalised expert drowned the rustic wisdom of the subaltern.

“What can a small fishing village do against these giants?” asks Jagan, looking towards Metro Water’s massive water tanks that can be seen towering over the village.

Construction at the plant began in 2010 with a row of pilings driven into sea. In June 2011, when the author visited the village, erosion was already at an advanced stage. Sandbags had been thrown at the waterline – a puny attempt to thwart the sea. The fall from the beach to the water was already very steep. The foundations of a community hall, used by the fisherfolk to mend nets, stood exposed and eroded. Storm surges had already taken a toll on the building, and cracks were evident.

These buildings were built by the Rotary Clubs of Chennai and Mumbai after the tsunami. They wanted to develop Sulerikattukuppam as a model fishing village. “At that time, the sea was far away,” said Jagan. “All that was beach,” he said with a sweep of his hands covering a 20 to 50 metre expanse of water.

Between June 2011 and now, two cyclones – Thane and Nilam – have battered the coast. “Had the sea been where it had, with the beach separating us, we would have been fine.” A row of community structures – the net mending hall, a community gathering hall, a wall-less hall with a roof supported on pillars – that once defined the eastern edge of the village now lie in ruins.

Advancing steadily northwards, the erosion is now eating into the beaches of Nemmelikuppam, nearly 1.5 km away. According to Jagan, those villagers too have now sent a letter of complaint to the authorities. A mapping study done using a handheld GPS meter and Google Earth images suggests that anywhere between 2.5 acres to 12 acres of beach may have already been lost to erosion.

“The Collector tells us that the pilings will be removed by February, after which there will be no problem. But we know that is not true. They have dumped huge concrete boulders – each weighing hundreds of tons – to anchor down the pipes for taking in seawater and letting out effluents. These boulders form a submarine wall that will prevent the sand from moving north,” he says. “Will they remove this too?”

Jagan’s wife brings out a bottle of “ice-water” for us. That water is from a hand-pump near his house. Almost anticipating my next question, she tells me with a laugh that even this water will turn salty now that the sea has moved closer to the village. It is ironic that a desalination plant set up to turn salt water into fresh water ends up turning fresh water saline.

From nuclear plants to desalination plants, the standard response to protests is police action and the banal promise of employment. About 160 people work as daily labour on and off in the water factory. “Their job is to wash pebbles,” says 30-year old housewife S. Kavitha. Men get about Rs. 300 a day, and women about Rs. 200. “My husband goes there for some extra income if he has free time. But washing pebbles isn’t exactly a livelihood,” Kavitha says with a smile.

The Government seems none too bothered by the plight of the 217 families in this village. Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa plans to inaugurate the desalination plant early next year. Another plant, four times this size, is proposed at an as-yet undisclosed location in Kanchipuram district.

 

Setback for OPG Power plant, Kutch,Gujarat


Buisness Standard  New Delhi Feb 15, 2012

In a major setback to OPG Power Gujarat, the National Green Tribunal has directed it to stop work at its 300 Mw thermal power plant at Bhadreshwar, Gujarat.

The ongoing construction work was challenged before the Tribunal by fisherfolk, saltpan workers and local villagers. The Tribunal said till all approvals were obtained by the project proponent, no construction activity should take place, said Ritwik Dutta, legal counsel for the appellants.

The Tribunal is a specialised body having the expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. It was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection.

OPG Power started construction work without the required approvals, including those under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and CRZ clearance. This projectis located in Mundra Taluk, Kutch district.

On its website, the company had said “work had begun on the site. The generating plants are scheduled to be commissioned in 2013.”

The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) earlier this month had issued a showcause notice to OPG Power, seeking explanation on the violation of the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification, 2011, in the construction of the plant in the ecologically sensitive Bhadreshwar coast.

In the showcause notice, it has asked the company why the clearance issued to it in September 2011 under the CRZ notification should not be kept in abeyance after cases of violations by the company surfaced.

The NGT in its judgment cited the environmental clearance letter, which clearly stipulates that the project proponent shall not start any construction or project enabling activities unless and until environmental clearance as well as all requisite prior permission and clearances are obtained.

Background

Following mass protests in Kutch along the sea shore, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, has issued a strongly-worded notice to OPG Power Gujarat Ltd, currently involved in building a 300 MW power plant in Mundra taluka ofKutchdistrict, saying it has violated provisions of the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) notification of 2011. The plant is being built near village Bhadreshwar, about 25 kilometres from theMundraPortand about 48 kilometres from the Kandla port, and its ultimate goal is to expand its capacity to 2,600 MW.

The notice, dated February 6, 2012, and sent to the OPG’s head office in Chennai, says, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) appraised the project twice, on February 14-15, 2011, and April 5-6, 2011. However, the OPG failed to bring to the notice of the EAC the “involvement of forest land.” Scheduled to be commissioned in 2013, equipment has been ordered from the vendors, including Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, to complete the work on the plant. OPG hired Tata Consulting Engineers for providing engineering expertise and Gannon Dunkerley for civil construction.

The notice said, OPG in its justification of the violation argued that after obtaining CRZ clearance in November 2011 it “became aware that that the most viable route for the sea water pipelines would pass through a very small tract of land, which is forest land, and it applied to the deputy conservator of forests for diversion of 3.68 hectares (ha) forest land for laying down the proposed sea water pipelines.” Rejecting the argument, the notice underlined, “Disclosure of information after appraisal of the project amounts to suppression of information by the project proponent before the Ministry and EAC at the time of appraisal.”

Citing rules, the notice said, “If a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should be started till approval of the Central government for release of forest land under the Act has been given.” Given this situation, the OPG has been asked to give an explanation within a fortnight, as “CRZ clearance issued to the project cannot be kept in abeyance.” If no response is received, the notice warns, the MoEF will be obliged to take “appropriate orders” without any further notice.

Among those opposing the OPG’s power project include fisherworkers, salt pan workers and grazing communities living on the Bhadreshwar coast, who believe that the plant as serious impacts as it would bring about adverse impact on their livelihoods. They have held several protests since 2009 under the banner of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS), a fishworker’s trade union.

The OPG Group’s initial public hearing in 2009 to set up the 300 MW thermal plant was met with stiff opposition from local communities whose livelihoods were under threat due to the project. While theGujaratgovernment’s State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) was still deliberating on the issue, OPG applied to MoEF for expansion to 2600 MW. “The pending approval from the SEIAA was not at all mentioned in the application to the MoEF”, a MASS statement said, adding, “This piece of information was only revealed when an RTI application was filed by MASS.”

MASS statement statement further said, “On September 16, 2011 the company got its approval under the CRZ notification, but with a long list of conditions attached. However, the forest permission (needed to convert lands for non-forest use) was granted. Yet, the company started its construction and went ahead without obtaining necessary clearances.” MASS wrote a letter dated November 1, 2011 to the Union environment minister, forest department, police department officials highlighting this violation and urging immediate action. Yet, it fell on deaf ears, till the latest notice to OPG on February 6, 2012.