Sunday, December 30, 2007
(Clarification issued by the A&N Admin)
NEWS REPORT CLARIFIED
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
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.
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.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
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.
(Photo: Zubair Ahmed/The Light of Andamans)
(Photo: Zubair Ahmed/The Light of Andamans)
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.
Monday, December 24, 2007
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 email@example.com
Also please do forward the contents to other relevant egroups as well as individuals who might be interested.
PROTECTED AREA UPDATE
News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia
Vol. XIII No. 6, December 2007 (No. 70)
LIST OF CONTENTS
Wetlands in Focus
NEWS FROM INDIAN STATES
-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
JAMMU & KASHMIR
-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
NATIONAL NEWS FROM INDIA
-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
IN THE SUPREME COURT
WETLANDS IN FOCUS
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.
PROTECTED AREA UPDATE
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.
|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.|
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 (http://cires.colorado.edu/%7ebilham/IndonesiAndaman2004_files/AndamanSRL4Mar.htm) 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 ( http://www.asce.org/files/pdf/tsunami/3-7.pdf ) 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
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)