Sunday, December 30, 2007

Undoing the damage?

President Smt. Pratibha Patil planting a casuarina sapling at Wandoor where the A&N admin cut down scores of trees for her visit there. (Photo: Press Information Bureau)

(Clarification issued by the A&N Admin)
The Daily Telegrams
December 28, 2007

Apropos the news item appearing in the Indian Express and the Andaman Express dated 27.12.2007 it is to be clarified in this connection that on the basis of the report received from the local Air Force Authorities requiring clearance of obstacles including trees in the funnel area of Wandoor helipad, the Department of Environment & Forests has given no objection to Andaman PWD to remove and to prune some trees to provide safe and free movement of VVIP helicopter at Wandoor Helipad. Cutting of these trees will not create any environmental damage as these trees are Casuarina species which were planted in the past primarily to beautify the beach. However, some trees to be pruned and very few trees coming coming within the funnel area had to be removed for safe landing and take-off of the VVIP helicopter. Felling of these trees do not attract the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act 1980. In replacement of trees removed, the Forest Department will undertake planting suitable species in the blank areas.
As regards other reports relating to cutting of large number of trees in Havelock Island and Port Blair Municipal area, it is to clarify that not a single tree has been cut; only pruning of branches of avenue trees has been carried out wherever it is needed for reasons of the security of the VVIP, says a press note issued by the A&N Administration here today.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good news on the tsumani's third anniversary

Nicobar coconut
18 months before the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami struck the islands in the Andaman Sea, I was fortunate to be invited on an expedition to the Andaman & Nicobar islands.

In addition to making a rare ascent of Barren Island, the team was granted a permit to sail to the island of Car Nicobar, which until we arrived had only been visited by one non-Indian national since Independence in 1947.

We were only allowed to stay for one day, but during that time we were royally entertained by the Nicobarese. Warm memories of our experiences (which included traditional circular dancing, local cuisine, and pig wrestling) linger long in my memory.

When the Tsunami struck, I was left feeling upset and impotent. Desperate to do something – anything – for the survivors, I linked up with one of the expedition's photographers, Martin Hartley. We contacted Geographical magazine with a proposal for a story about the islands, and subsequently directed our fees for the article towards the Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL). One of FERAL's trustees is Dr Rauf Ali, a scientist living in the Andamans who accompanied the 2003 expedition.

Unloading DeeganPress
Over the past two years, FERAL has been designing a low-cost coconut press to enable the Nicobarese to extract oil from their groves. The coconut oil can then sold directly to businesses, ensuring that all profits flow into the hands of the people who need it most. The money from our article was used to build a prototype. Earlier this year, using some funds from FERAL, Rauf took the unit (which the organisation named 'DeeganPress') to Car Nicobar. The large box required several people to help unload it.

Teddy Bear Nicobar
Since the start of 2005, the Nicobarese people have been subjected to a barrage of visits from high profile charities, which has resulted in very little aid: the few items sent to the island have been largely useless (boxes of teddy bears, anyone?). Understandably, the local population was initially sceptical of Rauf's proposal. However, once the unit was unwrapped and they saw it in action, Rauf told me that everyone's mood visibly changed.

Every village on Car Nicobar requested their own DeeganPress, and the long process of raising the necessary funds began. The latest news is that the Government of India's Ministry of Science and Technology has agreed to fund the new prototypes.

Testing DeeganPress
While there is now sufficient cash to build the next generation of prototypes, the marketing of the cold pressed coconut oil in India – perhaps as much as 6000 litres a month from the outset – is one of the big issues that remains to be tackled. Which is where you come in. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how to create this link in the marketing chain, please shoot Rauf a message. He'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tree Cutting at Wandoor - More pictures

Some more pictures of the tree cutting in Wandoor.
These pictures are from Manak Matiyani. Email:

Tree Cutting At Wandoor - President in the islands

Dear Friends,
Here are some pictures of what is being written about - tree cutting in a number of places for the visit of the President Smt. Pratibha Patil to the islands. The pictures posted here are from one location, the beach front near the helipad at Wandoor. We will upload more pictures as and when they become available.

Tree Cutting at Wandoor for the President' visit, December 2007
(Photo: Zubair Ahmed/The Light of Andamans)

Tree Cutting at Wandoor for the President' visit, December 2007
(Photo: Zubair Ahmed/The Light of Andamans)

The same site a few months ago - August 2007. The helipad is just to the right of picture and outside the frame (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

The same site at Wandoor in August 2007. The helipad is behind the line of casuarina trees that can be seen here (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

When President Patil checks in, quite a lot have to check out

by Shubhajit Roy

Posted online: Wednesday, December 26, 2007 at 0000 hrs

VISIT 60 trees cut in Andamans for helipad; all bookings in two Govt resorts cancelled for ‘VVIP’
NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 25: I stand here today as the Republic’s first servant, said President Pratibha Patil, after assuming office in July this year. Perhaps, the officials at Andamans didn’t take her seriously.

As Patil and her family land in the Andamans tomorrow for what is billed a three-day “official tour,” a few things have been brushed under the red carpet: at least 60 trees have been cut to prepare a helipad for her so that she and her 10-member family entourage don’t have to take a 40-minute road trip.

And two Government-run tourist resorts have issued notices to all tourists cancelling their bookings — the Christmas-New Year’s Eve is the peak holiday season for the islands — to accommodate her delegation.

Sources have told The Indian Express that the trees were cut to make way for a helipad for Patil’s entourage — which includes her husband Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat — in Wandoor village, about 30 km south-west of Port Blair.

Wandoor is home to one of the most environmentally protected areas in the country, the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, spread over 15 islands and creeks and has a rich diversity of flora and fauna across 280 sq km.

The President is there to hand over 200 eco-friendly houses to tsunami victims at Kinyuka village in Car Nicobar.

Officially, on “Revenue Department land”, the helipad has been built in Wandoor, close to the jetty so that ferries can take Patil and her family to the nearby coral islands in Jolly Buoy, Red Skin and Twins Islands.

When asked to comment, Chief Secretary Chhering Targay told The Indian Express: “Some trees had to be cut for the helipad, I have no idea how many. For that you will have to ask the Principal Conservator of Forests.”

Principal Conservator of Forests, who is also Environment Secretary in the Andaman administration, S S Chaudhary said: “Trees were cut for the construction of the helipad, the trees which were cut were in the funnel area. While take-off or landing of the choppers, all directions have to be cleared of any obstruction, that led to the cutting of trees. The Indian Air Force was monitoring the helipad project, while the Andaman PWD executed it.”

He added: “There was no need to consult the Union Environment and Forest ministry, since this is a local requirement. The Indian Air Force is monitoring it and we are following Civil Aviation Ministry guidelines while constructing the helipad.”

When contacted, a Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson said: “The Rashtrapati Bhawan had asked for no damage to be made to the environment while constructing the helipad. According to the Andaman administration, no trees have been cut. But some trees have been pruned to facilitate the landing and take-off of the chopper.”

Asked about the cancellation of bookings, the Rashtrapati Bhawan spokesman said: “We have not instructed anyone to cancel bookings. We are not aware of any such thing.” The spokesperson also said that neither the President nor the family is spending New Year’s at the island.

But consider how Patil’s visit derailed the tourism season:

In Havelock Island, 54 km north-east of Port Blair and a favourite destination for tourists with its white-sand beaches and turquoise water, all advance bookings on the Christmas-New Year’s eve week between December 20 and December 31, have been cancelled in the Tourism Department-run Dolphin Beach Resort.

In Corbyn’s Cove — four km from Port Blair airport — all advance bookings have been cancelled at the Hornbill Nest Yatri Niwas, also run by the Tourism department, between December 10 and January 31, 2008.

Orders for these cancellations were issued by the Tourism department, between November 28 and December 12. The order to cancel all Dolphin reservations cites “the visit of VVIP” as the reason.

Chief Secretary Targay said: “Bookings had to be cancelled to accommodate the President’s party. Otherwise, how would be able to accommodate them? And 25 per cent booking amount has been refunded.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Protected Area Update - December 2007

Dear Friends,
Posted below is the list of contents and the editorial for the New issue of the Protected Area Update. In case you want specific stories or the entire newsletter as an attachment, please write to me at
Also please do forward the contents to other relevant egroups as well as individuals who might be interested.
Pankaj Sekhsaria

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia

Vol. XIII No. 6, December 2007 (No. 70)

Wetlands in Focus
-Golden Gecko sighted in Papikonda WLS
-WWF, Army for conservation of Arunachal Pradesh wildlife and forests
-Survey for herpetofauna in and around Barail Wildlife Sanctuary
-Rs 1cr sought for Kaziranga NP
-18 rhinos killed in and around Kaziranga in first 10 months of 2007
-Watchtowers constructed to warn of elephant raids near Kaziranga
-Cycle squads to counter poachers in Manas
-FD for sanctuary status for Urpad Beel
-Call to declare Sareswar Beel a sanctuary
-Staff shortage plagues Orang NP
-Retired army personnel for Valmiki TR protection
-Squads to identify electrified fences in Gir
-Hangul population between 117 and 190
-Limber and Lachipora WLSs to be included in new Qazinag National Park
-Workshop on Army participation in wildlife conservation in Ladakh
-Program for wetlands in state
-Willow plantation drive around Hokresar stopped
-Six lakh migratory birds flock to Kashmir
-Chilli tobacco rope elephant barrier being tried in Bannerghata NP
-Tourism plans for PAs in Western Ghats
-FD opposes erection of electric poles inside Nagarhole NP
-25 tigers counted in Bandipur TR; 14 in Nagarhole
-Elephant population dips in Karnataka
-Six new species found in Kudremukh NP
-New peacock sanctuary at Choolannur, conservation reserve at Kadalundi
-New ‘Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary’ to cover forests of Kozhikode and Wayanad districts
-MP bans polythene in national parks
-MP Forest Department goes hi-tech
-Low male-female crocodile ratio in the National Chambal Sanctuary causes concern
-New spider found in Melghat TR
-Dummy traps to train forest staff in Pench TR
-Tourism promotion in Satkosia WLS
-Mechanised boats banned at Gahirmatha for turtle nesting season
-Ban on NTFP collection causes of collapse of haat system in Sunabeda WLS; local tribals adversely affected
-GIS mapping to trace elephant movement in Chandaka Dampara WLS
-Simlipal TR opened to visitors from Nov. 4
-Wildlife Conservation award to the Mahabir Pakshi Surakshya Samiti, Mangaljodi
-New State Board for Wildlife constituted
-SACON to study bird mortality in Chilka
-Kathlore forest to be declared a wildlife sanctuary
-Keoladeo Ghana National Park to get water from River Yamuna
-Weeding operation conducted in Keoladeo Ghana National Park
-Rajasthan can’t get enough ex-soldiers for wildlife protection
-Bhagani village relocated from Sarika TR
-Gulf of Mannar NP Coral Reefs to be studied
-National park status to Trishna WLS
-Poaching alert in Corbett and Rajaji during Diwali
-5066 vultures counted in Uttarakhand
-Elephant Reserve for UP
-Rs. 15.77 lakhs for the Kukrail Gharial Centre
-Initiative for Red Panda protection in PAs in North Bengal
-Train knocks down elephant in Buxa TR
-Govt identifies 94 wetlands for regulatory framework
-Trains running along wildlife corridors might stop running at night
-India has 606 PAs covering 15.59 million hectares
-Permits auctioned for Markhor, Himalayan Ibex trophy hunting
-Workshop on Compensation and Rewards for Ecosystem Services


For the bird enthusiasts in the wildlifing community, winter is certainly an exciting time. Millions of migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, from far away lands fly into the Indian subcontinent colonizing water-bodies of every size and shape in every nook and corner of the landscape. The birds come and with them they bring the spotlight on the wetlands they visit.
That there is an increased awareness of the phenomenon of bird migration is evident in the large number of reports and photographs of the migratory birds that now appear regularly in both English and the vernacular newspapers.
It is well known that wetlands are, in terms of biomass, one of the most productive ecosystems that also provide a number of crucial environmental services – they recharge groundwater, provide water for agricultural activities, help in stabilizing the local micro-climate, act as sinks during the flooding season, support millions of livelihoods through fisheries, agriculture and related activities and are the homes of a diverse range of animal and plant life.
It is also well known, and ironically so, that wetlands are one of the most abused systems – their waters are full of toxic chemicals that are discharged as industrial effluents or which run off from agricultural lands, they are used as dumping grounds for our wastes and are continually drained to create land for industry, human habitation or agricultural fields. As water stress and demands for the resource increase, control over wetlands and use of the water is also bound to also become a source of serious conflict between various stakeholders; wildlife and migratory birds being one important category of such a stakeholder, though one that does not have any voice.
It is imperative that the issue of the protection and conservation of wetlands must become a priority for all sections of society, be it the media, the non-governmental sector, government agencies, the courts or ordinary citizens.
Efforts are certainly being made. National level organizations like the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Nature (SACON) have worked on creating an umbrella Wetlands Policy and an action plan for wetlands, but nothing concrete has emerged from there. The media, however, has taken greater interest in recent times, as is evident from the reports in this and earlier issues of the PA Update. In many parts of the country communities like the Sri Sri Mahavir Pakhi Surakshya Samiti of Mangalajodi under the Chilka Forest Division (see news from Orissa below) have taken up protection programs, both for the birds and for the wetlands (for more such initiatives see ).
A number of wetlands have been declared as protected areas, important birds areas or sites of importance under the provisions of the Ramsar Convention. Many more are regularly proposed for inclusion within such frameworks for better protection and management (see news from Assam). A National Wetland Conservation Program has been initiated and a regulatory framework for wetland protection is being considered under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act – 1986.
All this is welcome, but clearly, much more needs to be done because the threats to our wetlands, like too many of our other natural ecosystems, is increasing faster and is much larger than we care to believe.

0Vol. XIII, No. 6, December 2007 (No. 70)
Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Illustrations: Madhuvanti Anantharajan
Produced by: Kalpavriksh
Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the editorial address:
KALPAVRIKSH, Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India. Tel/Fax: 020 – 25654239.
Production of PA Update 70 has been supported by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), Anand.


New Vulnerabilities - A&N Islands

New vulnerabilities
A changed topography in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and increased seismic activity in the area have to be factored in for drafting appropriate disaster responses.
Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Justify Full

Advancing sea: Forests and plantations destroyed due to subsidence in the Nicobar group of islands.
December 26, 2004 is remembered primarily for the devastating tsunami that struck coasts across South and South-East Asia with unprecedented fury. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located close to the epicentre of the earthquake that caused the tsuna mi were also hit very badly and suffered huge damage to life and property. Official figures list 3,513 people as either dead or missing and 7,992 hectares as the paddy and plantation land that was affected. The number of boats fully damaged was 938, while the number of livestock reported to have been lost in the disaster was 1, 57,577.

The figures do tell us one important story; at the same time, however, they also hide another equally important one, albeit unintentionally. Disaggregating and looking at these numbers along the lines of the two island groups (Andamans and Nicobars) reveals a crucially important scenario that has not attracted the attention and analysis it actually deserves.

More damage in the Nicobars

Of the 3,513 people reported dead and missing, only 64 are from the Andaman group of islands; the remaining 3,449 are from the islands in the Nicobar Group. Seventy-six per cent of the agricultural and paddy land destroyed and 80 per cent of livestock loss was also reported from the Nicobars. The latest figures of houses being constructed for the tsunami affected also indicate a similar trend. 71 percent or 7,001 houses of the 9,797 being constructed are in the Nicobars

So, while the Nicobar Islands account for only 22 per cent and 12 per cent of the area and population respective of the entire chain of islands, 98 per cent of the deaths and 76 per cent of loss of agricultural land occurred here. The damage caused is inversely proportional to the area and population of the two groups and strikingly so.

Tectonic movements

While the tsunami was directly responsible for most of the damage, a more fundamental explanation of the situation in the islands lies in the earthquake that caused the tsunami. While the tectonic movements triggered by the earthquake catalysed the tsunami, they also caused a huge and permanent shift in the lay of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Preliminary assessments by Dr. Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado ( showed that the Andaman Islands experienced an average permanent uplift of one to two metres while there was a subsidence of up to four meters in parts of the Nicobar group of islands. In a paper titled “Partial and Complete Rupture of the Indo-Andaman plate boundary” published in June 2005, Bilham and his co-authors point out that the tide gauge at Port Blair recorded an initial rise of sea level about 38 minutes after local shaking commenced on the day of the disaster. A 2005 report by the Geological Survey of India quoting eyewitness accounts indicated similarly, that the main shocks were felt in Port Blair around 0635 hrs local time on December 26, 2004. While the first influx of sea waves was noticed 15-20 minutes later, it was about two hours after the main shock (0830 hrs local time) that a third wave hit the shores with a velocity that caught citizens unaware. Other reports ( ) indicate that the first wave of the tsunami in Port Blair came about 50 minutes after the initial earthquake. Three more waves with a gap of 30-35 minutes between each other are reported to have followed.

While this sequence of events has not been corroborated from developments on other islands here, it can be assumed that the pattern everywhere was the same and by implication, that the subsidence and uplift of the landmass occurred before the most powerful and damaging of the tsunami waves hit the shores of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Nicobars, though spread over a smaller area and also more thinly populated, suffered much larger damages that the Andamans because of the subsidence that occurred.

Ecological changes

Surveys by ecologists and environmental researchers conducted after December 2004 provide supporting evidence. A report by Harry Andrews of the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team pointed out that huge coral reef areas totalling more than 60 sq. km along the western and northern coasts of the Middle and North Andaman Islands have been permanently exposed and destroyed. Studies in the Nicobar group of islands by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Nature (SACON), supported by the Wildlife Trust of India, revealed that the ecosystems that were badly damaged by the joint impact of the subsidence, the tsunami waves and the permanent ingress of sea water included forests along the coast line — particularly the mangroves and littoral forests. Faunal species that primarily reside in littoral forests like the Nicobari Megapode, the Giant Robber Crab and the Malayan Box Turtle were among those that were the worst hit. A survey in early 2006 by Dr. K. Sivakumar of the Wildlife Institute of India confirmed the findings of SACON. Sivakumar estimated that the post-tsunami population of the Nicobari Megapode was only 30 per cent of what it had been a decade ago.

The dominant human population in the Nicobar Islands is the Nicobari tribal community that is essentially coastal dwelling. They were therefore the most vulnerable and in the direct route of the powerful tsunami which followed the significant subsidence that had taken place on account of the earthquake. Of the 3,513 people reported dead or missing, 2,955 indeed were from this tribal community.

There is also evidence that the region where the islands are located has become even more seismically active since December 2004. Data gathered by the United States Geological Service (USGS) shows that nearly 20 earthquakes of a magnitude over M6 in addition to several hundred of lesser intensity have been recorded in the region in the last three years.

Some, like the September 12, 2007 earthquake off the Sumatra coast have been extremely powerful. This particular earthquake was of a magnitude greater than M8 on the Richter scale and led to the issuing of a tsunami warning along the Indonesian coast as well as in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

New factors

Increased seismic activity and increased threat because of this needs to now be made an important aspect of policy and development planning in the islands. Similarly, the change of the topography of the islands on account of the tectonic movements caused as a result of the massive earthquake of December 26, 2004 needs to be factored in, both for the ongoing relief and rehabilitation work here as also for future planning. An understanding and incorporation of these two basic aspects should be made fundamental to dealing with the present and the future of the A&N islands.

One important dimension, for instance, is the alteration along the coasts of all the islands, of the High Tide Line (HTL). Unless this is recalibrated, any management of or implementation of laws and regulations related to the coastal zone cannot be done effectively. They are in fact meaningless. The changed scenario also has direct implications on issues like land that can or cannot be allotted for reconstruction or for agriculture and plantations as also for materials and design of new buildings being constructed in the islands.

An understanding and through analysis of the changed ground situation and the new vulnerabilities would be the first step towards articulating and creating appropriate responses. Ignoring these and the implications is only an invitation to more trouble in the future with potentially disastrous consequences.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Subsidised Tourism Worsens Andamans' Woes
By Pankaj Sekhsaria*

PORT BLAIR, Dec 6 (IPS/IFEJ) - Tourism, promoted as a major economic activity and employment generator in India’s far-flung Andaman Islands, has run into opposition lately. Concerns are being raised, ironically, by local residents and tour operators who are supposed to be the prime beneficiaries.

A chain of about 550 islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago is clothed in thick rainforests and home to excellent beaches and coral reefs. Agriculture, forestry and government jobs have traditionally been the mainstay for the people of this centrally-administered territory that is closer to Thailand, Burma and Indonesia than the Indian mainland.

But increased awareness of the need to protect forests, dwindling agricultural returns and a continued growth in the population, now at 356,000, has led the government to promote tourism as one of the key areas for economic growth and employment on the islands.

Government figures clearly indicate the trend. An estimated 100,000 visitors came to the islands in 2004. The figure was roughly the same for the year 2006 and is expected to cross 150,000 for 2007. While this might not seem like a big jump, the significance becomes obvious when one factors in the tourist numbers for the year 2005. Fewer than 50,000 visited in 2005, in the immediate aftermath of the Dec.26, 2004 earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

The damage to infrastructure and, more importantly, the uncertainty that followed, hit the islands’ fledgling tourism industry hard. Tourist arrivals dropped dramatically prompting the launch of ‘Vitamin Sea’, a tourism promotion campaign for the islands.

In a related move the central government also extended its Leave Travel Concession (LTC) programme to a section of its employees, allowing them free air travel if they chose to holiday on the islands. For nearly two years now employees from the government-owned Steel Authority of India’s units in Bhilai, Bokaro, Durgapur and Rourkela (small towns in central and eastern India) have constituted the bulk of the tourists visiting the islands.

While this might sound like a welcome trend, the fact that a large chunk of these visitors are low-spending domestic tourists is a matter of some consternation. Increasingly people in Port Blair are complaining that the government policy of promoting tourism, using its own employees, does little good to these tsunami-affected islands, located barely 150 km away from the badly-hit Aceh province on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

Such is the resentment against the policy that World Tourism Day, Sep. 27, saw local tour operators and agencies come out on the streets of Port Blair in protest.

Members of the Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industries point out that the LTC tourists visiting the islands not only spend little money but, through bulk bookings offered by travel agents, use up the scarce resources and facilities and crowd out genuine up-market tourists.

In a recent article published in a local newspaper, green campaigner Samir Acharya of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, wrote: "Tourism, instead of bringing a boon to the islands, has actually brought a curse on the islanders...the only contribution (of LTC tourists) to the islands is bringing scarcity of water, (cheap)inter-island boat tickets, island-mainland ship tickets and even air-tickets for the localities. What makes it worse and intolerable is that it is totally state-funded.’’

The LTC tourists have sorely strained the resources on the islands. The summer of 2007 saw unprecedented water cuts for residents, with parts of Port Blair receiving water only once in five days, and that too for only a couple of hours. "Due to curtailment of water supply by municipal council," said a notice put up in the state-run Hotel Megapode in Port Blair at the height of the monsoon season in September, "all guests are requested not to waste water and not to wash clothes. Water supply timing: Morning 6 am to 10 am. Evening: 6 pm to 10 pm." Other restaurants and hotels too encourage guests to use water judiciously.

"LTC tourists," says Zubair Ahmed, a journalist working with the local weekly ‘The Light of Andamans’, "are always welcome, if they know in advance what to expect in the islands.LTC tourism is helping the unorganised sector to earn something, but the organised sector is up in arms against it because they are losing their clientele."

Sanjay Ray, a resort owner and an elected representative on Havelock Island, agrees. "No benefit comes to us from the Indian tourist and 80 percent of our benefit comes from foreigners."

Not everyone disagrees with government policy. New Delhi-based tourism expert and researcher Nina Rao, told IPS: "I am surprised at this campaign (World Tourism Day protests). We have always felt that everyone has a right to be a tourist, and this is a democratic right.’’

However, she adds that tourism should stay within carrying capacity limits. ''Today, it is established that the 800 plus million tourists (around the world) are a serious cause of global warming and this affects island people the most.''

While more domestic tourists are being solicited, little attention has been paid to basic details such as infrastructure, waste management or the impact on sensitive ecosystems like coral reefs.

Officials admit privately that the move to boost tourism via the LTC route in the aftermath of the tsunami is backfiring. Evidence of this lies in the fact that the administration recently refused permission to the Indian Railways (the world’s largest employer with 1.6 million workers on its rolls) to include the islands as part of its LTC schemes.

Other tourism promotion moves -- like the 2005 agreement to twin Port Blair with Thailand's Phuket, 500km away -- have been abandoned following protests by academics and activists that this could have negative social and environmental impacts in the Andamans.

For now, what is certain is that domestic tourism in the Andamans appears to have become a classic case of a remedy being worse than the problem.

(*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by Inter Press Service and the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ). It replaces the version issued on Nov 28)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pench Tiger Reserve

Mist in the early morning woods

The rock python

Small green bea eater

Hanuman langur at a water hole

Sambar and fawn

Chital in the early morning mist

And the tiger...

Monday, November 19, 2007

The reality of climate injustice
A recent Greenpeace report highlights how the lifestyles of the rich encroach on the climate space of the poor in India.
The next time you reach for your electric mixie to whip something you could easily whip with an old-fashioned handheld twirl, or hop into your car to travel a distance you could easily walk or cycle, remember these two words: climate injustice.
This neat term encompasses a startling, though complex, reality: some people are more responsible than others for the warming of the earth’s atmosphere that is triggering catastrophic climate change. The biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are today’s industrialised countries, the United States topping the list. Countries like India are rapidly increasing their share; but each Indian citizen, on average, still emits a fraction of what each American and European does. So when the world started discussing what to do in response to climate change, developing countries demanded climate justice. They said they wanted to continue being able to ‘develop’, without being bound by actions needed to curb greenhouse gases, while industrialised countries were asked to immediately start such action. Thus emerged the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility”, acknowledging that all nations had the duty to act, but some could act later, or be assisted through funding and technologies if the world wanted them to act faster.
Sounds logical except for one flaw in the argument that a report by the NGO Greenpeace India, released last week, has starkly exposed. Climate injustice occurs not only between nations, but within them also.
Rich vs. poor
While average emissions per Indian citizen are way below the global average, some Indians — the richest — are already nearing this average. Worse, they are already well above levels considered sustainable. But this is camouflaged by the fact that the vast majority of Indians — the poor — are way below the average. In effect, poor Indians are subsidising the rich, allowing them a much greater share of the atmosphere than should be rightfully theirs.
Before we get further into climate injustice, let’s take a quick look at what climate change has in store for us. With even a 2°C rise in global average temperatures (now considered almost certain), we are in for serious trouble. Sea level rise will inundate vast areas of coast, pushing millions of people inland. Dozens of inhabited islands will disappear. Already many villages in Kachchh and the Sundarbans have been submerged, rendering thousands homeless or destitute. Drought and flood occurrences will increase manifold. Forest fires, like the one that just devastated California, will become more common. Agricultural production will fall in many tropical countries and vector-borne diseases will become epidemics in several areas. Several thousand species of plants and animals will face extinction. Worst affected
It is also instructive to note that while the poor are the least to blame for climate change, they will be the worst affected. Their dependence on Nature is much higher than that of the rich, and their ability to cope with disaster much weaker. If Mumbai is inundated, the rich will buy up houses in Pune; where will the poor go?
Greenpeace surveyed 819 households across several income classes, and calculated their carbon emissions based on energy consumption from household appliances and transportation. India’s average per capita carbon emission is 1.67 tonnes (compared to the global average of 5.03). But Greenpeace found that the emission of the richest class (those with income above Rs. 30,000 a month) is 4.97, just a fraction below the world average. In contrast, the emission of the poorest class (income below Rs. 3000 a month, almost half of India’s population) is only 1.11 tonnes. The richest in India produce 4.5 times more carbon emissions than the poorest.
More to the point, these emissions should be compared to the 2.5 tonnes per capita limit that scientists consider is necessary if we want to restrict the temperature rise to below 2°C. All Indian classes that earn above Rs. 8000 per month are already above this limit!

What explains this gross difference in emissions? Greenpeace found that the biggest difference was in the extent of household appliances using electricity. While general lighting, fans, and TVs are common to all classes (though much more in use by the rich), several appliances were found only in rich households… air conditioners, electric geysers, washing machines, electric or electronic kitchen appliances, DVD players, computers, and the like. Secondly, much greater use of transportation using fossil fuels, including gas-guzzling cars and airplanes, characterised the rich.
Greenpeace’s fingers point unwaveringly at India’s rich for cornering much more of the atmospheric space that all citizens should have equal right to. It warns that the rich are denying development possibilities for the poor. It is among the first studies in the world to look at climate injustice within a country, and therefore a crucial breakthrough in discussions relating to climate change.
Tribal rights
The report’s findings put an interesting light on the raging controversy over the Forest Rights Act, which provides tribals and other traditional forest dwellers with the rights to land and forest resources that they have deserved for generations. A handful of conservationists are vigorously opposing the Act, claiming that it will destroy India’s forests and lead to much greater carbon emissions. There are elements of truth in both the claim that the Act will cause deforestation, as also that it will lead to greater stake among poor people in protecting forests. However, what is interesting is that those who are opposing it in the name of climate change, mostly belong to the richest classes that the Greenpeace report holds responsible for 4.5 times greater carbon emissions than the poor who will be the prime beneficiaries of the Act! Yet nowhere in the debate is there an acknowledgement of this, let alone voluntary action by such conservationists (or others who are less critical of the Act) to reduce their climate crunching consumption patterns.
Evidence of climate injustice within India also points to the utter bankruptcy of the Indian government’s development policies. These have continued to push a carbon-intensive economy, and also promoted the kind of consumerism that has allowed India’s rich classes to become global climate destroyers. These policies have to be challenged, resisted, and replaced by much more sustainable and equitable ones. Partial answers
Greenpeace provides partial answers to this. It assures the rich that their lifestyles need not be sacrificed. The solution, rather, is in “decarbonising” the economy, moving towards replacing fossil fuels by renewable sources like solar, wind, and biomass, and towards greater efficiency in energy production and use. It advocates greater focus on public transport systems, mandatory fuel efficiency standards in cars, and high-speed trains to check the increasing use of air travel. It also proposes a “carbon tax” on use of fossil fuels, proceeds from which could be used to help the poor get access to cleaner forms of development, and to mechanisms to cope with the impact of climate change.
This is where I found the report to be surprisingly soft on the rich. At one point it admits that even with increased efficiency, the tendency to accumulate more and more electricity-run appliances will keep lifestyles beyond the sustainability limits. But it does not conclude from this that we have to curb such consumerism in the first place, through an appropriate system of incentives and penalties. This becomes imperative not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also because the lifestyles of the rich are ecologically destructive in many more ways… massive uses of minerals, timber, agricultural produce, and other materials well beyond the limits of the earth to sustain. A solar-powered car for every household in India may not cause significant carbon emissions, but imagine the amount of mining needed to produce 200 million of them? Climate injustice needs to be seen in the context of the larger issue of ecological and social injustice, which is pushing the earth and all its inhabitants to the brink of another massive phase of extinction.
Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group.


You don’t make a road in the river to solve a traffic problem just as you don’t blow a hole through your head if you have a splitting headaches, writes PANKAJ SEKHSARIA
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007

A RIVER IS meant for water to flow. Yes, the statement sounds absurd, because it states the obvious. Rivers carry water, and our earliest civilisations grew along their banks.
Even today human settlements all over the world — whether big or small — are usually situated along rivers and streams.I live in Pune, the cultural, educationaland industrial capital of Maharashtra, rich in history and tradition. Some believe the city was originally called Punya Nagari or Holy City when it was founded on the banks of Mutha river. Indeed, Pune is fortunate to have two rivers, the Mutha and the Mula, which meet here before flowing south to join the Bheema and then the Krishna river. It is therefore a matter of double shame for Punekars that the Mula-Mutha today is little more than a sewer into which huge amounts of industrial and domestic waste are thoughtlessly dumped every day.

This particular story goes back about six years, when a local court ordered the PuneMunicipal Corporation (PMC) to stop work on road construction inside the river. Yes, a road, not on the banks of the river, but inside, on its bed — that part where the water flows. The court’s ruling came in response to a Public Interest Litigation arguing that the road was illegal and damaged the environment. The road was being built at a frantic pace and a large stretch of it, which stands even today, had already been completed. A senior PMC official had made it clear that he wanted the project completed before environmental groups got into the picture and delayed it. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the city, environmental groups did find out and the court took cognizance of their complaint.
The PMC argued that the road was beingconstructed as part of the Mutha River Improvement plan and to ease the city’s growing traffic problem. So, a road was being constructed in the riverbed as part of a supposed “river improvement” plan. Could things get any more absurd? Pune does face a big traffic problem. Not because the river occupies too much area, but because the vehicle population here has grown astronomically. While Pune’s population has gone up five fold since 1960, the number of vehicles in the city has increased almost 90 times. The city’s public transport facilities are going from bad to worse and, currently, over 1 lakh vehicles are being registered here annually. It comes as no surprise then that the widening of roads has been the single biggest activity in the city in recent times. Trees, footpaths, shops, houses — all are being swept aside to make way for bigger roads. Conservative estimates suggest that at least 50,000 trees have been chopped down in Pune in the last five years, many for accommodating the increasing traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists, the two sets of people who occupy the minimum road space and causezero pollution, have become second-class citizens. There is little space left for them to navigate their way on the roads.
The river is the newest casualty of this breakneck car boom and the city’s administrators seem hell-bent on treating the symptom instead of the disease. The huge increase in the number of vehicles is the problem and reducing them the only viable solution. Anything else amounts to just tinkering around. River development plans, riverfront redevelopment plans, river improvement schemes, river beautification schemes — be it the Yamuna, the Sabarmati or the Mula-Mutha — are no longer aimed at improving the quality of water or helping the river life. They are merely euphemisms for real-estate development and promoting commercial activity. Pune has reportedly been allocated Rs 200 crore for river beautification under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
IT IS hard to believe that in our zeal to “modernise” we have forgotten something as elementary as the fact that rivers are meant to carry water, not roads and cars. They are complex ecosystems performing vital hydrological and ecological roles — like recharging ground water, flushing and breaking down our waste, and enabling clean air to come into the city. Unfortunately, many people seem unaware of just how vital rivers are to our well being. Here is an example from the blogosphere: “The environmentalists are holding up this plan [for the road] saying it will harm the ‘oxygen channel’ running along the river. My foot. Any sane person wouldn’t call it a river in the first place…”But the fact is, even today, the Mula- Mutha supports a large diversity of microscopic floral and animal life. Thousands of migratory waterfowl still visit the river every winter, flying from places as far away as Siberia. Even a hopelessly polluted river can be alive and throbbing with life. The least we can do is not destroy it further.
You don’t make a road in the river to solvea traffic problem, just as you don’t blow a hole through your head if you have a splitting headache.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tata in troubled waters

India – Tata in troubled waters

Tata’s good name is threatened by the plight of a rare species of turtle

Tata, the Indian conglomerate with annual revenue of $22 billion, has for three years been locked in a dispute with environmentalists over the damage a seaport project could have on endangered turtles.

The Dharma port project, on the Orissa coast, would create India’s largest all-weather deepwater seaport. Its 13 berths could handle 80 million tonnes of cargo a year, mainly importing coking coal for Tata’s steel plants.

The project is being run by the Dharma Port Company, a joint venture between Tata Steel and Indian engineering giant Larsen & Tubro. Tata Steel sees the port as central to its expansion plans, as it will streamline its supply chain. The Orissa government backs the project, which it says will improve the state’s infrastructure and boost local economic growth.

The project should have been completed this year. But construction work is yet to start. Court cases, campaigners and financing troubles have all stalled the project.

Greenpeace has recently stepped up its campaign against the project. It points out that the port’s proposed site is just 15 kilometres from Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, the world’s largest mass nesting site for the rare species of migratory Olive Ridley turtles. Every year in the six months from November to May, about 500,000 turtles congregate in Gahirmatha to mate and feed.

Artificial lights from the giant port and populated areas would disorient the turtles and their hatchlings and eventually force them to abandon the Gahirmatha beaches, campaigners say. They also fear pollution from the port would contaminate the turtles’ offshore habitat.

An expert committee appointed in 2004 by the supreme court to assess the port’s likely environmental impacts recommended that the project site be shifted, as the proposed location would seriously affect nesting turtles. The case is still pending in the court. Another lawsuit filed by the Wildlife Protection Society of India in the Orissa high court is also pending.

Greenpeace India’s lead campaigner, Ashish Fernandes, says the group is not against the port, but its location. “By pursuing the project, the Tatas would have no moral right to claim to be a responsible company.”

Tata continues to reject the activists’ claims. Tata Steel’s managing director, B Muthuraman, stuck to the company’s line in September in Singapore, saying: “Allegations against the project are not based on any scientific evidence. We will not cow down to any pressure.” The company would “make sure that turtles are not harmed,” he added.

Firm government support means Tata’s project ultimately looks set to go ahead, despite environmentalists’ concerns. The company’s real test will come in finding a way to manage growing activist scrutiny in a way that does not threaten its reputation as a responsible company.

Upcoming Ethical Corporation conferences & events:

Corporate Responsibility Reporting & Communications,
13-14 November, London
Ethical Employee Engagement & Responsible Business,
3-4 December, London
The Climate Change Summit 2008
12-13th February, London
The Global CR Reporting Summit 2008
3-4 March 2008, Berlin
The Responsible Business Summit 2008
13-14 May 2008, London

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Betrayal of Niyamgiri


Krishna Srinivasan, Econet Pune


Dear Friends,
By this time some of you might have already heard about the murder and mayhem to be executed agaisnt one of the best primary forests, and wildlife in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. i am pasting below a short note which paints the supreme court's handing over of the death knell of forests and wildlife and the dongriya kond tribe who have protected the Niyamgiri hills as they consider it sacred.

A clear cut message being sent by the supreme court of India that you throw money and cooly walk away with our foersts wildlife and people's lives. Indian forests and wildlife are for sale all are invited with large chunks of money!!

Read on …

Betrayal of the Law at the Supreme Court :

Taro Karma, Amaro Dharma (His the action ours the Law)

On Friday 26th October 2007, the Forest Bench of the SC, consisting of India's Chief Justice K.G .Balakrishnan, Arjit Passayat (from Orissa) and S.H.Kappadia, took the decisive step of "reserving for judgement" the case of Vedanta/Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC)'s application for mining Bauxite on the summit of Niyamgiri. They made it clear they have decided the case in favour of granting Clearance for mining, against the strong recommendations against this by their own advisory body the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), and over-riding the extensively documented Objection represented yesterday by the Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh. This means there will not be another hearing, and after 3 years of delay, commissioning detailed studies and largely ignoring them, the case is decided in favour of Vedanta. Only the details are to be worked out, a process likely to take 2-4 weeks. But reports from Lanjigarh and Muniguda last night indicate that Vedanta supporters were celebrating with fireworks, and brand new mining vehicles are already moving to the area.

What this implies is something that was obvious to anyone at the SC yesterday: that the Judges had already made up their minds before hearing all the evidence. The Judges have suppressed all proper argument and consideration about the costs of mining this area. The whole subject was dismissed by the Chief Justice's comment near the beginning, questioning the validity of data on the negative impacts of mining by saying that it is unclear and unscientific. Attempts yesterday by both the Amicus Curiae U.U.Lalit (on behalf of the CEC) and Sanjay Parikh (on behalf of the petitioner Siddharth Nayak from Kalahandi who brought a petition on 5th October on behalf of the tribal people of Niyamgiri) to present the arguments against mining the mountain were prevented yesterday by an extraordinarily violent display of intolerance on the Judges' part. This should make everyone question: are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are, and the present bench is known for throwing the contemptible "Contempt of Court" rule at anyone questioning the SC's proceedings, with a jail sentence, to stifle dissent. This needs to change if people are to have any faith in the Law and Justice situation in India. For witnesses to proceedings in Court No1 yesterday that faith was badly undermined.

The main part of the hearing yesterday was taken up with the advocate for the OMC reading out a text about "the user agency"'s plans for mining, and their assurances to give large sums of money for "tribal development," afforestation, and a "wildlife management plan", based on the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) report which was presented by the Attorney General at the previous hearing (5 th October).

This is an outrageously flawed document, which is why Sanjay Parikh had prepared over 200 pages of documents demonstrating its errors, with several thousand pages of supplementary documentation. Before he could get up to articulate this, the Judges spent over an hour questioning the OMC advocate as well as Vedanta's advocate Venugopal quite closely about the large sums being promised for development, and the difference between Sterlite (registered in India) and Vedanta (registered in London, Sterlite's holding company since Dec.2003). Basically Vedanta has offered 120 million rupees per year of their profits for "tribal development" in the area. This appears very generous (equivalent to the entire sum paid by the Orissa Govt for tribal development over 19 years) until one realizes that tribal people have not asked for this or even been consulted and do not actually want this money – as the Dongria and Majhi Konds demonstrating outside the Supreme Court yesterday made very clear.

From their perspective this discussion inside the SC had mainly revolved around how much to sell their mountain for. The Government, represented here by the Judges, has, in tribal people's view, no right to sell it, and is ignorant of its value, selling it simply out of greed. The corruption that takes place in the name of "tribal development" is notorious (amply attested e.g. in P.Sainath's book "Everybody loves a good drought"), and comes without any democratic controls or even input from tribal people themselves in deciding what development they want. As the Adivasis on the street said: the Judges have committed a sin that sooner or later they will pay for. "What wealth (sampatti) is there here in Delhi?" they asked. "Could we plough this street?" Referring to Arjit Passayat (who played the main role suppressing discussion despite coming from Orissa) they said "Taro Karma, Amoro Dharma" – his is the action/sin, ours is the law/truth." Tribal people have an intrinsic belief in Justice and Law, and still tend to look to the Courts to uphold its fundamental principles. This case, involving the "Lord of the Law" Niyam Raja (presiding deity of Niyamgiri in whose name the summits have been kept inviolate) is deeply symbolic for tribal people.

After a long discussion about sums and guarantees, Lalit got up, and with prompting from the CEC representative, started to put the case strongly against mining Niyamgiri, pointing out the irreversible damage it will cause, and summarizing the CEC's excellent report of September 2005 which showed in detail (covering several hundred pages) that mining would devastate an area of outstanding forest, along with its water sources. The Amicus Curiae also showed that Nalco's existing Bauxite reserves on Panchpat Mali, can last for 100 years at the existing rate of exploitation, and could be shared with Vedanta so as not to harm Niyamgiri, which has unparalleled ecological importance, while other other reserves like Pottangi could provide alternative sites. The Judges cut him short, after which he remained standing in dignified silence.

Almost 2 hours had passed when Sanjay Parikh stood up and presented the Objection to mining which the female advocate Indira Jai Singh had so forcefully registered at the 5 th October hearing. He was cut off immediately and extremely rudely by Arjit Passayat. When Sanjay said he was representing the Dongria tribal people of Niyamgiri, Arjit shouted "How many are there? How many people do you represent ? No, I'm not going to allow this. The case is over. Your writ petition is now an Interlocutary application. Whatever you want to say, we have heard it from the Amicus Curiae. Tribal people have no place in this case." When the 3 Judges were each handed a new copy of Mihir Jena's book on the Dongria Konds, the Chief Justice actually threw this down in a gesture of contempt, while Arjit attacked Sanjay, viciously shouting at him to stop raising his voice (when Arjit himself had first done so saying "I am not agitated at all!"). While Sanjay was still trying to make his points and initiate a proper discussion, the Judges and whole court stood up and the Judges left.

It was then clear to everyone that they had engineered the whole discussion about sums and Sterlite-Vedanta simply to prevent any time for discussion of the Objection and its 2,000 pages of careful argument, which they had been presented with the day before. Impartial observers had assumed that this material, with its evidence assessing the real social and environmental impacts of bauxite mining, would be taken seriously by the Court. This assumption was wrong.

To summarize this material briefly and demonstrate the main errors in the MoEF report, on which the Judges are basing their Judgement :

1. It misrepresents the extent of forest and bio-diversity on top of Niyamgiri and the other Bauxite-capped mountains. Under "impact of bauxite mining on the flora" it says that all the bauxite deposits are located on plateau tops "with practically no vegetation/scanty vegetation on the mineralized zones", which is completely untrue, even according to their own statistics ( p.2) which state that nearly half the total lease area on 10 bauxite mountains is classified as Forest (67 sq kms out of 141 sq kms).

The forest on Niyamgiri's summit is the most extensive of that on all Orissa's bauxite mountains (some of which are mostly bare on top). The reason is that this mountain range has its own tribe, the Dongria Konds, who hold the mountain summits as sacred and have maintained a taboo on cutting trees up there for hundreds of years. Of all the mountains within the Niyamgiri range, the lease area is on the best forested, north-western range, called Niyam Dongar, which stands at 1,306 metres.

The MoEF document says that "Once permission to undertake mining operations is granted in these forest areas...., equivalent non-forest area will be taken up for compensatory afforestation & will be declared as Protected Forest This afforestation activity will ensure a stretch of green cover of indigenous, desired, fruit bearing & small timber species as per the choice of the local population" - a virtually meaningless offer since plantations bear no comparison with primary forest in terms of the complex eco-system that gets destroyed by mining. In addition reclamation of mined areas will be afforested "which will increase the forest cover in the district.... & enhance the quality of the forests" – a transparent impossibility to anyone who understands the difference between primary forest still existing on a mountain and a plantation (which on bauxite-mined areas is nearly always largely eucalyptus as this is the only tree that will grow in such disturbed and sterile ground).

2. "Impact on water regime" contains a similarly outrageous claim: "Due to Bauxite mining micro cracks are likely to develop along the walls of the hill slopes which will help seepage of water and augment ground water recharge and consequently stream flow. Hence the streams originating from the hill slopes will maintain their flow and will be benefited due to the mining operations in contrast to the pre-mining situation." It is obvious that the cracks will speed up run-off during the rainy season and have a seriously drying effect on the streams during the hot summer months. It is well-known that Bauxite has a strong water-retaining capacity, which is damaged by mining.

3. Under "impact on wildlife" the report claims there will e no serious impact, as there will be "controlled blasting during daylight hours (maximum 2 blasts per week)", when mining experts say that a bauxite mine like this would only be viable if there were at least 3 blastings per day. No mention is made about the impact of the mining road up the Mt side (which is through deep forest), nor of the timber & hunting mafias which invariably enter along such roads, nor of the elephant reserve which this area forms part of. Evidence that elephants do come up to the summit produced by the Wildlife Institute of India is ignored, as is well-documented evidence of unique & rare species and new discoveries in Niyamgiri's forest, such as the golden gecko .

4. The MoEF reports lists just 10 bauxite reserves on mountains in the Kalahandi-Koraput area, leaving out at least 4 major deposits, namely Deo Mali (Orissa's highest mountain, which Nalco is trying to get permission to mine), Bapla Mali (Bat Mt, due to be mined by Utkal), Sassubohu Mali ("Mother-in-Law Daughter-in Law Mountain", mentioned in the press within the last week as the applied-for mining site of a new project by the IMFA company), and Ghusri Mali (where several companies have applied). All these mountains have richly diverse wildlife and flora, where recent surveys have discovered new species of snakes, plants and insects, as well as bears, leopards, elephants, monitor lizards, king cobras and other endangered species.

5. On Adivasi society the document's "Impact on Tribal Life Habitations" displays gross insensitivity and ignorance. The gist is that Vedanta's project will offer development similar to Nalco's bauxite-mining and refinery project, operating at Damanjodi for the last 20 years. "The Nalco bauxite mining project in Koraput Dist of Orissa has made significant positive impact on tribal life by way of providing direct & indirect employment, service & support opportunities......The envisaged bauxite mining projects in these districts will bring about economic prosperity in the area. The project authorities will be required to undertake special tribal development programmes to take care of the health, education, communications and sustainable livelihood of the tribals living around these bauxite bearing areas. Such a scheme will reduce biotic pressure and help forest conservation." The distortions here are truly mind-blowing. Parikh's documents included material from the Orissa Assembly report on Nalco, Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) & the Planning Commission that shows over 73% of people in the Damanjodi area live below the poverty line, and a catalogue of environment as well as social devastation from Nalco's activities, with employment promises not fulfilled etc etc. Michael Ross' "Extractive Sectors & the Poor" (Oxfam 2001) documents the Resource Curse over many countries, while the CSE studies show that all the poverty indices in Planning Commsission statistics are invariably worst for mining-affected Districts. In other words, all the evidence shows that mining increases poverty rather than diminishing it, and this is particularly so in the Nalco area, cited repeated in the MoEF document as a positive example.

Also it is significant that the MoEF document makes no mention of 3 tribal villages sited on top of two of the ten bauxite capped mountains, Siji & Kutru Malis. Also that it mentions the Kutia Kond Development Agency (which is located in Kandhmahal/Phulbani district - a different area), but NOT the DONGRIA KOND DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (DKDA), which works throughout the Niyamgiri range & is directly relevant. In other words, on tribal issues as on environmental issues, the MoEF report is full of inaccuracies and omissions, and certainly no basis on which to grant Clearance for mining Niyamgiri.

6.The safeguards in the document are completely useless & unenforceable:


1. demarcate lease area with concrete pillars......

2. compensatory afforestation........

3. mutation & transfer of equivalent non-forest land to Forest Dept....

4. forest land only to be used for stated purpose [which is mining - the worst!]....

5. rehabilitation of project-affected families.....

6. as far as pos all overburden shall be used for backfilling....

7. fencing of safety zone area....

8. overburden dumps shall be managed scientifically....

9. NPV of forestland sought for diversion for mining....

10. The user agency shall prepare a comprehensive plan for the development of tribals in the project impact area [no mention of even making them part of the decision-making process!!!]

11. Controlled blasting only may be used in exigencies wherever needed to minimize the impact of noise on wildlife....

12. user agency to provide free fuel/firewood... to labourers & staff to avoid any damage/pressures on adjacent areas...

13. The user agency shall undertake the development of a Green Belt by way of plantation in all vacant areas within the project [this is very revealiong - compensatory afforestation will almost certainly be predominantly eucalyptus, jatropha, acacia etc, whatever mention has been made of indigenous species......]


i. reclamation of mines to be carried out concurrently & monitoird by forest dept...

ii. Wildlife Management Plan modified acc to WII & monitored.....

iii. all efforts to prevent soil erosion & pollution of rivers/streams....

iv. user agency to undertake comprehensive hydro-geology study....monitored by Bhub office....

v. User agency to spend 5% of profits for local development.......

7. The data on the externality cost of bauxite mining and the aluminium industry finds no mention in the MoEF document. Briefly, according to documents from the Wuppertal Institute of resource management (Germany) & UK Govt figures, producing one ton of aluminium consumes over 1,000 tons of water, and 85 tons of CO 2, which imposes a cost estimated at $1,700 (per ton of aluminium) on the local environment where it is produced. Saying that aluminium is a "green metal" (as the attorney general claimed on 6th September, on the basis that aluminium use saves trees) is a gross distortion.

Vedanta was listed in the London Stock Exchange on 5th Dec 2003 with the help of J.P.Morgan (US) as sponsor and financial advisor, along with HSBC, Cazenove (UK), Citigroup (US), ICICI (US), and Macquarie (Australia), & subsequent major investments from Barclays (UK), Deutsche Bank (Germany) and numerous other foreign financial institutions. The comprehensive report which J.P.Morgan commissioned for the London listing (dated Dec 2003) mentions the Lanjigarh refinery & Niyamgiri mine as a principal project, while documenting the inevitable environmental costs in some detail – unlike the MoEF report. Among these impacts cited in the J.P.Morgan report are the polluting conditions in which Red Mud toxic waste and fly ash are stored at Vedanta/Balco's Korba refinery, significant in light of recent news that within a month of starting production, the Lanjigarh refinery has already polluted the Bansadhara river near its source from Niyamgiri, where it has been declared unfit for drinking and use by the villagers who have always used it.

This carelessness, as well as the oppression of tribal protestors, the corruption and "briberization" evident all around Lanjigarh now, represent just the first stages of this mining project's costs to Orissa's environment and society, including future generations, while the profits are set to accumulate with the foreign banks and metal traders.

The Objection registered on 5th October, whose hearing was suppressed on 26th, was made on the grounds of the fundamental rights of tribal people to their religion and its structures, which include Niyamgiri. The aluminium industry is being imposed in Orissa with a ruthlessless and insensitivity towards tribal people amply documented in Robert Goodland's report on the Utkal project in Kashipur, and several carefully researched human rights reports from the area by the PUCL etc. The way tribal people's interests and voices are being marginalized was all too evident yesterday, and Sanjay Parikh admitted afterwards he felt himself treated like a tribal in the way Arjit had humiliated and silenced him.

To summarize: of all Orissa's Bauxite-capped Mountains, Niyamgiri is the last that should be mined, due to the thick primary saal forest covering at least 80% of its summit and its spiritual significance to the Dongria, whose religious taboo on cutting this forest has maintained it in a uniquely unspoilt condition. There are alternative Bauxite reserves within Orissa which could and should be granted, according to the OMC's original agreement with Sterlite, in preference to Niyamgiri. By giving Clearance for Niyamgiri, the SC is responible for sending all the worst signals to mining companies and investors: namely that India's best environmental assets are for sale if enough money is given to the right people .

krishna, ECONET, Pune