Mamata Govt Ignores Fishermen in Coastal Zone Plan Despite Adverse CAG Report
Representational use only.Image Courtesy: ANI
New Delhi: The Mamata Banerjee government has allegedly left out large sections of fishing communities from a public hearing held on August 22 to discuss a coastal zone management plan (CZMP) for Purba Medinipur district despite an August 8 Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report pulling up the Centre for its poor track record in conserving the fragile ecology of the country’s shoreline.
The public hearing was held allegedly without being adequately publicised even as local communities of the coastal district were grappling with the ravages of a cyclone that hit the North Indian Ocean just days before August 22.
The tropical cyclone triggered widespread rainfall in the coastal villages of Purba Midnapore inundating low-lying agricultural fields. Villages like Chamasuli, Dakshin Purushottampur, Dadanpatrabar and Mandarmoni, where locals rely primarily on fishing and farming for livelihood, were the most affected from the incessant rains.
“Fishing was halted for several days, seasonal vegetables grown by farmers were damaged due to flood and there was no electricity supply for more than three days. We were trying to save our lives and livelihood from the wrath of the rains,” Srikanta Das, a leading fisher in Dadanpatrabar, a major fish-landing centre in Purba Medinipur, tells Newsclick.
Das alleges that “no notices regarding the public hearing were published in local newspapers popular” in the villages. “We could neither read any online notice issued by the government regarding the hearing as Internet was inaccessible due to the outage,” he adds.
In a letter addressed to the district administration on August 26, the Purba Medinipur Matsyajibi Forum wrote that cognisance should have been taken of the inclement weather in the region around a fortnight ago before going ahead with the public hearing, which is mandatory under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2019.
The Forum alleges that it learnt about the public hearing only on August 23 because a notice was posted only on the West Bengal’s environment department’s website. The Forum has demanded further extension of the deadline for inviting suggestions and recommendations and a fresh public hearing before approving the draft plan for 2019.
“The public notice posted on the environment department’s website was in the English, which is still alien to the majority of fishermen. A public consultation held without engaging the fishing communities is absolutely non-inclusive and infructuous,” says Debasish Shyamal, of the National Platform for Small-Scale Fish Workers, a Kolkata-headquartered trade union of fishermen communities.
As per the CRZ Notification, 2019, a state government is required to give “wide publicity” to the draft CZMP of any district before proceeding with a public hearing so as to receive suggestions and recommendations from all stakeholders. Fishermen alleged in the past that Purba Medinipur’s earlier CZMP, which had been published subsequent to CRZ Notification, 2011, had not adequately demarcated all fishing villages and fish-landing centres.
However, the district administration refuted these allegations and claimed that, at least, 50 project-affected individuals attended the public hearing, conducted by the West Bengal Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Institute of Environmental Studies and Wetland Management, an organisation under the environment department that prepares draft CZMPs for the state.
“The draft CZMP map was sent to every block headquarter of Purba Medinipur in advance for circulation among the local villages. The map was also adequately publicised on various forums, including newspapers,” a senior official of the district administration tells Newsclick.
The weather disturbance prior to the public hearing, the official adds, was “applicable to all stakeholders. Individuals and families concerned about the CZMP attended the meeting. The was a good attendance of project-affected people”.
Notably, the Trinamool Congress government is also constructing a coastal road in Purba Medinipur which will connect the tourist destinations of Digha and Mandarmoni despite the opposition from fishermen, whose livelihood concerns have been allegedly grossly disregarded before going ahead with the project.
Amid questions regarding whether the West Bengal government took CRZ clearance for the marine drive project, the CAG report has highlighted several instances where such clearances were given by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) despite inadequacies in the manner in which the project proponents had conducted mandatory environment impact assessment studies.
“Preaudit studies conducted to understand the risks in coastal zone management revealed that there were large-scale CRZ violation in the coastal stretches. Incidence of illegal construction activities (reducing coastal space), effluent discharge from local bodies, industries and aquaculture farms have been recorded from various data sources,” the report reveals.
The audit reveals that, at least, 21 projects in which consultants appointed by the project proponent were either non-accredited or not accredited for the specific sector were cleared by the MoEFCC.
As many as 12 projects used baseline data outdated by 2-11 years in their respective proposals but got approval. These include a 35-km-long coastal road project from Princess Flyover to Worli, Mumbai, approved by the Narendra Modi government in 2017 and the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link project of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority cleared by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2013.
The audit further reveals that in 14 CRZ clearances, the environment impact studies had not only failed to identify the inventory of biodiversity in the area but had also not included mitigation measures to protect the flora and fauna affected by the project. As many as 16 clearances were given despite the projects in question either lacking disaster management plans or not specifically addressing disasters.
A project for the redevelopment of an edible oil terminal belonging to Ruchi Infrastructure Limited in Chennai was cleared in 2018 though no disaster management plan was in place despite the area being prone to cyclone and floods. A mini-bulk carriers handling facility of the Kolkata Port Trust in West Bengal was cleared in 2017 without a disaster management plan despite the area being a “severe intensity seismic zone”.
In 13 instances, CRZ clearances were accorded to projects where activities forming part of mitigation plans—like mangrove conservation, replantation, biodiversity conservation plan or rain water harvesting systems—were not included in the respective environment management plans. The ministry had left it upon the project proponents to carry out these mitigation plans. But the audit reveals that the MoEFCC had failed to verify whether the project proponents had implemented the mitigation measures.
The ministry had cleared 11 proposals in which the proponent didn’t carry out cumulative impact assessment studies of the respective projects on local environment and ecology.
In three instances, CRZ clearances were provided without making any effort to ascertain the veracity of data furnished by private consultants. The ministry had “merely relied on the information submitted by the project proponent with respect to potential ecological risks due to the project activities”, the report states.
In five cases, the CAG found deficiencies in the manner in which public hearing was conducted for the projects. These include the High-Speed Railway Corridor of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, which passes through Gujarat, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Maharashtra, cleared by the MoEFCC in 2019.
In two projects—Mumbai Manmad Pipeline Project of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited in Maharashtra and the Cochin Residential Development Project of TRIF Kochi Projects in Kerala—the ministry had granted CRZ clearance in 2015 and 2016, respectively, without factoring in the consideration that these were located near eco-sensitive zones of protected areas.
As per the report, there were 20 instances in which State Coastal Zone Management Authorities granted clearances by exceeding their own powers and sidelining mandatory approval from statutory bodies like the National Board for Wild Life. In 46 instances, CRZ clearances were granted despite the project proponent not submitting mandatory documents like environment impact assessment reports, disaster management reports, risk assessment reports, CRZ maps or no-objection certificates from concerned state Pollution Control Boards.
The Modi government, the report finds, had even modified the CRZ Notification, 2011, to allow construction of a coastal road in Mumbai by the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation in 2017 and a memorial of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at Nariman Point in Mumbai in December 2014.
“There were cases where the MoEF&CC amended the CRZ notification to facilitate approval of individual projects. These modifications were made without conducting any technical studies on the repercussions of the same to ecosystems and impacted the entire coastline … As such, the process of grant of clearances for setting up projects could not ensure fully that the proposed projects would not have a detrimental impact on the coastal ecology,” the audit report states.
*After NewsClick published this article on 31 August, the Purba Medinipur Matsya Jibi Forum shared a letter with us. Sent by the West Bengal Coastal Zone Management Authority and also dated 31 August, the letter says the District Administration of Purba Medinipur must conduct a special public hearing for members of the Purba Medinipur Matsya Jibi Forum who missed the earlier process. The special hearing is to take place within seven days.
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