Archive for March, 2007

Corruption in India – Part IV

Part IV – Environmental and Economic Damage

Prologue: Government Mismanagement and Neglect

Once upon a time, not very long ago, the town of Pondicherry had a beautiful beach that stretched along the long, scenic sea road. This beach was a wonderful resource for the residents, fishermen, tourists, and people from the rural areas around Pondicherry.

One day, the Government of Pondicherry decided to build a new harbor at the mouth of the Ariyankuppam river and asked the Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS, a government research institution) of Pune to undertake a study of the project. CWPRS concluded that adequate precautions needed to be taken to provide sand nourishment in the northern region of the port in order to prevent erosion and in order to ensure the safety of the coastline considering the importance of the property north of the river mouth – that is to say, the city of Pondicherry.

The Government began construction of the harbor in 1986 and finished in 1989. However, the Government did not effectively use or manage the facilities put in place to dredge sand and nourish the beaches north of the river mouth as recommended by CWPRS. All the sand was trapped south of the breakwater at the harbor mouth and the coastline north of the breakwater was starved of sand. As a result, today, in less than 20 years, 7 kilometers of beach (several million cubic meters of sand) has been eroded. Pondicherry no longer has a beach. Every year, more rocks are piled on the seawall that the Government has built, at great expense, to try and stop the erosion, but which only compounds the damage. Erosion is taking place at a rate of 350 meters a year!

There has been extensive damage to property – hundreds of houses in Kottakupam have literally fallen into the sea – as well as to the livelihoods of the coastal communities, many of which depend on traditional fishing with small boats – the fishermen have no place to “park” their boats as the beaches have been washed away. In addition, sea water has entered the groundwater, affecting most of the shallow wells used by the coastal communities, causing water shortages.

Now, boys and girls, the Government of Pondicherry has given a concessional agreement to a private development consortium, Pondicherry Port Limited, to build, operate and transfer (BOT) a port 10 times bigger than the existing port that has already caused so much environmental damage. As indicated in earlier posts, this agreement was made by corrupt officials and developers, without following procurement procedures, for activities illegal under the Coastal Regulation Zone. In addition, none of the environmental regulations have been followed.

Loopholes in the EIA

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was prepared with no terms of reference. Halcrow Consulting Limited (Halcrow) did not reference any baseline data. Nor did they attach any supporting data or documents. There are factual errors in their report in terms of wind direction and littoral drift (movement of sand along the coast). In fact, they claim that additional, comprehensive studies need to be undertaken to fully understand the impact of the breakwaters on sediment movement. [Isn’t that the purpose of this EIA?] They also recommend the outrageous dumping of all wastes (except plastics) from the ships that call on the port in the sea. And, they do not address the exchange of water from the deep water harbor (the sand that will be dredged from the harbor will be used to reclaim land for real estate development) with the shallow water outside the harbor.

They do raise a few issues of social and ecological impact, but there is no assessment of the extent of the damage, and no proposal for remediation.

  • The water table is already low, and the port will use more water.
  • Dredging will affect the ground water and could induce saline water intrusion [which is already happening from the effects of coastal erosion].
  • Spillage and leakage of oil from the ships and port into the sea.
  • Solid and hazardous wastes from dredging and from the ships may contaminate the land and water, adversely affecting the existing marine ecosystem.
  • Impact on the local people by the acquisition of land, relocation of housing, and the change of land use.

The report mentions that fishermen using larger boats [read: trawlers – which are controversial] will be unaffected, but there is no mention on the impact on the traditional fishermen, who actually live in the coastal communities. [Trawlers are owned by businessmen or business consortia who do not live in the area and indiscriminately drag their nets, over-fishing the area and creating ecological damage to the marine ecosystem.]

I wonder if Pondicherry Port Limited or the Government of Pondicherry have any plans to do anything about any of these problems?

Bronx High School of Science Class of 1977 – Mini Reunion in New Delhi

“What has it been – 30 years since we’ve seen each other?”  “No”, I say, disbelieving, “it can’t be – it’s got to be 20-something. ”  “Yes it is – 30 years – 1977 to 2007”, insists Adnan.  Well, duh, if you want to get all math and science about it! (I was always better in English, anyway.)

Adnan Siddiqi, Counselor for Cultural Affairs, U.S. Embassy of New Delhi, is still a nerd.  Really nice, but a nerd.  He’s got his diploma from Science (I don’t even know where mine is; I would say that my parents had it, but I know that at some point in my adulthood, my father gave me all the important documents up to that point in my life as a rite of passage – biiig mistake, Dad), as well as  every other diploma and award he has ever received, hanging on the wall in his office at the American Center near Connought Place in New Delhi, he has taken his family to visit Bronx Science every year that they are back in the U.S. (last year, they even went in and got a tour!), and he has Googled classmates.  Science is a special place, but really!

The Bronx High School of Science is one of three  specialized public high schools in New York City with a focus on math and science.  The other two are Stuyvesant (our major competitor) and Brooklyn Tech.  Sometime in eighth grade, in Junior High School 80 in the Bronx, I took a test, not knowing what it was for, and discovered that I had placed into Bronx Science.  (Later, I had discovered that some of my classmates had auditioned for the High School of Performing Art (of “Fame” fame) or presented portfolios for the High School of Music and Art.)

Junior High School 80 was a pretty tough place.  Many of my classmates did not go on to high school because they had to get jobs to support their families, and many got married shortly thereafter.  When I got to the Bronx after spending a year in West New York, New Jersey, fresh off the boat from Uganda, I was placed in class 8-5, sort of mid-level in the academic range in the eighth grade, because the school had no history to guage my academic performance, and I had not taken a foreign language class.  So, after a week being intimidated by girls with bulging muscles and made to take attendance every day, I was moved up to 8-1, and a few days after that, 8-SPE (special).  I was coasting on the strength of my primary school education in Uganda, a legacy of the British.  I don’t remember much about my experience at J.H.S. 80 except that there were many times that I wished I would get a “B” or a “C” so that I would fit in with the rest of my classmates in 8-5, and hopefully, not get beaten up.

My first day at Bronx Science, I quickly learned that many of my classmates were certified geniuses, and that I had no hopes of competing with anyone there.  Plus, the school had no rankings, and gave out a special diploma – no need to compete!  I basically hung out with the black kids in the lunchroom and played cards (Hearts) everyday.  That was my only socializing with the kids at school.  We didn’t have the same sort of “school spirit” that “normal” schools had because most of the kids rushed to take buses and subways for their hour to hour and a half commutes back home in every borough of New York City.  We didn’t have a football team or a swimming pool (when I went there).  Instead, we had speech and debate teams and a bowling team!

I met Adnan and his colleagues in the Cultural Affairs bureau of the American Embassy on 5 March in conjuction with our Friends Without Borders project.  (Adnan recognized my name when we submitted our names for clearance the day before our meeting at the American Center.)  The next day, Mark and I had a lovely evening with Adnan and his wife Raja and met one of their three kids (two boys and a girl).  We discovered that we had both taken AP (advanced placement) English and History (European history, I think) and both agreed that Mr. Rifkin, our AP English teacher was one of the best teachers we’d ever had.

Adnan, Raja, and Mark are all trying to convince me to go to our 30th reunion, which Adnan informs me may be in October this year.  I would, but I’ll be rafting through the Grand Canyon then.  Really.

Corruption in India – Part III

The Pondicherry Port – A Cover-up for Illegal Real Estate Development

The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 1991 issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 places restrictions on industries, operations and processes in the CRZ areas (which extend up to 500 m from the High Tide Line (HTL) and the land lying between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL).

Some of the prohibited activities in the CRZ are:

  • setting up of new industries and expansion of industries except those directly related to waterfront or directly needing foreshore facilities.
  • any construction activity between the LTL and HTL except facilities for carrying treated effluents and waste water discharges into the sea.
  • land reclamation for commercial purposes such as shopping and housing complexes, hotels and entertainment activities.
  • mining of sand, rocks, and other substrata material.
  • manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances.
  • harvesting or drawing of ground water and construction of mechanisms within 200 m of HTL.

CRZ 1

Areas that are ecologically sensitive and important such as national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, wildlife habitats, mangroves, corals/coral reef areas; areas close to breeding and spawning grounds of fish and other marine life, areas of outstanding beauty/areas rich in genetic diversity, historically important or heritage areas, areas likely to be inundated due to rising sea level consequent upon global warming and such other areas, as may be declared by the Central and State Government at the State or Union Territory level from time to time.

Pondicherry Port Limited (PPL), a consortium jointly owned by Subhash Projects & Marketing Limited (SPML) and Om Metals, signed a concession agreement with the Government of Pondicherry on 21 January 2006. The Pondicherry port development falls under CRZ 1. Port activities are permitted under CRZ 1, but real estate development is not. Based on the Environmental Impact Assessment report submitted by Halcrow Consulting India Limited (www.halcrow.com), the consultants for SPML, it is clear that the port, as proposed by SPML, is a cover-up for major real estate development on what will become prime beach-front property.

  1. SPML proposes a 20 million metric ton/year port “consisting of containers, liquid and general cargo, coal and iron ore, along with port associated facilities such as cruise terminal station & associated accommodation, retail area, offices, recreational centre, service apartments, and 3 & 4 star hotel for operators and tourists and others visiting the port”. To elaborate (quoting from the executive summary of the Environmental Impact Assessment report submitted by Halcrow, dated February 2006), the following essential development and facilities are planned along with the port expansion and modernization:
    1. Cruise terminal station and associated accommodation for cruise operators, tourists, and others.
    2. Meeting, incentive, conference, and exhibition center.
    3. Shopping/retail area for cruise , passengers, and other tourists.
    4. Offices for cruise, passengers, and toursits.
    5. Offices for various port operators, clearing and forwarding agents, and associated port business.
    6. Accommodation for the people associated with port directly and indirectly.
    7. Entertainment/recreational centre and area for people directly and indirectly involved in port operations and business.
    8. Parking area.
    9. Service apartments.
    10. 3/4-star hotel.
  2. Average traffic over the past 17 years has been 47,000 tons/year. No detailed local demand data has been provided by Halcrow.
  3. The project is not viable without the real estate component. However, as indicated above, hotels, shopping complexes, etc. are not permitted under the CRZ Act.
  4. “Facilities in the new port have been developed to cater for the forecast cargo demand [even though there is no demand forecast for the Pondicherry port] allowing for the maximum size that the land area including additional land to be provided by the Pondicherry Government and reclaimed land available for the port development can handle.” In other words, the port has been sized for the land to be made available to SPML, rather than the projected demand for the port.
  5. The port has been sized to the maximum amount of land to be made available. However, each phase of the four-phased project is dependent on traffic forecasts and financial viability, allowing the option for a much smaller port. The remaining land will be used for…?
  6. The project cost for this port is estimated to be Rs. 2700 crore – an unjustifiable number based on other port developments. With the JNPT port as a reference, this port should not cost more than Rs. 700 crore. The remaining Rs. 2000 crore be used for…?

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