Monday, August 20, 2007

Hotel mistakes Nobel laureate for bag lady

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent
Friday August 17, 2007
The Guardian,,2150467,00.html

The 1992 Nobel peace prize winner, Rigoberto Menchu
The 1992 Nobel peace prize winner, Rigoberto Menchu. Photograph: EPA

She was wearing a Mayan dress, the traditional attire of indigenous people in central America, and the hotel's response was also traditional: throw her out.

Staff at Cancun's five-star Hotel Coral Beach appear to have assumed this was another street vendor or beggar, so without asking questions they ordered her to leave. Except the woman was Rigoberta Menchú, the Nobel peace prizewinner, Unesco goodwill ambassador, Guatemalan presidential candidate and figurehead for indigenous rights.

The attempted eviction, an example of discrimination against indigenous people common in central and south America, backfired when other guests recognised Ms Menchú and interceded on her behalf.

The human rights activist was in the Mexican coastal resort at the request of President Felipe Calderón to participate in a conference on drinking water and sanitation and was due to give interviews at the hotel.

David Romero, a journalist and newsreader who was due to interview her for state radio Quintana Roo, told local media that hotel security tried to eject Ms Menchú from the lobby. They relented when told who she was. It was said not to be the first time a hotel has tried to throw her out.

Ms Menchú, 48, was awarded the 1992 Nobel peace prize for protesting against human rights abuses during Guatemala's brutal civil war.

Commentators noted the irony of upmarket resorts discriminating against real Maya while trying to attract tourists with fake Mayan architecture and spectacles.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

2004 earthquake shifts southern Indian cities

The Hindu, Aug. 15, 2007

Y. Mallikarjun

Horizontal movement towards Nicobar

Major tectonic shift occurred at a fast pace

Land mass might take long to return to earlier position

HYDERABAD: The Andaman and Nicobar belt moved horizontally by 3 metres to 6 metres, Chennai by 2 cm, Bangalore by 1.5 cm and Hyderabad by 11 mm following the undersea Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004.

In the normal course such a tectonic shift would have taken hundreds of years to occur but it happened in less than 10 minutes during the earthquake. The impact caused by the 9.2 magnitude temblor could be gauged by the fact that the Indian plate was moving at the rate of 4 cm a year with respect to the Burmese plate.

Scientists from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) who carried out GPS-based studies in the Andaman and Nicobar islands before and after the earthquake, told The Hindu on Monday that horizontal movement was noticed t owards the Nicobar side.

While a 3-m movement was found in the middle of Andamans, it was 6 m between Car Nicobar and Great Nicobar.

The entire island also subsided by 1 m to 2 m vertically. Interestingly, it began to rise again but at a slow speed, and 30 per cent of the land had ‘re-emerged,’ said NGRI Director V.P. Dimri and seismologist V.K. Gahalaut.

Explaining that the uplift of the subsided land mass was occurring in a non-linear manner, they said it might take up to a couple of hundred years for it to return to the pre-2004 position.

Dr. Gahalaut said the boundary between the Indian plate and the Burmese plate, in the sub-duction zone, is about 150 km west of the Andamans. The overriding plate (Burmese) moved by 3 m to 6 m during the earthquake along the 1,500-km faultline extending from North Andaman to West Sumatra.

He explained that before the earthquake, the Indian and Burmese plates were moving together as they were locked and there was no relative movement between the two.

After the earthquake, they got disengaged and the Burmese plate was moving in a southwest direction with respect to the Indian plate at a rate which is faster than the normal plate motion but less than the speed which occurred during the massive temblor.

Tilt and turmoil in the Andamans


Frontline, Vol. 23, Issue 16, August 12-25, 2006

The earthquake and tsunami of December 2004 caused huge changes in the coastal systems of Andaman and Nicobar Island

AN 11-PICTURE COMPILATION showing the huge uplift and destruction of coral reef - covered with mud and debris - west of Interview Island.

December 26, 2004 will be etched forever on our memories for the tsunami that killed lakhs of people and caused unprecedented damage in the coastal regions of South Asia and South East Asia.

PADDY FIELDS AND mangrove forests lie submerged at Sippighat, on the outskirts of Port Blair. The old channels of the creek are still visible, clearly outlined by dead mangrove trees.

Among the worst hit areas in India were the fragile Andaman and Nicobar Islands, particularly the southern group of the Nicobars. Of the nearly 3,500 people reported dead and missing in the entire islands, nearly 3,000 were in the Nicobar group, which has only about 10 per cent of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands' estimated population of 400,000.

Another important indicator of the damage is the area of agricultural and horticultural land that suffered temporary or permanent submergence. In the Nicobars nearly 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) has been damaged, and in the Andamans about 1,800 ha (4,447.8 acres). The magnitude of the damage to the Nicobars becomes clear when one considers the fact that the Andaman group, with a total area of about 6,400 sq. km, is more than three times the size of the Nicobar group. In the Andamans, too, much of the damage occurred in the southern parts, in the Little Andaman and South Andaman islands. The northern groups escaped virtually unscathed.

The explanation of this stark contrast lies in the earthquake that set off the tsunami. The tectonic activity initiated in December 2004 caused a significant shift in the lay of the islands. Assessments done by Dr. Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado indicate that the northern parts of the Andaman group of islands experienced a permanent average uplift of four to six feet (1.2 metres to 1.8 metres) while most parts of the Nicobars went significantly under - four feet in Car Nicobar and a staggering 15 feet (4.57 m) at the southernmost tip - Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island. The pivot of this swing experienced by the islands can be calculated to be roughly located south of Port Blair.

AT JOGINDERNAGAR, GREAT Nicobar Island, buildings and coconut plantations that were far inland before the tsunami are now right on the coastline, on the new beaches.

In the Nicobars, therefore, the water that the tsunami brought in stayed back, permanently inundating huge areas of coastal and low-lying forest and, where they existed, fields, horticultural plantations and settlements of the Nicobaris and the settler families. Among the most significant but little studied or understood implications of this sudden, phenomenal change in the architecture of the islands is the impact on coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, coastal (littoral) forests and coral reefs.

The submergence of the coast has brought this well, filled with sand as a result of wave action, right to the edge of the coast.

Proof of the damage caused to mangroves and littoral forests lies everywhere in the Nicobars. A continuous wall of submerged, dead, brown, decaying timber of various kinds engulfs every single island. The extensive damage to these forests has also had catastrophic implications for a diverse range of rare and endemic flora and fauna that inhabited these systems.

For instance, the submergence in the Nicobars has permanently destroyed a huge part of the nesting habitat of the Nicobari Megapode, an endemic bird that scrapes together a mound of earth for its unique nest. A survey carried out by Ravi Sankaran of the Coimbatore-based Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) in the first few months of the disaster reported that nearly 1,100 nesting mounds were lost in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and the tsunami.

A survey in early 2006 by K. Sivakumar, who was a student of Ravi Sankaran and is now with the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, covered nearly 110 km of the coastline in 15 islands in the Nicobar group. The Nicobari Megapode was the subject of his doctoral thesis and he had conducted extensive surveys of the bird in 1993-94. Sivakumar's present estimates indicate that there are now only about 500 active nesting mounds of the bird and that its population is less than 30 per cent of what was reported a decade ago. While the bird has been hit badly, fears of its extinction have been put to rest.

Little, unfortunately, is known of the other littoral forest-dwelling fauna, mainly the Giant Robber Crab, the Reticulated Python and the Malayan Box Turtle. South Sentinel, a 1.6 sq. km flat, uninhabited island that is also a wildlife sanctuary, had one of the most significant populations of the Giant Robber Crab. Beaching a boat here was always a tricky affair and after the changes in December 2004 it is reported to have become even more so. No credible scientific information exists of the present situation on this island, and therefore of the Robber Crab.

UPLIFTED BED OF mangrove creek.


Another ecological system that has been affected on either side of the pivot is the pristine and extensive coral reefs that the islands are famous for. In the Nicobars the damage was caused by submergence, increased turbidity of the water and the sheer physical impact of debris.

Surveys by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have reported significant impact on the coral reefs around the Central Nicobar group of islands, including Camorta, Nancowry, Trinket and Katchal. R Jeybaskaran of the ZSI's regional station in Port Blair had conducted extensive surveys in the waters of Great Nicobar in 1999. He took a re-look at the reefs after the tsunami only to find that large coral areas were under debris, sand and mud. Also reported was a noticeable reduction in associated coral fauna such as nudibranchs, flat worms, alpheid shrimps and hermit crabs.

Another interesting associated change has been the sudden increase in the otherwise uncommon `Milk Fish' Chanos chanos in the Great Nicobar waters. Fisherfolk catch them in such large numbers that they are now called tsunami macchi.

THE GIANT ROBBER Crab in South Sentinel Island is said to be one of the most badly affected species of fauna by the destruction of coastal forests.

While the Nicobar coral reefs suffered on account of submergence, those in the Andaman waters were permanently thrust above the high-tide line, destroying them in weeks. Among the first to survey these areas for the changes was Harry Andrews of the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team. His report and that of Ravi Sankaran of the Nicobars were published as part of a series by the Wildlife Trust of India - `Ground Beneath the Waves - Post Tsunami Impact Assessment of Wildlife and their Habitats in India'.

Andrews has estimated that more than 50 sq km of pristine coral reefs were thoroughly exposed and destroyed, and the largest single area, on the west and north of Interview Island measured 25 sq km. Like the coral reefs, these parts of the Andamans have also seen loss of mangroves because of the fact that unlike the Nicobars they are now permanently above the high water mark.

The survival of the Nicobari Megapode with its nesting mound (partly seen) in low-lying coastal forests is now under threat.

Significantly, most of the experts and others working on ecological issues in the islands have unanimously advocated no intervention as the best form of intervention. "Allowing nature to take its course is the best way," says Ravi Sankaran, "to allow habitats to restore themselves, and species to colonise areas. Leaving areas alone should be the preferred management option."

Natural systems are bound to respond in complex ways in an attempt to move towards some kind of equilibrium and this should be allowed to happen. The example of sea turtles is a good one. The beaches of the islands (particularly in the Nicobars) that have been important nesting sites for four species - the Giant Leatherback, the Green Sea Turtle, the Olive Ridley and the Hawksbill - were all lost when the coastline in the southern group submerged.

In a few months, however, new beaches started to appear, like soothing, soft caresses all along the altered alignments of the ravaged islands. The turtles, too, were back and there are now regular reports of their using these new beaches for nesting.

SUBMERGED AND DEAD coconut plantation in Great Nicobar Island.

In the Andamans, too, many of these exposed reef areas rapidly filled up with sand, creating additional new landmasses and new beaches. The process goes on and change continues to happen. What will be the nature of the equilibrium ultimately attained? For the answer we have to wait and watch.

Pankaj Sekhsaria is National Foundation for India Media Fellow 2005-06 for writing on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Friday, August 17, 2007


...A Photofeature

Spotted Deer



Jungle Babbler

White Eye's bathing

Blossomheaded Parakeet

This is a selection of pictures from my first trip to the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in November 2005

They are part of latest of the FINGERPRINTS series of PhotoFeatures being published in TERRAGREEN, the present issue being Vol 4, Issue 3, Aug-Sep. , 2007.
Contact: Roshni Sengupta. Email:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Handloom exhib in Chennai - Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association


Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association

invites you


An exhibition of exquisite

Handloom fabrics, dupattas and sarees


Natural dyed fabrics


Khadi and Kalamkari prints

Also introducing a range of furnishings.


C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer Foundation,

Exhibition Hall (mini - I),

1, Eldams Road,

Chennai – 600 018.


23rd to 27th August 2007

(Thursday to Monday)

Time: 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Fabric at the DAMA exhib and sale in Pune, January 2007 (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Dastkar Andhra invites you to share the rich cultural offerings from the cotton handlooms of Andhra. We are working in the sector for more than a decade and recognize its immense potential to contribute for re-energizing the rural livelihoods. The relevance of handlooms in promoting the rich aesthetic of our tradition is evident in the growing demand for handlooms across the nation. Our marketing association works with handloom co-operatives and independent weaver groups from the different districts of Andhra. Our design studio works with weavers, textile designers, and dyers to create a vibrant new identity for the handlooms.
In Ponduru (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

The breadth of the industry is large and it remains the second largest employer after agriculture in the nation. Andhra Pradesh proudly claims a prominent place in the industry with two lakh weavers and several thousands engaged in ancillary activities. The difficulties in the agriculture sector are reaching crisis proportions throwing out of gear the lives of not only farmers but also landless labour engaged in farming. They are ending up as migrant labour in the cities across the nation living in appalling conditions. This has prompted us to offer weaving as an alternative in drought prone areas and bring in non-traditional weavers into the activity. The advantages of working with handlooms are manifold and in consonance with the contemporary demands for conserving energy, and environment friendly production. Operating a handloom does not require power and by using minimum natural resources it can produce the fabric. The additional advantage for the nation’s economy is the low capital investment (setting up a loom costs around Rs.10, 000) and new employment opportunities in the rural sector.


The product line of cotton handlooms


Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association

Welcome the monsoon with a range of vibrantly coloured co-ordinated fabrics, dupattas, sarees and a selection of furnishings in pure hand loomed cotton.

Border fabrics, dupattas, sarees, tie & dye, striped dress material, 100’s count shirting, gadi check shirting, lungies, towels, bedspreads, kuppadam dhothies, handkerchiefs from coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Khadi natural dyed kuppadam border fabric, sarees, dupattas with mugha thread and cotton thread from Ponduru and Singupuram in Srikakulam District.

In Ponduru (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Fine checks, stripes, plain fabrics, dupattas, shirting, furnishings and bedspreads from Rajavolu, Battiprolu, Ilavaram, Kanagala, Cherukupally, Phanidam in Guntur District.

Ikat furnishing fabrics, dress material, dupattas, sarees from Vellanki and Velwarthy in Nalgonda District.

Ikat, Koyalagudem, Nalgonda district (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Traditional vat indigo and natural coloured plain, stripes, and checks and textured fabrics from Chennuru in Adilabad District.

Furnishing and shirting from Karimnagar and other districts in Telangana district.


DAMA Exhibition, Pune, January 2007 (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)
DAMA Exhibition, Pune, January 2007 (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Punishment for culprit in Nu Case

Dear Friends,
You would recollect the incident a few weeks ago where Nu suffered serious burns. (See Postings on the blog dated July 18 and 8)The administration seems to have finally taken note. See the news report below.


Lt. Governor orders probe, wants exemplary punishment to the culprit

Port Blair, Aug 07

The Lt. Governor, Lt General (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh, today visited Adi-Basera, located near Nehru Yuva Kendra. After preliminary inquiry into the recent incident of burning of a Great Andamanese lady, who is under treatment in Chennai, the Lt. Governor ordered for a thorough investigation into the incident and directed the concerned authorities for an exemplary punishment to the culprits and disciplinary action against the staff dealing with the security & safety of tribal people staying in the Adi-Basera.

The Lt. Governor on the spot directed the Executive Secretary of Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) to proceed to Chennai forthwith to ascertain the condition of the tribal lady and ensure that she is getting proper treatment. He also sanctioned an amount of Rs 5 lakh for meeting the treatment charges of the tribal lady.

The Lt. Governor informed all concerned that any untoward incident to tribal people should be brought to his notice immediately and directed the authorities to take immediate measures to avoid recurrence of such incidents in future.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A&N Islands: Dangerous Tourism

This is the draft version of an article that has been published in The Hindu Survey of the Environment 2007

Andaman And Nicobar Islands : Dangerous tourism
by Prachi Pinglay

THE "Incredible India" campaign to promote tourism in India urges people to experience the emerald islands of Andaman and Nicobar. The campaign became aggressive after the tsunami of December 26, 2004 caused severe damage to people, places and aqua marine life around the 572 islands that form Andaman and Nicobar. The government handed out attractive packages and discounts to visit the islands. The results were for everyone to see -- the tourism figures that had declined post-tsunami recovered within a year.
While the picture postcard images of the virgin beaches are true, the increasing numbers of visitors to the islands are posing several challenges to the fragile ecology of the cluster.
On December 26, 2004, the tidal wave that swept over the islands, left after killing over 1,000 people, leaving over 3,000 missing and putting the damages at over Rs1,000 crore. A constant and huge flow of funds, relief operations, reconstruction and redevelopment followed. The tsunami had hit when the tourism season was at its peak causing the numbers to drop.

Since tourism is recognized as one of the main occupations along with coconut cultivation, the government undertook special efforts to restore the falling figures in 2005. In 1980, less than 10,000 tourists visited the islands but by 2004, the number had crossed 100,000. In 2005, the number dipped to 50,000 but it is estimated that the following year, over 1,30,000 travellers visited the islands.

According to the tourism policy and vision statement of the administration, there are plans to increase access to the islands that are not open yet but have potential. But even with the existing facilities, the islands are facing a crisis. In November 2006, even before the peak season had set in, the lack of adequate accommodation meant that tourists had to be accommodated in temples and airport premises. Many new resorts and hotels are being constructed to accommodate the rising figures.

Syed Liyakhat from Equitable Tourism, an NGO based in Bangalore, cautions about the pressure on the islands, "If the population of the islands is put at 3,56,265 according to 2001 census or even just over 4,00,000, then the tourists comprise of more than 25 per cent. One has to see if the place is equipped to handle this kind of pressure."

Zubair Ahmed, who runs the weekly *Light of Andamans*, says, "It is important that any tourism activity helps the local economy but that is not the case here. There are talks about opening up of islands. Tourism activity will be closer to the sea and on the beach. This may result in flouting of rules."

After tsunami, stricter Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules were brought to make the structures safe and avoid any risk of damages due to unusual sea activity. No construction activity is permitted within 200 meters of the coastline. Even fishing communities that lived within this distances are being relocated. However, with upcoming beach resorts, these rules may be relaxed.

Samir Acharya, who runs Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE), says, "To cater to the large number of tourist arrivals, there is a mushrooming growth of accommodation and such accommodations are coming up without proper planning and frequently in violation of the law of the land. In Havelock Island, in most popular tourist destination outside Port Blair, 90 per cent of all tourist facilities stand in violation of CRZ."

A study done by Equitable Tourism in 2002 states, "The tourism vision, if not anything else, is only rhetoric on sustainable ecotourism with little substance to back it up. On the contrary, the vision seeks to relax CRZ and other environmental guidelines for projects on the coast and obtain clearances for tourism projects on forest lands."

The other concern expressed by environmentalists is of the high volume of low-budget tourists that arrive having availed of the Leave Travel Concession (LTC) given by government and public sector companies. LTC tourists are proving to be burden on the islands, as they do not contribute to the local economy. To promote tourism, the government subsidises travel by air as well as by ship. The expenditure borne by the administration and not the tourists is not helping the economy, say locals. More than 90 per cent of tourists are domestic tourists and of the foreign tourists, most of them are backpackers.

Samir Acharya disapproves of the tourists who visit. "Most of the tourists are LTC tourists who come here solely for the privilege of flying and not for the destination. Among the foreign tourist arrivals, a great majority are backpackers and a dollar-a-day tourists. Their main contribution is to enjoy the subsidies and privileges given to the Islanders at Indian taxpayers cost. For example a ship passage by bunk class from Chennai or Kolkata to Port Blair costs only Rs. 1,500 after allowing a Rs. 6,000 subsidy," he says.

With rich but delicate and fragile aqua culture, the islands need ecologically conscious tourists, who are sensitised about the environmental challenges. There have been several incidents where corals have been broken or damaged intentionally or unintentionally by tourists who go for diving and other aqua sports. Resorts like the Jungle Resort by the Barefoot Group,
encourages low volume high-end tourists where the facilities provided are expensive but keep environmental concerns in mind.

Tourist activity also results in over-consumption of available resources like water and electricity. The local population bears the brunt to provide for the extra. Pankaj Sekhsaria of Kalpavriksh says, "The A&N administration needs to extremely careful with the way they are promoting tourism in the islands. We have seen in the last few months that fresh water is a serious constraint, particularly in parts of Port Blair and it seems evident that the administration has not considered matters such as this and the limited infrastructure in the islands to cater to this kind of tourist rush."

All the 38 inhabited islands depend mostly on rainwater. Despite getting good rains during the monsoons, by April the islands face severe water shortage. Moreover, the tsunami wave, which swept over the few fresh water springs, has perhaps caused permanent damage to those springs, thus making most inhabitants dependent on the administration supply.

Acharya provides details of water rationing, "The shortage of water in Andamans is a matter of record. Post tsunami it is increasingly worsening. Water rationing is an annual feature here starting usually from February and continuing till the onset of the monsoons. This year, the authorities were forced to resort to rationing a full month in advance in January itself. During water rationing, the average Port Blair family gets water only for half an hour every alternate day. At present we are getting water half an hour a day in three days. Many rural areas and the poorer folk in town are worse off. Since tourists are also human beings, obviously, they consume quite a bit of water. In fact even in middle class hotels and resorts an average tourist consumes two to three times the quantity that an average Port Blairian gets."

Another problem is waste management. There is no dedicated waste management plan to deal with increasing number of tourists and the commensurate increase in disposables like bottled water. As of now large amounts of garbage and sewage finds their way into the sea. As Sekhsaria points out, "There needs to be an assessment of volume of tourists that the islands can presently handle, of what resources will be needed and what is available. It is asking for trouble otherwise. We also have no idea whether the administration has waste management and disposal systems in place to deal with the huge tourist rush."

Of the total area, nearly 86 per cent is forest cover and with the stricter CRZ rules, the land available for development is less than eight per cent of the total land. Though this seems like sufficient forest cover, cutting down of trees will result in several rare species of flora and fauna going extinct. The islands also are home to 22 per cent mangroves cover of India and the recent tsunami has caused permanent damage to large areas of cultivation as well as mangroves. Despite the damage caused by tsunami to the coral reefs and marine life, the archipelago is still home to several rare species. However, if the forests and sanctuaries are denotified and are made open to public, there is a risk to some of the near-extinct and rare species.

If the settlers are this apprehensive about unplanned tourism, one can only imagine its impact on the tribal population. The islands have some of the oldest aboriginal tribes in the world with whom "friendly contact" has yet to be established. Anthropologists and environmental groups have time and again criticised the ATR (Andaman Trunk Road), which cuts through the Jarawa reserve. Not only is maintaining this road an expensive affair, it has also exposed the Jarawa community to the passing traffic resulting in exploitation of Jarawas for exchange of tobacco and money. There is a possibility of opening up of 15 islands and more access to reserved sanctuaries as a part of promotion of tourism industry. This will result in reducing the natural habitat for these tribes and they will be forced to assimilate with the passing tourist traffic and local population.

Apart from the direct impact of unchecked tourism, another form of pressure is from the migratory population. Mohammad Jadwet, President of Andaman Chamber of Commerce, says lack of skilled labour is an obstacle for tourism activity. "There is lack of skilled labour and for everything one has to bring people from the mainland. Be it hospitality industry in terms of cooks or management or be it construction. Even labour is brought from mainland." This may result in several hundred people resettling on the islands, which has already crossed the maximum brim 400,000 mark. The Andamans and Nicobar islands leave tourists breathless with excitement. Yet it is these very visitors that could, in the long run, lead to the destruction of what makes these islands unique.

Pics by Pankaj Sekhsaria

Boarding the ferry at Middle Strait Jetty (December 2006)

Tourist spots in North and Middle Andaman - A tea shop at Jirkatang, where the Andaman Trunk Road enters the Jarawa Tribal Reserve (December 2006)

Natural Limestone caves, Baratang (December 2006)

Tourists and tour operators, Baratang (December 2006)

Returning from a trip to the limestone caves, Baratang (December 2006)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia

Vol. XIII No. 4

August 2007 (No. 68)



Some lessons from Gir


-Villagers for protection of Pakhui TR

-Meeting held for Kaziranga protection
-Veterinary Camp around Pobitara WLS
-Timber smuggling in Manas NP

-Gautam Budha WLS under naxal control

-Protection measures being augmented at Gir
-Court denies bail of those arrested in lion poaching in Gir
-NGO organizes conservation awareness programs around Gir
-Gir staff to get insurance cover
-Monthly Monitoring Committee for Gir lions
-168 Blackbuck washed away in flood in Velavadar NP; two lions in Gir also perish

-Gujarat to set up Wildlife Crime Cell
-HP to allow hunting of wild boar
-Chandratal to be declared a wildlife sanctuary

-Windmills proposal for Kudremukh NP

-Ban on NTFP collection impacting adivasis and BRT Wildlife Sanctuary
-Cap on visitors to some PAs in state
-16 elephant deaths in first half of 2007 in Kollegal Wildlife Division

-Kerala to use Wildlife Protection Act in Mullaperiyar Dam case
-Kerala cabinet rejects Community Reserve proposal for Vembanad lake

-No plan to move out VIP guest house complex from Tadoba

-Tadoba Andhari TR’s Kolara Gate to be opened for tourists

-Wetland International report expresses concern over Loktak

-Steps to check encroachment of Chilika Lake
-Night safari proposed by Satkosia Wildlife Division

-NREGS for tribals affected by Satkosia WLS
-Captive bred crocs released in Bhitarkanika
-Eviction from Sunabeda WLS opposed

-Three new PAs in Punjab

-‘Friends of Tigers’ for Ranthambor NP
Rajasthan Police gets Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award 2007

-Rains hit Rajasthan wildlife census in May

-Study of the Gulf of Mannar’s eco system
-Tiger numbers up in Mudumalai WLS

-High Court asks for reconsideration of FD order for eviction of Ban Gujjars from Rajaji
-Reliance Energy team found digging illegally in Askot WLS

-Zoo proposed in the East Calcutta Wetlands

-Narrow guage line proposed inside Senchal WLS

Call for proposals – Small Grants Program for Eastern Himalayas
Centre urges apex court to wind up ‘forest bench’
US $ 105 million GEF environment Aid to India
Meeting of Field Directors of all Tiger Reserves
National Board for Wildlife reconstituted
Ex-servicemen for tiger protection
Database of Ornithologists

-Top Sunberban official arrested for corruption
-Simultaneous public protests in five PAs
-Increasing number of Chitwan villagers involved in rhino poaching
-Sacred sites trail project in Sagarmatha NP

-Western/Central Asian Site Network for Siberian Cranes and other waterbirds
-Call for Wildlife Reserve to Cover 30% of Oceans

-Global Change and Pas
-II Latin American PA Congress

-Commentaries on Wildlife Law

-Field researchers for seed dispersal study in Pakke Tiger Reserve
-JRF for project on Shifting agriculture in the NE
-Research assistants for project on Trawl Fishing along the Coromandel Coast

If one goes by news reports of the last couple of months (see stories from Gujarat in this issue of the PA Update), a lot has been happening in the lion forests of Gir. A number of measures have been proposed or are being implemented by the Gujarat Government and the Forest Department for the protection of lions. There is a recruitment drive in Gir to add new protection staff and to fill up posts that have been lying empty for a long while. There is a realization that the average age of staff is on the higher side and unless younger people are brought in, protection work will suffer.
The State has decided to set up a Wildlife Crime Cell to track and deal with poaching and other wildlife related crimes and there is now going to a ten member monthly monitoring committee to constantly keep an on the happenings in and around the forests here. Officers and staff are being given better equipment, more vehicles and the communication infrastructure too is being improved.
Additional efforts are reportedly being made to work with the local communities with a ‘vanyaprani mitra’ scheme and by recruiting them as informers. An insurance scheme is also being put in place for the forest staff.
At one level it all seems welcome; it’s good that vacant posts are being filled, that younger staff is being recruited, that they are being adequately equipped, that a safety net with an insurance cover is being put in place and there is an acknowledgement of the need to work with local communities.
What is very striking, however, is that the initiatives appear to have come like a sudden torrent and that too measures that should have always been in place. What can be the justification for posts lying vacant, for protection staff to be working with inadequate equipment or security? Why do we expect that our forests and our wildlife will be protected when this is the ground situation? Why is that that these lacunae are noticed only after a disaster strikes, after nearly a dozen lions have been killed in an unprecedented spate of poaching incidents; after the proverbial horse has already bolted?
The lesson here is one that needs to be taken across the country. Forest Departments and protected areas across most, if not all, states in the country have been complaining of exactly the situation that is now being corrected in Gir.
It is not that an acknowledgement of the situation does not exist. The recent meeting of the Tiger Reserve Directors held in June in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (see page 19) lists out pretty much the same problems. It is important that these be addressed and corrective action be taken at the earliest. It is unrealistic otherwise to expect that those at the forefront of protecting our increasingly threatened wildlife will be effective or be able to perform. That is the minimum we owe them and it is certainly not too much.

It was around the same time last year that we had sent out a similar appeal for support for the Protected Area Update. Many readers and organizations had responded positively, which itself was an indication to us that the PA Update is useful and we have a number of well wishers.
The Foundation for Ecological Security continues to be our biggest supporter and has willingly agreed to provide a majority of the funding for the PA Update for another year. Just like last year, however, we are still short by about a 30% of the budget.
There are various ways, big and small, in which we can be helped. Individual readers are urged to send in their contribution as subscription. These are small amounts but if we receive a large number the help will be great. Organisations like Forest Departments and NGOs can avail of the bulk subscription method where we can together reach out to a larger number of people as well.
We also have back issues of the Update is a simple hard bound three volume set that would be a very valuable resource base for researchers, officials, activists or anybody else interested in getting a comprehensive picture of what has happened in the country’s PA network over the last few years.
I do hope you will consider contributing. For any further details or clarifications please do write to me. We would also welcome any other ideas that you might have for us.

Pankaj Sekhsaria

Vol. XIII, No. 4, August 2007 (No. 68)
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 68 has been supported by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), Anand.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sanctuary Asia

Sanctuary Magazine
Aug2007 - Vol. XXVII No. 4
Issue Highlights

© Jayanth Sharma
Google Tiger - Quo vadis Panthera tigris?
If only a search engine could chronicle the assaults we have inflicted on wild India and our national animal! Bittu Sahgal and Jennifer Scarlott outline steps to help us tackle India’s current tiger crisis, with the added bonus of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere to counter climate change. Prerna Singh Bindra adds sombrely that in the meanwhile tiger numbers are hitting rock bottom.[more]

Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone
Sri Lanka is home to an abundance of wildlife, much of it endemic. The lesser-known, forested areas of the wet zone in the southwestern portion of the emerald island are believed to be ecological relics from the time Sri Lanka and India were still attached to Gondwanaland. Ian Lockwood undertakes a voyage of discovery to explore the similarities between the island nation’s biodiversity and that of India’s Western Ghats.

On the Rooftop of the World
What does the future hold for Tibet, a country so rich in culture and natural wealth? After the Chinese occupation, the Tibetan Plateau, turned into an arena for mining, oil exploration, pipelines, fencing and destructive roads. Tibet stands at the crossroads as it clings to ancient, nature-worshipping rituals, and attempts to deal with changes it never sought. Vijay Crishna travelled across this stark, stunning, snow-and-scree landscape to experience its wilds, imbibe its spirit and contemplate the incredibly dark conservation challenges ahead.

Adjutant in the City
Guwahati, Assam, is a vital stronghold of the Greater Adjutant, where the birds need a totally different protection strategy, writes Samsul Huda Patgiri.

Wet, wet Ranthambhore
The husband-wife duo, Joydip Suchandra Kundu share exhilaration and heartache while on monsoon patrol in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.

Unravelling Dhamra’s Secrets
Pratyush P. Mohapatra writes about a month-long biodiversity study of the Dhamra area in Orissa that confirms what naturalists always knew – turtles use the Dhamra estuary’s offshore waters

No port for turtles?
Instead of protecting olive ridley turtles, the Orissa state government is encouraging Larsen and Toubro and TATA Steel to build the turtle-lethal Dhamra port, writes Ashish Fernandes.

Inside Story
Rakesh Shukla, Research Officer with the Kanha Tiger Reserve, on how science helps protect one of the world’s finest tiger reserves.

Monday, August 6, 2007

DAY 47...

While millions in India, Nepal and Bangladesh are badly affected by probably one of the worst floods in decades as described and local rumours of a Chudel !! haunting people catches their fancy and fodder for general talk and gossip in Sikkim, the indefinite hunger strike by Satyagrahis and members of ACT has reached its 47th Day today. This is the longest hunger strike in the history of Sikkim ever.

There is still no confirmation from press releases as reported in the daily papers or other sources about the two sides heading to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile the main opposition party, Congress, burned an effigy of Governor V Rama Rao on Saturday in front of Congress Bhawan for his alleged lack of attention towards the hunger strike of ACT. The incident triggered following a recent meeting of the Joint Action Committee with the Governor on July 25, wherein a memorandum was submitted to him to intervene and exercise his powers provided specially under Article 371F(g) of the Indian Constitution. 3 people have been arrested following this incident so far.

Mr Ashok Bhattacharya, Urban Development Minister of West Bengal and speaking on behalf the Communist Party of India (CPI (m)) also extended support to ACT at a function here in Sikkim to mark the 30 year old rule by the left front in West Bengal. Ironically, the Teesta Lower Dams fall in his area of influence!!

Besides, another opposition party in the State, has asked the Government for a white paper on the proposed hydel projects seeking to get a better and more comprehensive understanding of hydel projects. Pointing out that more than 75% of the total hydro electric power projects in Sikkim were non-fuctional(from a BJP assessment made in May 2006), many of the new projects coming up may meet the same fate!

The hydel projects named as non functional are:

1. Chatten Hydel Power Plant
2. Rabum Hydel Power Plant running at sub optimum level
3. Lagyap Hydel Power Plant running at sub optimal level
4. Jali Hydel Power Plant
5. Topakhani Hydel Power Plant
6. Nimtar Hydel Power Plant
7. Rothak Hydel Power Plant
8. Rimbi Hydel Power Plant

The offical website of the Energy & Power Department of the Government of Sikkim,

The list of Hydro Power projects alloted to private & public Sector as on December 2006 in Sikkim can be accessed at:

List of Hydro Developers in Sikkim:-


NDTV is presently giving coverage to the indefinite hunger strike by ACT and issues associated with it throughout the day in its hourly news updates. Banu Haralu, one of North Eastern India's senior journalist is covering it on behalf of NDTV.

Plan to link up with BSkyB splits Friends of the Earth

· 'Favoured charity' status would boost media profile

· Activists angered by approach to broadcaster

Severin Carrell, The Guardian, Monday, August 6, 2007

The environment group Friends of the Earth has been split by a bitter internal row after its directors approached the broadcaster BSkyB to set up a joint campaign on climate change which could be worth more than £1.7m. Executives at FoE received a barrage of complaints from senior campaigners after they decided to bid to become Sky's favoured charity in a three-year deal which would give the group direct access to Sky's 8.6 million subscribers and its satellite channels.

The Guardian has learnt that 77 FoE staff - including most senior campaigners as well as the outgoing director of FoE Wales, Julian Rosser - signed a highly critical petition to FoE's board last month calling for the Sky bid to be withdrawn.

FoE's directors say the tie-up would give the group an unparalleled opportunity to reach a mass audience with its campaign on climate change. Sky claims its programmes and news channel are seen in a third of British homes, while its customer magazine has the highest circulation in Britain.

After its chief executive, James Murdoch, was converted to the climate change cause, BSkyB has won plaudits after branding itself as a carbon-neutral company, cutting emissions by 20% and increasing its programming on environmental issues.

Mr Murdoch famously persuaded his father, Rupert, to screen Al Gore's documentary film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, at a News Corporation summit last year, which led other Murdoch titles including the Sun to embrace the global warming message. But FoE staff claimed in the petition that such a direct link to Sky would be highly divisive, damaging the group's reputation for not taking money from corporate interests and for campaigning against multinationals.

They fear that Sky's links to Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the conservative, climate-sceptic broadcaster Fox News, would risk losing core supporters and local groups, who are often seen as "deep" greens. Annual subscriptions from members account for 90% of FoE's £10m income.

Critics of the move claim that supporters will resign in protest. They also dispute BSkyB's green track record, since all its set-top boxes waste energy in standby mode, it promotes cheap flights, and it relies heavily on carbon offsetting - the system, opposed by FoE, where firms try to cancel out their own carbon emissions by planting trees or helping cut emissions by others.

Their protests were rejected by the board. Roger Higman, FoE's campaigns co-ordinator, said many of FoE's 150 staff supported the approach to Sky. The opportunity to reach nearly 9m homes and influence the broadcaster was too valuable to miss. BSkyB's corporate stance on cutting emissions put it in the "front rank" of British firms tackling global warming: "Climate change is an absolutely massive issue and we have got to persuade the British population to back, or at least accept, action to cut emissions by 90% over the next 50 years." Sky could be "potentially very influential" in achieving that. "We've a duty to explore this."

Other green groups, including the UK wing of the global environment group WWF, which secured a record $50m (£24.47m) sponsorship deal with the HSBC bank in 2002, have also put in bids. Around 170 charities have applied to become BSkyB's charity partner - the three-year deal has earned the current partner, Chickenshed Theatre Company, £1.7m in donations from Sky staff and customers.

BSkyB hopes to exceed that figure with its next charity, which could alternatively focus on sports, education or the arts. The broadcaster is due to unveil a shortlist of five charities this month. They will be invited to make a short film for Sky, whose viewers and staff will select the winner.

Other major environment groups have distanced themselves from Sky's offer. A spokesman for Greenpeace said: "We've an absolutely cast-iron position that we don't take any money from corporations. We're entirely funded by our members, so we wouldn't do that."

Sikkim locals protest hydel projects

Bano Haralu
Monday, August 6, 2007 (Gangtok)
Prayers and protests have come together in Sikkim to stop the 26 hydel projects cleared for construction on the Teesta river. This is the longest ever hunger strike in Sikkim over any issue and is raising fundamental questions on the random sanctioning of dams along the Eastern Himalayas, considered one of the most volatile seismic and ecologically fragile areas in the world.
The total power generation expected from these projects is over 5000 MW, 25 times more than the states' requirement. The protest has been loudest from the indigenous Lepcha community as 13 of the 26 projects are proposed in this area.

The Lepchas say the hydel projects will destroy the protected Dzongu Reserve in North Sikkim, considered the cradle of Lepcha civilisation. But the government says it is a question of the greater good. The lepchas are only a small constituent in the area.

''We are very concerned about the strike by our young people especially from Dzungo and we are looking into it,'' said M G Kiran, Secretary Information and Public Relation. The protests have brought the issue of large dams to the centre stage. Nearly 150 of them are across north east India in some of the most ecologically fragile areas.

Friday, August 3, 2007

ButterflyIndia Meet 2007

What is this Meeting / Meet / Workshop / Seminar / Conference is officially called ?

"ButterflyIndia Meet 2007 : EG" Eastern Ghats (August 16-19, 2007)

How do I Register for the meet ?

Send the EG Registration form to Ushodayan ( and cc to Vijay (

For more details visit

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sethusamudram Project - An economic assessment

SSCP inspires debate on what is public purpose
2 Aug, 2007, 0445 hrs IST,
Jacob John,

Whether it is the opposition parties asking for the justification of the public purpose behind the land acquisition at Singur, or the Supreme Court querying the largescale acquisition of land from farmers, the meaning of public purpose is today under scrutiny.

Traditionally, the public purpose doctrine has been for public infrastructure projects like electricity, roads, railways and other projects that were deemed to be of strategic or particular importance. The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) is similarly justified, with project proponents stating that it would save up to 36 hours of shipping time.

However, the detailed project report (DPR) itself states that the biggest saving will be for journeys from Tuticorin to Chennai, and it will, in fact, be 30 hours and not 36 as frequently claimed. Recently, many naval experts have repeatedly stated that with the exception of voyages from ports on the Indian west coast to the Indian east coast, there are unlikely to be any significant gains for ships that are making the voyage through the Sethusamudram canal.

This information is not reflected in the L&T Ramboll DPR, as it assumes that voyages for all ships begin either at Tuticorin or Kanyakumari. The savings for these ships may be acceptable: a reduction in time between 10 and 30 hours.

In dollar terms, a 20,000 dead weight tonne (DWT) ship save about $17,962 per voyage as per DPR. DPR hopes to charge 50% of this amount ($8,981) for ships using the canal. This represents a saving in time charter and fuel costs for ships using the canal. For ships coming from places like Europe and Africa, the average savings is just 8 hours!

A journey from Mauritius to Kolkata would actually be longer by nearly four hours for an average ship. The average savings for a 20,000 DWT ship, making a voyage from either Europe or Africa, is just $3,989: just 22% of the savings projected in DPR. The lack of gains for ships from Africa and Europe may not have been significant had it been a part of the project design and factored in the risks of the project.

However, 65% of the voyages (and hence revenue), as per DPR, originate from Africa, the Middle East and Europe. For ships from Africa and Europe, using the canal would mean making a loss of $4,992 on every voyage at the proposed tariff structure. Ships could be incentivised to use the canal (by reducing tariff rates).

The catch with that scenario is that the pre-tax IRR of the project then falls to just 2.6%! This is a level at which even public infrastructure projects are usually rejected. The project rests on a set of assumptions that are fundamentally flawed. It assumes savings for all ships are the same while they are actually very different. The public purpose of a reduction in shipping time is, in fact, not valid for most of the ships using the canal.

Neither does the project provide revenue for the government. If the aim of the government is to boost shipping along the peninsula, there are very good alternatives. The annual interest savings of the project could provide a subsidy of around Rs 250 crore that could be spent on upgrading the ports in Tuticorin and Chennai, as well as providing a subsidy to all ships calling at these ports.

Central to the debate on the public purpose of SSCP is the idea of public purpose itself. While projects are routinely justified on the grounds of a larger public purpose, there is little scrutiny or accountability to the public purpose that has been used to justify it.

If SSCP does not benefit the number of ships outlined in DPR, what are the mechanisms to ensure that the country at worst cuts its losses and at best penalises the project promoters? Building in an accountability mechanism to make sure that projects like SSCP do not prove to be a constant drain on the economy is an important step that we need to take to scrutinise the very generously overused terms of public purpose.

It will help build realism into the project design unlike the present where there is an incentive to exaggerate the benefits while neglecting or minimising cost.

(The author is a infrastructure economist) Email:

[This article is an abridged version of a chapter from a larger report titled ‘Review of Environmental and Economic Impacts of the SSCP’ by
Sudarshan Rodriguez, Jacob John, Rohan Arthur, Kartik Shanker and Aarthi Sridhar which is to be published soon.]

A larger version of this article was published in the Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 42 No. 29 July 21 - July 27, 2007.