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?