News Digest: February 2016
Centre gives fresh green clearance to Rs 11,370 crore Mumbai Trans Harbour Link. NEW DELHI: The Centre today issued a fresh coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance to the ambitious 22-km Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project worth Rs 11,370 crore.
The decision follows a National Green Tribunal (NGT)'s October order that had set aside the Environment Ministry's prior coastal clearance of 2013 to the project and asked it look into the proposal afresh.
Supreme Court says won’t stand in the way of projects of national importance: NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday said that it would not be intimidated by names of big investors such as Adanis, and would not stand in the way of national projects such as the Vizhingam port, which is being built on a BOT basis by the group, only for a few hundred fishermen. The top court also echoed a similar pro-development line on the Adanirun Hazira port on the western coast, permitting the port to continue operations while insisting that no further constructions be carried out while it dealt with an NGT order which had quashed its environment clearance following objections from local fishermen.
It is now a month since the floods hit Chennai and northern Tamil Nadu. People are now back at work but the impacts, especially on infrastructure are still evident. The bridge across the river at Saidapet still has sandbags piled in two places while in a third place a big jaali does the work of a railing. So what are the things that we have learnt?
News Digest: January 2016
Why does it take a disaster for people to wake up to problems of poor planning? Ten years ago it was Mumbai being battered by rain. A year ago, it was Vizag battered by Hud Hud. Now it is the turn of Chennai to be battered. We begin December with yet another rain holiday declared and the news that Chennai has just missed bettering a century old record for rain in November. Rain damages were pegged at over Rs 8000 crore about a fortnight ago for Tamil Nadu; with the continuing rain, the cost will only rise. And this just adds to the climate-related disasters that the UNISDR has been talking about: a new report released last week by them shows that over the last twenty years, 90 per cent of major disasters have been caused by 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events.
When the sun came out a few days ago after almost two weeks of rain, many stretches of the road looked in Chennai and suburbs looked as if a herd of elephants had trampled across. The damage which was pegged at over Rs 8000 crore is going to be much higher if rains continue to batter us as the weathermen have predicted. The loss is not just in terms of goods (tons of vegetables rotted away while provisions in many stores went underwater) and homes but also in terms of lost man-days at work (waterlogged industrial estates and access roads to working places) and lost working days for schools and colleges; and if you ask the students, the uncertainty about examinations is probably not quantifiable. But every report that has come out has been quite scathing: the floods are man-made. It is encroachment into wetlands, building in low lying areas, watersheds and so on that has resulted in this particular disaster.
Do we blame the people or the authorities for this mess?
Tamil Nadu deluge climate change trailer, matches global warming signs Heavy rains and deadly flooding in south India, a region that saw a killer heat wave this summer, are weather patterns that appear to fit the scenarios of climate change in India, IMD chief Laxman Singh Rathore has said. “They (emerging weather patterns) fit the larger picture of climate change predicted by Indian scientists as well as global reports,” Rathore told HT. Episodes of excessive rainfall are increasing while the number of rainy days is decreasing, Rathore, director-general of the India Meteorological Department, said. This year, the Met had predicted a scanty summer monsoon (14% deficient) but a heavier-than-normal October December winter monsoon in the south. One of the reasons for Chennai’s heavy rains is the ongoing El Nino weather pattern, which causes dry summers but wetter winters.
78 lighthouses to be developed as tourism hubs via PPP mode: The Ministry of Shipping on Thursday announced that the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships has drawn up a plan to develop 78 of the country’s 189 lighthouses as tourist-friendly destinations via the PPP model. While there is investor interest in the project, Mr. Gadkari said that there were some concerns. “There have been some concerns expressed by investors, especially with respect to Coastal Regulation Zone clearance, security clearance, support from Ministry of Shipping in the form of subsidy, etc,” he said. An Inter-Ministerial Group comprising representatives of the Ministries of Shipping, Tourism, and Environment, and also of the participating States will be set up to address these concerns and roadblocks. The development of these lighthouses as tourist attractions will involve the construction of hotels and resorts, thematic restaurants, viewing galleries, walk-in museums and other facilities.
It is the monsoon season. Heavy rain. Within minutes the roads are flooded. Vehicles churn their way through the water, revving up to ensure that the engine does not stall. A big vehicle does not realize its wake has almost capsized the two-wheeler that is following. Holding up an umbrella with one hand and the dress with another, a woman drags her feet carefully forward as the waters churn around her. This is in a relatively upmarket locality in the city. One wonders how many of the other areas, some quite low-lying, have fared in this short bout of rain. Soon there will be photographs and reports of flooding, waterlogging, damage to houses and infrastructure, especially roads, filling the newspapers.
Nothing new. Every bout of heavy rain in a state staring at water deficits is welcome. But useful only if the water is allowed to percolate. But where will it percolate if it is all built up? Housing and infrastructure demands have meant the rapid disappearance of ponds, tanks and marshes, big and small. And so flooding, and the need to rapidly get rid of the water through stormwater drains. And where does it go? Into the sea. Hence it is not surprising to note that since the 1970s, most disasters in Asia and the Pacific have had fewer than 100 fatalities but cumulatively have affected 2.2 billion people and caused over $400 billion worth of damage. Even this is believed to be quite an underestimate as many small disasters may go unnoticed and anyway, there is no standardized metric for disaster statistics.
The Ocean in Crisis
The report has used data from 1970 to 2012 - 42 years looking at trends in 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile and fish species from around the globe. The Living Planet Index for marine populations compiled for this report based on the above populations shows a decline of 49 per cent between 1970 and 2012. Habitat loss and exploitation are two major causal factors and it looks like climate change is going to be an equally important threat in the future as migration of populations of marine organisms, from plankton to fish, have been clearly noted.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the report is that it does not have pages of text. Rather, hard data and clear visuals emphasise the decline like no text can. In Chapter 2: Ocean Under Pressure, the visual highlighting statistics make worrisome reading: Did you know that 80% of tourism is based near the sea? And here we are, on the one hand, wanting to build ‘coast protection structures’: seawalls, groynes etc. because of erosion while calling for a dilution of the CRZ norms so that entire stretches of the coast can become tourism destinations! Going to the coast as a tourist is not a passive activity. There can be enormous environmental cost as the graphic shows.
Source: Living Blue Planet Report, p31.
More sea walls along Maharashtra’s coastline, environmentalists call it 'ecological blunder' In what environmentalists term an ecological blunder, sea walls are to be constructed along more shorelines across the state, including Mumbai. The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), in its 86th meeting, gave a green nod for the construction of anti-sea erosion walls on nine shorelines in Mumbai, and 17 across Thane, Raigad and Sindhudurg districts.
Baby Canal to Clean Cooum River: Chennai:After many initiatives to restore the severely-polluted Cooum river back to its days of glory, work on building a baby canal in the middle of the river has now begun. The move is expected to prevent stagnation and other related trouble and ensure the smooth flow of water in the river. The eight-metre wide canal will run from Parathipett Anaicut in Padi Kuppam to Chetpet, covering a distance of about 18 kilometres, as part of the Integrated Cooum River Eco-Restoration Plan.
Gender and Sanitation
While we are quick to talk in public about the growing scarcity of potable water or about water pollution, we are only now slowly accepting the fact that sanitation too needs to be talked about more than ever before. Focus on sanitation is not new though. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) previously called Total Sanitation campaign is a program following the principles of community-led total sanitation and was initiated by Government of India in 1999. Today we have the iconic Vidya Balan as the national sanitation brand ambassador flagging off "Changing Behaviour: Creating Sanitation Change Leaders" on August 25 calling for hygiene awareness and to stop open defecation.
Now, is it all that easy? Why is it that though most post-tsunami houses in Tamil Nadu had attached toilets but their usage is abysmally low? Why then are there are news reports of girls having refused marriage as the prospective marital home did not have a toilet facility?