Sunday, June 29, 2008

daram 1st Anniversary

Also see




Research report highlights need for equitable, sustainable and participatory approach to tourism

It is time to rethink tourism in the Andamans! This was the strong message sent out by six organisations (EQUATIONS, INTACH, SANE, Kalpavriksh, TISS and ActionAid) in their research report on the status and impacts of tourism in the Andamans that was nationally released in New Delhi today at the India International Centre.

The collaborating organisations, on the occasion of the release of the research report titled” Rethink Tourism in the Andamans- Towards building a base for sustainable tourism” hoped that the research study would serve as an important input into the ongoing discussions on the role of tourism in the Islands. While they have been other proposals, perspective documents, plans for tourism commissioned for the Andamans, this study was unique because it took into account the aspirations and experiences of a wide range of stakeholders. It also assessed in detail the current realities in relation tourism in the Islands and assessed likely impacts if tourism continued along the same trend.

The collaborating organisations believe that the time has come for policy makers, community representatives and members of the central government and A&NI Administration to seriously assess the direction in which tourism develops in the Islands. The question as to whether tourism can be the main pillar of economic development needs serious re-thought. They hope that policy makers would work with the findings of this research study and that this report could serve as a base to initiate further dialogue and democratic consultation in the Islands on tourism issues.

The main findings of the research study indicated, that despite being a relatively new destination in the country, the negative impacts of tourism are already becoming visible in the Andamans. On the socio-cultural front, it is important for the Administration and local representatives to ensure that tourist demands do not overshadow and take priority over local peoples’ needs and aspirations. Further, the need to put a firm end to the commodification of the Islands’ indigenous tribes– first the Jarawas and now the Sentinelese – as products for tourists to view was called for. Economically, the research showed that contrary to popular believe and policy positioning, tourism does not account for a significant proportion of the domestic product and income of the Islands. An analysis of the macroeconomic indicators showed that the increase in number of tourists did not seem to translate into spinoffs and catalyse the local economy. There is also need for appropriate strategies to be devised to ensure that tourism brings economic benefit and sustainable employment for the communities in the Islands.

On the environmental front, there is urgent need to regulate the use of natural resources by the tourism sector and strictly enforce the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification in the Islands. Developing a strategy for harvesting and use of water and disposal of wastes, that are going to rise with increasing tourism, needs to prioritised, as both are very serious problems. The need for members of the tourism industry to voluntarily adopt more environment-friendly practices and take conscious steps to reduce tourism’s ecological footprint was stressed, particularly in view of issues like climate change and the need to preserve the rich and unique biodiversity.

In addition to assessing the status and impacts of tourism in the Andamans, the research report also provided a comprehensive set of recommendations addressed to a range of stakeholders. Some of the significant points made are: to develop a clear vision and strategy for tourism in the A&NI through a coordinated and participatory approach; and to ensure a reliable base of information is built, on which tourism plans are based. Tourism cannot be conceived as a standalone activity and must be aligned to larger plans of sustainable development in the Islands, taken into account the social, cultural, economic and ecological realities. Furthermore, the need to clearly and decisively position tourism as nature based, ecologically sensitive, low volume low footprint was stressed. The current trends of infrastructure heavy and high volume tourism were only adding to the pressures on the Island and brining in very few local benefits. Forms of tourism such as shopping malls, golf courses and amusement parks were to be definitely shunned.

The hope that tourism will become the pillar of the Islands’ economy requires a sound economic analysis of the current and likely economic impact of tourism. Current data on percentage of GDP, contribution to revenues and employment generation indicate a rather insignificant economic role. There is a need to invest in building the capacity and skill base of the local community to enhance their opportunities and benefits from tourism. Such plans must take cognisance of the high degrees of vulnerability of tourism as an economic activity. Interdepartmental coordination and an enhanced role for PRIs will also be key ingredients for a more coherent, sustainable implementation of tourism in the Islands

There is a dire need to increase tourist and community awareness about the ecological fragility of the Islands and accordingly regulate tourism activities; & strictly implement the CRZ in the Islands and make the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process for all tourism projects mandatory.

The research study was supported by ActionAid


Contact Persons on this research

Syed Liyakhat, Vidya Rangan, Rosemary Viswanath,

Samir Acharya

Pankaj Sekhsaria & Seema Bhat

TISS, Jamsetji Centre for Disaster Management
Dr Janki Andharia

Action Aid
Anupama Muhuri

Please contact EQUATIONS for copy of the full report

# 415 2-C Cross, 4th Main Road
OMBR Layout Banaswadi
Bangalore 560043

phone : +91 80 25457607/25457659
fax : +91 80 25457665

+91 94484 77771 (Syed Liyakhat)
+91 98454 03773 (Rosemary Viswanth)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

An environmental fig leaf?
The IUCN has ignored the fundamental precautionary principle by not looking into issues of the location of the port.
Pankaj Sekhsaria

It is one of the world's most well known and respected conservation organisations and has been at the forefront of many efforts to protect wilderness areas and threatened wildlife species. Yet, it is in danger today of becoming the fig leaf in India for a project that might cause unprecedented damage to one of the world's most threatened and enigmatic wild creatures.The organisation is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wild creature is the Olive Ridley Turtle and the project in question is the Dhamra Port being constructed in Orissa by the Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL), a joint venture of Tata Steel and Larsen & Toubro.

Environmental NGOs, research organisations and individuals have opposed the port on various grounds from the very beginning. The port is located only five kms from the Bhitarkanika National Park and barely 15 kms from one of the world's most significant nesting sites for the turtles at Gahirmatha. There is also evidence that boundaries of the national park were re-drawn some years ago to ensure that there would be no impediment to the port proposal. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been flawed and in a bizarre development environmental clearance was finally accorded not by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, but by the Ministry of Surface Transport. The project was bound to run into serious opposition and questioning.

It was when Indian organisations and researchers refused to associate with them that DPCL approached the IUCN in 2006 to help put into place an environment management and mitigation plan. A Scoping Mission in 2006 was followed by a series of meetings. An agreement "to develop environmental standards and design mitigation measures for the construction of (the) port in Orissa" by using IUCN's network of scientists and conservationists including India IUCN members was finally signed between DPCL and IUCN's Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) in May 2008. At about the same time, however, Indian researchers and members of the MTSG were writing to the Director General of the IUCN, protesting against the port and the fact that they had been completely sidelined in all that had happened. The signatories included reputed member organisations like the Bombay Natural History Society, the Foundation for Ecological Security and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Nature and noted individual researchers like B C Choudhary, Dr Kartik Shanker, Dr Basudev Tripathy and Romulus Whitaker.

They pointed to various problems of the port, many of which had already been articulated in the Scoping Mission Report of 2006. Concerns of dredging and noise and sound pollution had not been addressed at all in the EIA report and the proposed port was in fact not an extension of an old one as had been claimed by the project authorities. "The quality and analysis of the information in the EIA", IUCN's scoping report explained, "also leaves much to be desired."The Indian members of the MTSG noted that the port was not a stand alone project and that the cumulative impact needed to be considered of the several industries like a steel plant and a ship building yard that were being proposed simultaneously. They also pointed out that there had been virtually no consultation with national members, many of whom had been grappling with the problem long before the IUCN became involved."This," the letter says, "squanders considerable local expertise, besides sidelining local members. Several members of the MTSG have not only signed the petition that opposes the port, some have written thoughtful letters of concern, and the Regional Chairman of the MTSG has resigned."

What has surprised, even shocked many, is the note published in the latest issue of the Marine Turtle Newsletter by Dr Nicholas Pilcher, Co – Chair of the MTSG and the key person behind the agreement with the DPCL. "Many of the potential impacts of ports can be mitigated," Dr Pilcher explains even as he dismisses the opposition and various concerns, "and it is hard to argue against development in a needy country in the face of limited impact. Given this, IUCN and the MTSG Co-Chairs felt that sitting back and watching a port built without taking into account the turtles was worse than sitting idle and waiting on the legal actions of local NGOs. Five or even ten years from now the case will likely still be in the courts, but the port will have dredged 6.5 million cubic meters of seabed, erected lighting, and secondary development will have exceeded even what the port plans on doing. It bears clarifying that IUCN was not responsible for supporting or rejecting the Dhamra proposal. Rather, IUCN was requested to assist with mitigation of potential impacts by a project already under development, and they indeed have the required expertise and mandate to do just that."It is in this approach that the MTSG appears to have missed the trees completely for the wood. The issue is much larger than just that of mitigation.

Crucially the IUCN has completely ignored the fundamental "precautionary principle" by not looking into issues of the location of the port or into the inadequacies and inappropriateness of the EIA report and the environmental clearances. IUCN's involvement is an endorsement that DPCL has repeatedly used to project the environment friendly nature of its operations The DPCL appears to have found the fig leaf it desperately needs; it might be IUCN's turn to start looking for one very soon.

(The writer is an expert on conservation issues.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Images of the Monsoons

For the drama and colour of the South West Monsoons ...

Monsoon clouds over the islands of the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Andaman Islands

River Aghanashini under an overcast sky as viewed from the crest of the Western Ghats,
Uttara Kannada District, Karnataka

Paddy field, Uttar Kannada district, Karnataka

Rain drops collect on a spider's web, Mt. Harriet National Park, Andaman Islands

Rain from the window, Wandoor, Andaman Islands

Celebrate the monsoon

Celebrate the monsoon

It’s June. The winds of the South West Monsoon bring with them water, hope and life.

clouds gather: Soon brown, barren landscapes turn into a riot of colours.
This is the month of June and the time for one of the most important annual events in the calendar of the Indian subcontinent. The winds of the South West Monsoons have started their journey, sweeping across a parched and thirsting landscape bringing with them water, hope and life. If there is one single thing that has defined the subcontinent since historical, even mythological times, it is this monsoon. It’s there in everything about the people here — in the songs and the music, in their poetry and literature, in the paintings of the masters, in the stories and folk tales of communities across, in expressions of love and longing and even cinema of every language and style. It is the bedrock of its food security, of the very survival of the land and its people.

This monsoon is one and yet it is many at the same time.

When it hits the western coast of India, generally in the first week of June, the summer is just about tightening its grip on large parts of western and northern India. It could be pouring in the thickly forested mountains of the Western Ghats and we might have parallel reports of a heat wave and related deaths from other parts. By the time the pied crested cuckoo’s arrival heralds the coming of rain-bearing clouds to the scorching Gangetic plains, there is a good chance that the Brahmaputra is already in spate, flooding large parts of the North East and bringing death and destruction in its wake.

Annual event

The monsoon has a character with many facets. It remains an event that is waited for when it’s not there, loved and enjoyed when it makes its appearance and even feared when it sets in and then refuses to relent. It’s varied and complex and reveals its processes and trajectories with difficulty, if it does at all. The rainforests depend on it to be rainforests, rivers depend on it to be rivers and its behaviour and idiosyncrasies decide the fate of a billion people and more.

In a season of rising inflation, rising oil and grain prices, and rising food and water scarcity it seems like a humbling moment (at least it should be) when the all powerful ministers and technocrats point to the met office’s prediction of a normal rainfall to promise the nation that things will be better soon. It is to regain a moment of sanity to realise that it is the most basic things that we take for granted the most; that the GDP and all its paraphernalia is after all, a child of something so fundamental that there is no option but to acknowledge it; that without rains, without water and food for its people dreams of being a superpower will remain dreams and no more.

Summer this year appears to have been relatively better than others in the recent past, but even then, large parts of the subcontinent, be it the region of Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh, the tribal tracts of eastern India, the coasts of Andhra or the forests of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh — these have all, in the last few weeks, experienced severe stress and acute water shortages. The Gujjars are agitating (and dying) in hot and dusty Rajasthan to meet their political goals; families don’t want to marry their daughters into Bundelkhand because of the severe water shortage; women from many villages in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district are forced to walk many kilometres daily to get a pot of water; fires are raging across forests in the Shivaliks; and elephants and other wild animals in Orissa moving out of forests in search of water are falling prey to the poachers… the summer of 2008 has had its share of conflicts and depressing stories. There will be many more and one could go on.

Is there a way?

In times such as these there appears to be little that one can do. Except, of course, hope that time passes quickly and the rains oblige. Water is too basic a need and therefore, becomes too powerful an emotional issue. This is an emotion that, we all know, is exploited all the time for all kinds of political, financial and personal agendas.

The agendas are met, the genuine needs of water, often, are not. Proof of this reality is not really needed, but if it was, what would be a better example than the grandiose scheme of river linking that dangles like a sword upon the people and the landscape of this country. Few have an idea of what the impact will be on agriculture, hydrology, the people and the ecology. It is doubtful, though, that these will ever be considered.

For the moment, however, we will let it be. For the moment, we’ll make a departure. As life pours down in large parts of the country, the conflicts, the fear, and the anger can be hid behind misty curtains. The rains are here. The multiple hues of the brown, barren landscapes are turning into multiple rejuvenations. The green is beginning to sprout, there is a freshness in the air and in it all, the promise of life. This is the season that celebrates life, and so be it!

And grandmas’ advice to carry the umbrella the day the met office says the skies will be clear is best heeded and respected. Science and technology has not yet taken us there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuna: business plans for vanishing fish?

Tuna: business plans for vanishing fish?


The Andaman and Nicobar islands are proposed to be made the hub of a thriving tuna fisheries industry. Without a sustainable approach, though, it will seriously deplete fish stocks and harm marine biodiversity, says Manak Matiyani (Email:

"The Zonal Director, Fishery Survey of India (FSI), based on their field experience clarified that there will not be any environmental impact by promoting tuna fishing in the islands."

--Minutes of stakeholders meeting to discuss tuna fishing in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands held on March 10, 2008.

On January 6, 2008, the Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Jairam Ramesh released the first draft of the plans for expansion of tuna fishing in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) is spearheading the plans to develop packaging and processing plants and landing centres in Port Blair so that the fish caught by trawlers can be landed, marketed and exported directly from the islands. The proposal met with opposition from various fisheries associations and the Human Rights Law Network in Port Blair when it was publicly announced, on grounds of loss of livelihood of local fishing communities and harm to the environment, marine mammals and birds.

There is a sense of urgency behind the plans, which is attributed to the migratory nature of tuna and its export value. The current project is being promoted on the assumption that if we do not catch the tuna here, it will be caught by other nations elsewhere. Fishing grounds the world over are facing stock depletion and these waters are perhaps some of the few remaining sites where, reportedly, stocks still abound. Rather than mutual cooperation to promote long term sustainable fishing in South East Asia, the driving force here is competition between coastal nations that will lead to precipitous decline of fish stock.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands have a rich biodiversity and ecological wealth protected by the isolation of these fragile ecosystems. Any development project must take into account possible impact on the environment. The government's attitude here is purely profit-oriented and seems to show little concern for the environment. By declaring that "there will not be any impact" the government has done away with the need for any studies or assessments to support this claim. The soft steps taken to appease the fishermen will prove to be further damaging to the environment without giving any real opportunity for growth.

The geography of the islands is such that fishermen need not go too far into deep water seas to find tuna and tuna-like species. By asking the government to not grant permission to outside vessels within 24 miles, the local fishermen wish to harvest the potential of those waters themselves through a "fishing corporation" that would operate long liners close to shore. This was considered by the administration along with loan schemes for procurement of more boats. It was decided that outside vessels would be permitted to fish only beyond 24 nautical miles from the islands. The FSI has stated that in the islands, tuna fishing operations can be conducted economically only during three to four months of the year. There is no guarantee therefore, that a new fishing corporation will not meet the same fate as the previous Rubber Board and Forest Corporation that created ecological disasters in the islands and also became financial liabilities due to heavy losses. What is needed instead is to promote diverse small scale fishing operations which allow replenishment of stocks without causing irreparable harm to the environment.

The administrative position is that they cannot control vessels operating beyond 24 nautical miles. The permissions being given then are only for landing, processing and exporting from the islands. In stating so, they are conveniently avoiding the task of regulating and monitoring the operations.

Increased traffic in these waters will have a damaging effect in the long run. Pollution and dumping in the sea, activities that are currently unregulated, will increase dramatically. The mortality of animals such as the dugong, dolphins, birds and various species of turtles that come to nest on these islands due to entanglement in monofilament lines is also likely to rise. It is interesting that certain areas of the United States have effective systems for proper collection and disposal of discarded monofilament lines so that they do not become environment hazards. All over the world there are companies that catch and package certified "Dolphin Safe Tuna" but no such conditions have been included in the proposed plan. The FSI, in fact, has said that they only have "negligible shark by-catch" and the threat to other species such as dolphins, dugongs and turtles, all protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act, has not been considered.

The capacity of the Coast Guard to monitor the waters around the islands is obviously inadequate. The Director of Fisheries has admitted that it is impossible for the department to monitor the waters effectively. Local fishermen report regular poaching of sea cucumbers, turtles and even dolphins by Indian and foreign vessels around the islands. With increased activity and no strong monitoring agency in place, poachers will find it easy to operate. The months during which the operators would be in these waters are not specified in the plan. If tuna fishing can be conducted economically in only three or four months, the case for maintaining a year round presence around the islands becomes weak, and the motives questionable.

The long term impacts of the proposal are not being considered in the face of likely short term gains and no party is interested in conducting an impact assessment. The government has already given the go ahead to the tuna fisheries plans by allowing two private companies to commence operations. The latest development in the sector, however, is most curious. According to two reports published in The Hindu in March 2008, while the Fisheries Department has made an allocation of Rs.1.5 crores specifically for the development of tuna fisheries, a lot of operators have ceased operations in the Bay of Bengal due to losses as there is no tuna available.

Clearly, we need to evaluate afresh the plans that appear to be failing even before they have taken off. Without proper surveys, environmental studies, or assessments, we seem to be heading towards not just an ecological disaster, but a financial one as well.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Protected Area Update - New Issue, June 2008

Dear FriendsPosted below are the list of contents and the edit of the new issue of the Protected Area Update. If you want to receive any of these stories or the entire newsletter in a soft copy version, please do write to me.

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia

Vol. XIV No. 3
June 2008 (No. 73)

An enduring vibrancy


Meeting on wildlife training in Tirupati

Radio link between forest and railway officials to protect elephants
Wildlife sanctuary proposed near Jatinga
Seven hectares of Amchang WLS for NH 37 under East West Corridor Project
Pygmy hogs to be released in Sonai Rupai WLS

Tourism festival at Chakrashila WLS
CBI to probe rhino poaching cases in Assam

Gir Wildlife Sanctuary to be expanded
Wildlife Crime Cell begins work
Rs. 830 crore proposal for ‘development’ of forests

CRPF personnel given wildlife related training in Dachigam NP

Local women, ex-servicemen for protection of Betla NP

Suspected viral infection kills wild elephants in Waynad forests
State wetlands to be mapped
Air Deccan and Kerala FD to promote Periyar TR

Marine Conservation Reserve in Agatti

Gaur to be translocated from Kanha NP to the Bandavgarh NP

Tourism development plans in Madhya Pradesh
Kanha guides threaten to strike work
Protected Area status proposed for Sewree-Mahul Wetlands
Illicit liquor dens in Sanjay Gandhi NP may be responsible for leopard deaths
SC allows eviction from Sanjay Gandhi NP
Bhorkada (Bhorgad) Conservation Reserve in Nashik District
Proposal for Muniya Conservation Reserve 15 kms from Nagpur
Villagers inside Tadoba Andhari threaten mass suicide if forced to relocate

Nokrek BR nominated for UNESCO Biosphere Reserve program

Demand for new tiger reserve, six new wildlife sanctuaries

Two elephants electrocuted near Badrama WLS
Steps to increase forest protection
Water shortage threatens elephants, other wildlife
Increased salinity threatens Bhitarkanika mangroves
Villagers around Bhitarkanika NP allegedly harassed
Crocodile attacks in and around Bhitarkanika NP
Ferry ghats in Bhitarkanika sealed to prevent poaching, intrusion

Water, fodder scarcity in Tal Chappar WLS

Artificial salt licks for de-worming wildlife in Coimbatore Division
Coral diseases to be investigated in the Gulf of Mannar BR

Bamboo cover being increased to reduce human-elephant conflict in Shivaliks
Now, weekly off for domestic elephants in Corbett
Fires affect Corbett TR, Rajaji NP
Van Gujjars allowed passage to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park
Delhi Dehradun highway through Rajaji NP to have six lanes
Peacock deaths in close vicinity of Rajaji NP

Restrictions on tourism establishments around forests, PAs

Privilege motion against forest secretary
2007-08 funds allocations for conservation in North Eastern States
Total number of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India

Tiger presence in Jigme Dorji NP overlaps with snow leopard habitat
Vulture breeding centre set up in Chitwan
ATREE Small Grants Programme
For implementing watershed and livelihood projects in Samrakshan’s MP office

World Conservation Congress



Forest occupancy and population estimates of tiger as per the refined methodology


That wildlife conservation and protection is low down in the list of priorities for the country in general and the political class in particular is a well known and well accepted fact. Though the community of those interested in conservation is small, funds and resources are always a problem, support is minimum and even those who support the idea of conservation often disagree with each other vehemently, those who follow the fate of conservation will willingly point to the enthusiasm of the conservation movement here. In spite of the bleak prospects and endless trouble there can be no denying that there is an enduring vibrancy to conservation efforts being made across the length and breadth of the landscape.
A cross section of the news reports in this issue of the PA Update is perhaps a good indicator of this interest and the eagerness. In Assam the critically endangered pygmy hog is being given a new lease of life in an important and path breaking captive breeding and re-introduction initiative. In Jammu & Kashmir the Forest Department has taken up a program with the Central Reserve Police Force to sensitise troops stationed inside the Dachigam National Park, while authorities in the Betla National Park are, for the first time, involving local women in the protection of the forests in the area. In Lakshadweep and in Maharashtra researchers and NGOs have worked with the local communities to create conservation reserves in line with newer thinking on protected area creation and management and in other parts of the country, be it Orissa, Assam or Maharashtra, there are more proposals for setting aside areas for the benefit of wildlife.
This is not to say that the problems are not there. Poaching, habitat destruction, encroachment, ingress of roads and other infrastructure projects, diversion for commercial and industrial activities…the list is long and one can go on. Also the fact that in India we still cling to the ways of the past; still invoke the legacy of a long gone Prime Minister to argue for conservation in a politically, socially and economically new India; that we continue to show huge reluctance to learn from other experiences from around the world, of new methods and practices of co-managing along with communities; devolving power and ensuring stake and participation of a larger numbers of those negatively affected by the present exclusionary paradigm of conservation.
Even the initiatives mentioned above might have their own problems but in concentrating only on what’s not right, we often tend to neglect and undervalue all the good intentions and the many efforts that are continually being made. Not to acknowledge these would be unfair because the picture that gets created then is only an incomplete one. These are as real as the problems and the threats faced by our wildlife and their habitats and it is as important to oppose and fight the threats as it is to recognize and support the initiatives and the successes.
There is a vibrancy to the conservation efforts here and it’s only right that they be given their due.

Vol. XIV, No. 3, June 2008 (No. 73)
Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editorial Assistance: Wrutuja Pardeshi
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 72 has been supported by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), Anand.