Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Viper Island Row: EIA in Haste!

LOA Vol 36 - Issue - 02 - 15 Oct 2012

Viper Island Row: No Public Consultation
EIA in Haste!

By Debkumar Bhadra

Every time I cross the Chatham Bridge, the Jetty-cum-Vehicle Ferry Ramp adjoining the bridge invariably captures my attention towards it. The more I try to look the other way, the more I feel drawn towards its abandoned status. The jetty inaugurated on 22/02/2002, despite every sincere effort, failed to serve the purpose for which it has been constructed. In the present article I will not be going into the inconveniences the passengers faced nor would I go into the operational difficulties which even the seasoned boat masters encountered in berthing while the jetty was put to use for a brief period. But I would certainly mention, had a proper site survey been conducted before construction of the jetty, the massive blunder could have been prevented from being committed.
The simplest tool that could have helped authorities take an informed decision on the suitability (or otherwise) of the particular site for construction of the jetty is a "Wind Rose" (now Compass Rose). It basically gives a graphic view of how wind speed and direction are typically distributed at a particular location.  As shown in the figure, each concentric circle represents a different frequency from zero at the center to increasing frequencies at the outer circles. Length of each "spoke" is related to frequency of the wind blowing from a particular direction per unit time and the color-coded bands show wind speed ranges over 16 cardinal directions, namely North (N), North of North East, (NNE), North East (NE), East of North East (ENE), East (E) and so on.
From the wind rose it is evident, directions between WNW and WSW is going to be "Calm" whereas S and NNW directions are going to be "windy" location. This foretells planners that structures facing S and NNW will encounter speedy winds thus construction in this direction must adopt necessary safeguards. In case, planners are looking for calm region, they need to go for location between WNW and WSW directions. Thus compiling wind rose constitutes a preliminary step in the planning stage for construction of airport runways, bridges, highrise buildings and Jetties as well.
In case of Chatham causeway jetty, overlooking this simple planning tool, led to construction of a jetty right in the path of prevalent wind, rendering the jetty unfit for the very purpose it has been constructed. Precious time, scarce resources and public funds gone into making of the Chatham causeway Jetty all ended up creating a colossal waste of magnanimous proportions.
One may think this is just one of its kind incidents. Unfortunately this is not "one of its kind" but in fact is "one" among "a spate of incidents" wherein one or the other mandatory planning tool has been overlooked. The proposed Entertainment Hub at Viper Islands as reported by The Light of Andamans (Vol 36, Issue 01) is the latest addition to the long list.
Going by the instant report one can conclude construction of Casino, Man Made Beach, Luxury Resorts, Cable car, 50 Berth Yacht Marina, 30 Bedded Hotel and a variety of other never thought of structures covering the entire length, breadth and the seas surrounding Viper island would require widespread landscaping and large scale felling of naturally gown trees. Whereas May 2002 Apex Court ruling restricting felling of naturally grown trees is already in the public domain.
Here it is worth quoting, the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 imposes certain restrictions and prohibitions on new projects or activities, or on the expansion or modernization of existing projects or activities based on their potential environmental impacts in accordance with the objectives of National Environment Policy as approved by the Union Cabinet on 18th May, 2006. The tourism related project on Viper Island is no exception.
Tools prescribed to forecast impacts the project is likely to have on the environment include the Prefeasibility Report, mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA), Public Consultation, and prior Environmental Clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Additionally clearance from Ministry of Defense is also a pre-requisite in this instant, since the project is planned near defense establishments.
The extant EIA Notification published in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part-II, and Section 3, Sub-section (ii), Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi dated 14th September, 2006 lists all tourism projects between 200m and 500m of high water line and at locations with an elevation of more than 1000m with investment of more than Rs 5 crores, as those requiring prior Environmental Clearance.
Therefore the tourism project titled Entertainment Hub at Viper Island including 50 Berth Yacht Marina and 30 Bedded Hotel must go through the procedural formalities mandated for Environmental Clearance. This also means Environmental Impact Assessment of the entire Viper Islands is required to be carried out by Project Proponents (A&N Administration) which must include Public Consultation (Public Hearing at the project site or in close proximity and obtaining responses in writing).
Since a short cut route has been charted surpassing mandatory assessments tools and consultation mechanisms, it perhaps remained hidden that, Viper being a tiny Island, its environment including natural forests, marine environment and the entire biodiversity associated with the island ecosystems are unique, fragile and sensitive to human interference. Since the proposed project envisages large scale landscaping, land use and meddling with marine environment, the project is bound to impact the islands unique ecosystem. Therefore apprehension raised against the project is only obvious.
Further during the past few years these islands witnessed a contrast in the approach of island Administration specifically in taking up projects and implementation of rule provisions relating to safety of environment. It is seen projects relating to tourism are being expedited whereas those concerning local residents gets held up at one or the other stage. One of the glaring example is the long pending demand for a bridge connecting Bambooflat and Chatham which has a direct bearing on the day-to-day life of more than a quarter of Islands population residing in rural South Andaman. As soon as NIT for feasibility study of the said bridge was released, one of the Administrations wing is known to have objected the bridge citing navigational problem. Thus the all important bridge has been shelved, without even conducting a feasibility study.
Also fisherfolks engaged in small (un-mechanised) dinghy fishing in the sheltered water near Haddo-Chatham-Dundaspoint and nearby sea are accused for blocking the navigational channel; harassed and shoved away. Ironically the same set of officials are either maintaining a tactical silence or playing a proactive role facilitating proposed 50 Berth Yacht Marina and a 30 Bedded Luxury Hotel at Viper, which certainly would attract large scale movement of yachts and boats occupying the navigational channel.
Similarly proposed construction of Ice plant at Hope Town, rural road from Shoal Bay -15 to the revenue village at Shoal Bay-19, extraction of timber, sea sand, quarry products for bonafide local consumption are all  blocked for environmental and other administrative reasons. Ironically the same set of officials now remain oblivious of the Viper Island project, surpassing mandatory planning procedures and clearances which eventually would result in re-writing the geography (and the history) of the entire Viper Island permanently.
In the current administrative setup where there exists no platform for Islanders to raise their concerns, doing away with Public Consultation (despite mandated under EIA rules) not only alienates local population, it attracts unnecessary media glare and public outcry. This is exactly what happened in the case of proposed Entertainment Hub at Viper Islands. Since conception till selective implementation of the project, local Islanders have been kept at bay. Thus Islanders sentimentally attached to Viper Islands for its role in India's freedom struggle and their fear of cultural degradation due to increased presence of foreigners in their sacred land remained unheard.
It has repeatedly been told Islanders are the target benefactors of such development projects and schemes. If it is so the Islander's deserves to be involved and heard by the Administration (project proponents). Alienation of locals would result in confrontationist approach besides casting serious aspersions.

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