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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The cost of the coast

The cost of the coast
The people of Mundra coast face a constant struggle to protect their commons, rights and the very socio ecological character of the region from the massive land use changes around them. Kanchi Kohli reports.

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30 August 2011 - Nearly 5000 fisher folk, salt pan workers, pastoralists and farmers of the Mundra coast embarked on a padayatra in early August, to Save the sea, Save the land, Save the environment of their region. The march, which started from Bhadreshwar village on 3 August reached the district headquarters in Bhuj on the following day, where a 31-point memorandum was submitted to the District Collector.

The march travelled through the villages of Wadala, Mokha Chokri, Kundhrodi, Patri, Wanki, Tappar, Babia, Kera, Baldiya, and Bharapar, and at each point more people joined in to walk in unison to protect their lives cultures and livelihoods which has been severely impacted by indiscriminate industrial expansion in the area.

Mundra is a coastal taluka in Kutch, the largest district of Gujarat. The area is known for its rich biodiversity, with a fascinating interplay of inter-tidal mudflats, mangroves housing a rich diversity of seaweed, corals, fishes and an array of marine life. The Mundra belt has always been considered to be extremely ecologically fragile. The region supports the lives and livelihoods of fishing, pastoral and farming communities, and their salt panning activity. The Kutch region is also internationally known to be a bird watching paradise - it is a very critical habitat for a number of resident and migratory birds, with Mundra itself being no exception.

All this ecological sensitivity and unique cultural significance has been under threat for quite some time now - due to rising industrial investments, especially from private sources. One of the most significant investors and developers of the Mundra coast has been the Adani group, which has spread over the Mundra landscape with its port facilities and power plants for which ore is imported from Adani-owned mines in Indonesia. The Tatas too have established themselves, and have set up a massive thermal power plant.

Government reports on the Mundra coast have repeatedly highlighted the huge environmental impacts in the area due to the rapid industrial expansion. A report of H S Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests, Gujarat Forest Department published in early 2007 pointed to the drastic loss of mangrove forests, mainly from industrial activities, specifically in the Gulf of Kutch. The report also brought out that in certain areas along the Gujarat coast like Mundra and Hazira, the mangroves disappeared overnight. The Mundra Special Economic Zone (SEZ) area set by the Adani group included 3000 hectares of mangroves, and much of this has been cleared.

Government reports on the Mundra coast have repeatedly highlighted the huge environmental impacts in the area due to the rapid industrial expansion.

Women warriors of the sea
Exempt, but not exempt
The clock is ticking

For the people of Mundra coast, this massive and and fast paced transition is now an everyday story. Theirs is a constant struggle to protect their commons, rights and the very socio ecological character of Mundra and surrounding coastlines from the massive land use changes being facilitated through approvals from the centres of power. The affected people have tried petitioning, dialogue with government officials, legal action, street protests and also sought media support at various points of time.

After continuous lobbying efforts, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2010 carried out a site inspection around the operations of two companies in Mundra. This was in response to a complaint filed by Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS) highlighting specific violations of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification and other laws. These were the operations related to the Adani-owned Mundra Port and SEZ Ltd (MPSEZ) and the OPG group which has proposed a thermal power plant to be set up in Bhadreshwar. The site visit was led by Dr. A Senthil Vel, Additional Director, MoEF on 6-7 December 2010, and included officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Gujarat Ecological Commission.

The site inspection confirmed the violations, and that both the OPG group and the MPSEZ were issued show cause notices on 15 December 2010. MPSEZ was questioned amongst other things about large scale reclamation using dredged material, mangrove destruction, obstruction of creeks and the natural flow of seawater, construction of a township and an airport without permissions, and so on. These were also considered to be violations of conditions laid down by the MoEF and accepted by MPSEZ when the waterfront development activities of the company were granted environment clearance under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification on 12 January 2009. MPSEZ was asked to respond to this show cause notice within 15 days.

What is ironic is that the decision on this show cause notice is still pending eight months after the notice was issued, and MPSEZ's activities are continuing unabated. The reason for the delay was a response that was awaited from the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) which was in turn waiting for CRZ demarcation maps based on which it could be ascertained whether legal violation has taken place or not.

It does not seem to matter if the destruction of mangroves, creeks, mudflats, inter tidal areas and many other fragile areas are ravaged completely and irreversible land use change be allowed for, irrespective of whether it is done legally or not. Social and environmental impacts will not be less irreversible if an activity has a official license or not.

The padayatra. Pic credit: MASS

The padyatra was an attempt to draw attention to this larger question. Among other things, it highlighted the complete dependence of the fish workers of Mundra on their traditional trade. The power plants create massive intake and outtake channels that have severely curtailed their access to the sea. Additionally, the discharge from the plants into the sea is of much higher temperatures than the sea, leading to dramatic impacts on ecosystem on which plankton and other sea life are dependent.

In the past few years fisher folks on the coast of Kutch have already reported significant reductions of their fish yields. Tragdi village, which is well known for lobster fishing, saw negligible yield during the 2010-2011 fishing season, said a press release issued during the padyatra.

The memorandum submitted to the District Collector has highlighted the extent and range of impact in the region. One specific instance elaborated was that of setting up of the 300 MW thermal power plant by the OPG group which has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gujarat government for a production capacity of 5000 MW. Pointing to the impacts from OPG's first phase of operations, the memorandum states that the plant will impact the lives of over 6000 fisher folk in Bhadreshwar. In addition, the livelihood of 5000 salt-pan workers and 7000 farmers and Maldharis, who depend on the gauchar (grazing) land of the village and on farming, is also threatened by the OPG power plant (see this earlier article).

The memorandum, with its 31 contentions, has requested the Collector to ask the government to safeguard the constitutional right of life, and the dignity of the people of the area. It has also sought clear accountability from the government with respect to its facilitation of extractive industrial takeover of the Mundra coastline.

While the people's determination is yet again inspiring, the real question is: what can we expect from the decision-making desks?

Kanchi Kohli
30 Aug 2011

Kanchi Kohli is based in New Delhi and a member of the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group.

Monday, August 1, 2011

MASS Padyatra

Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan

Address: At & Post Bhadreshwar, Ta: Mundra, Kutch – 370411

Email: Phone: 9426469803 Website:

Reference Date August 4, 2011



Concluding their historic journey in Bhuj today over 5000 fisher folk, salt pan workers, pastoralists, and farmers from several villages in Mundra Taluk submitted a memorandum to the collector’s office today. United under the banner “Save the sea, save the land, save the environment” the fisher folk and farmers were protesting the destruction of their livelihood by power plants in the area constructed by industrial giants such as Adani and TATA. They beg

an their historic padyatra from Bhadreshwar yesterday and were joined by Punamben Madam, BJP MLA Mahua Dr. Kanubhai Kalsaria and Local Leader Kiritsinh Jadeja , Husen Kara, Amd Elias Majaliya also present at the inauguration of the padyatra spoke passionately about the needs of fisher folks and salt pan workers. The Padyatra stopped at Kera gaam and spent the night with lively songs, slogans, and speeches on their efforts to save their livelihood. Leaving early next morning the yatra reached Bhuj mid day to be joined by more people in support and solidarity of the movement.

The padyatra was initiated by the threat of destruction of bhanders (where fisher folk live during the 9 months fishing season) by the British based OPG power plant and the KPGL power plant (Kutch Power Generation Limited). The two power plants have severely curtained the fisher folk’s access to the sea as well as destroying their fish yield as a consequence of the outlet channels. The energetic gathering which included women and children bearing signs and slogans highlighted issues that have threatened their livelihood for the past several years.

The 31 point memorandum that was submitted to the collector’s office detailed the adverse impact on the lives of all these communities by companies such as ADANI Mundra Port and SEZ, KPGL, OPG and TATA power plants. The memorandum states that in Bhadreshwar the lives of over 6000 fisher folks are at stake should the OPG plant come up. In addition, the livelihood of 5000 salt-pan workers and 7000 farmers and Maldharis, who depend on the Gauchar land of the village and on farming, is also threatened by the OPG power plant. Mega Ports, SEZs, power plants, desalination plants are concentrated on the coastline between Bhadreshwar and Mandvi which has been declared ecologically sensitive and is the home of traditional communities involved in fishing, salt making, agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the study conducted by the Institute of Ocean Management, Anna University, Chennai the coastal strip from Luni to Vandi is especially susceptible to erosion, and should the power plants be established the area will suffer irretrievable damage. The Mundra coastline is unique for its mangrove forests which is a delicate ecological system that harbours crustacean and other protected species and provides a natural defence against cyclones. However since 1998, 3000 hectares of mangrove forests have been illegally destroyed by Adani group. In spite of media attention and ministry’s assurances that action will be taken, no action has been taken so far and the destruction of mangroves continues till date.

Furthermore, recognizing the severe problem of fresh water shortage in the area, the Government of Gujarat has already spent the sum of Rs. 8 crores on the area between the OPG Power Project and KPGL Power Ltd in order to create bunds to prevent salinity by conserving rain-water. However the power projects will render the effort a failure.

People fear that the Gulf of Kutch has exceeded its carrying capacity due to indiscriminate industrial expansion on either side. However the government has no study of the combined impact of the effluent discharged by all the industries and approves every project by examining each project individually. In the interests of the communities that survive on the natural resources of the Gulf of Kutch, It is imperative to understand the cumulative impact of all the industries to ensure that the ecology of the Gulf of Kutch is not irreversibly damaged and destroyed.

In addition to the destruction of the marine environment, land in Mundra has been severely affected. The corrosive smoke discharges from coal burning in the power plans have already caused extensive damage to salt pans, which is a major occupation in the area (Kutch produces nearly 70% of Gujarat’s salt production). Salt is gathered for drying onto flats, because of the smoke discharge, the top layer of the salt turns black and affects the quality. Efforts to maintain quality by removing the entire top layer results in a significant loss in weight to the output of salt pan workers who are finding it increasingly hard to eke out a living. The smoke discharge has also had an adverse impact on fisher folk who dry their fish on lines before it goes to the market. Similar to the salt, the smoke discharge sticks to the drying fish affecting their quality and making them unsuitable for consumption. While smoke stacks cause damage to the salt pans, the intake and output lines to cool the power plants have resulted in increasing the salinity of the ground water in several villages. For instance 1600 hectares of chikoo, coconut and date farms have been destroyed as consequence of ground water salination due to the Adani’s sea water channels in the area. The channels draw large quantities of sea water and lead to destruction of marine organisms, including fish, thereby affecting the livelihoods of fisher folk. On the 15th of December 2010 the company was served a show-cause notice by the Ministry of Forest and Environment as this illegal encroachment violates the CRZ Notification. However, despite the show-cause notice no worthwhile action has been taken either by the company or by the administration.

The fish workers of Mundra solely depend on fishing and are particularly vulnerable because they need access to the sea and the fish to make a living. The power plants create massive intake and outtake channels that have severely curtailed fisher folk's access to the sea. Additionally, the discharge by the plants into the sea after cooling the plant is of water temperatures higher than the sea. Even small changes in water temperature of the sea results in dramatic impact of the fragile ecosystem on which plankton and other sea life are dependent. In the past few years fisher folks on the coast of Kutch have already noticed drastic change resulting in significant reduction of their fish yields. In Tragdi village for example, which is well known for lobster fishing, during the 2010-2011 fishing season, the yield of lobster was negligible.

The combined impact of the projects on the environment, land and sea has long term impact on the lives of large traditional communities of Kutch. Realising that their future is bleak and their very survival is under serious threat, the fisher folk, salt pan workers along with pastoralists and farmers united with the fisher folk under the banner of the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghatan the memorandum to the collector asked the government to safeguard the constitutional right to live and dignity and seek accountability from the Government demanding that they be allowed to pursue their traditional livelihoods and lead a dignified life.