Sunday, October 21, 2007

Diversion of Tsunami funds in Kerala

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PRESS RELEASE 18 October 2007, Thiruvanathapuram


Plans by Kerala Tourism and the Harbour Engineering Department to construct an artificial reef in Kovalam, by using funds from the Central Government assisted Tsunami Rehabilitation Project, have come under fire from the fishing community. Reports indicate that a New Zealand based marine consultancy firm ASR ‘Amalgamates Solutions and Research’ Ltd will be paid 4 crore rupees to construct a 500 metre long artificial reef adjacent to Kovalam beach. The city based Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) is reported to be in support of the project.

Tourism department officials claim that the primary purpose of the artificial reef will be to break waves, thereby mitigating the potential impacts of another Tsunami. Therefore the Tsunami Rehabilitation money being tapped into. Tourism Department officials also claim that the reef will help promote tourism activities such as water skiing, surfing and swimming. Another plus is that the area encircled by the reef can be used as a fish breeding ground. The reef is to be constructed with geo-textile bags which will have a length of 50 metres and 5 metres in width.

‘This is a clear cut case of Tsunami funds being diverted for the benefit of the tourism lobby in the state’, said T Peter, President of the Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF). ‘We are raising fundamental questions here; Who wants the reef and why? And are there any benefits to the fishing community’, he questioned.

On the contrary KSMTF argues that fishing communities in Kovalam are likely to lose their livelihoods as a result. Community based shore–seine fishing in the area will be curtailed and at least 500 people will lose their livelihood options. ‘The fish breeding ground will be used for ‘sport fishing’ by tourists and will be of little use to the local fishworkers’, clarified Peter.

Peter also said the role of institutions such as CESS supporting the project need to be examined. The ASR website has a CESS senior scientist and ASR Managing Director Dr. Kerry Black as co-authors in a paper. ‘This is a potential case of conflict of interest and CESS’ scientists support for the project needs to be taken with a pinch of salt’, he added.

KSMTF in a statement said that ‘there is a need for a careful, evidence based risk assessment of the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of artificial reefs’. The Federation also stated that even if the artificial reef is able to break waves, the potential impacts on neighbouring villages such as Vizhigam and Panathura need to be assessed. There are cases of such artificial barriers diverting waves to nearby areas. Steps constructed at Shangumugham beach resulted in the diversion of waves and a nearby road being washed away.

‘We oppose the mis-utilisation of Tsunami rehabilitation funds for the tourism industry. Public money should be used for public purposes and we demand that the Kerala Government withdraw the proposed reef project and instead consult with local communities to ascertain what their development needs are’, concluded Peter.
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For more information contact T Peter: + 91-9447429243. Email: ksmtf@keralafishwor

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