Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Proposal to reclaim land from sea invites opposition

Gulf Today

The Kerala government’s proposal to reclaim land from the sea for developing industrial sites has run into trouble with coastal residents whose main occupation is fishing voicing resolute opposition to it.

Trade union leaders belonging to the Communist Party of India, a constituent of the ruling Left Democratic Front, and the Latin Catholic community, to which belongs a large section of the fishing community, have already raised banners of protest.

If the government proceeds with the scheme, overlooking their opposition, it may well face a campaign of the kind which forced the state to abandon the Silent Valley hydro-electrical project a quarter-century ago and the coastal sand mining project more recently.

The prime movers behind the scheme are Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac and Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem. Since both are lieutenants of CPI-Marxist state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, it is safe to assume the scheme has the party’s backing.

After a meeting with officials of the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development last year, Thomas Isaac had revealed the state was seeking its assistance for projects which might come up on land reclaimed from the sea.

He said that the government had decided to reclaim land from the sea in view of the acute scarcity of land. “This is still in the conceptual stage,” he added. “We have not discussed what projects will come up on reclaimed land. Reclamation will be done only after looking into environment issues.”

NABARD was set up by the Government of India. Its mandate is to facilitate credit flow for agriculture and integrated rural development. There is no scope for it to get involved in reclamation of land from the sea.

Last month the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra), which is under Industries department, invited expressions of interest from parties willing to act as consultants for a project to reclaim 5,000 hectares of land from the sea off the Thiruvananthapuram coast.

The Kinfra notification identifies the coastal stretch from Veli to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre as the area where land is to be reclaimed. It says the reclaimed land will be used for expansion of the international airport and housing and commercial development along the waterfront with facilities for leisure, reclamation and entertainment.

V. Surendran Pillai of the Kerala Congress (Joseph), a constituent of the LDF, said in the Assembly last week that the fishermen community was concerned about the reclamation scheme, which might damage the environment and endanger their livelihood.

The Industries Minister told the member the government had not taken a final decision on the scheme. He also said the government would not do anything that would harm the interests of the fishermen.

However, he gave a clear indication of how his mind was working. He said countries like Dubai, Bahrain, Singapore, Korea, Japan and Britain had reclaimed land from the sea. In Kerala, too, land had been reclaimed from the sea in Kochi.

He said the notification inviting expressions of interest was issued on the basis of a preliminary report provided by the National Engineering and Environment Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, which was asked to study the possibility of a project at Thiruvananthapuram.

T. Peter, president of the Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, a representative organisation of fishermen, threatened to launch an agitation if the government wet ahead with the project.

He said the project was detrimental to the interests of fishermen who depended upon the sea for their livelihood. Reclamation of land in one area would lead to sea erosion in nearby areas. It would also affect the sea currents and result in depletion of marine wealth.

Kerala Latin Catholic Association president P. Stellas and general secretary Antony Albert said reclamation would disturb the fragile ecology of the coast and interfere with the breeding of fish. The NEERI report had not taken into account factors such as near-shore currents, sediment transport and marine environment, they said.

They also questioned the wisdom of taking up a project of this kind close to key scientific and defence installations like the VSSC and the BrahMos Aerospace.

Today (Monday, July 27) is the last date set by Kinfra for submission of expressions of interest. The pro-CPI All India Trade Union Congress has chosen this very day for a protest demonstration in the form of a human chain extending from the Martyrs Column to the State Secretariat. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 27, 2009.

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