What can Japan learn from the devastation wrought on the southernmost Indian state in 2004?
Special to The Japan Times By JEFF KINGSTON


On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive tsunami blasted across the Indian Ocean, cutting a swath of destruction through communities in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India that claimed a staggering 230,000 lives.
As Japan approaches the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, are there any lessons to be learned from the 2004 catastrophe?  Complaints in Japan about the slow progress of reconstruction and arguments over improving disaster resilience are familiar battles in other tsunami-devastated communities. Such places have also confronted grandiose plans and good intentions that are not always in sync with local needs and desires.  Reports from the field and personal observations suggest that in some cases the NGO response to the March 11 disasters has not been as effective as it might have been. That appears to be because of inadequate coordination, turf battles, misplaced priorities and insufficient local input — problems that were also evident in Tamil Nadu following the 2004 tsunami.
Tsunami bonus

I had a chance to visit BEDROC (Building and Enabling Disaster Resilience of Coastal Communities), an Indian civil society organization with 22 staff working on long-term post-tsunami responses in Tamil Nadu. It continues the project-based interventions carried out by the NGO Co-ordination and Resource Center (NCRC), which was established after the tsunami and is based in Nagapattinam, a coastal village that suffered widespread tsunami damage and 6,000 deaths.  BEDROC focuses on bolstering the disaster-resilience of vulnerable coastal communities by building up local capacities for risk-reduction and disaster response. It receives some funding from Japan-based Asia Community Trust and conducts various projects ranging from livelihood-intervention initiatives to water-management programs that emphasize small-scale, village-based interventions rather than centralized, large-scale public-works undertakings.  Annie George, CEO of BEDROC, explained that the 187 km of Tamil Nadu's coastline affected by the tsunami had long been neglected by government authorities, and there were few schools, hospitals or roads. Prior to the tsunami, the region lacked almost everything and government offices were understaffed because it was an undesirable posting. After the tsunami, the government transferred high-level officials from the Indian Administrative Service to organize the disaster response and reconstruction efforts — and also provided considerable funding.  She lauded the openness of these central government coordinators who met with NGOs frequently to share information and cooperate. They helped facilitate the establishment of the NGO Co-ordination Center on Jan. 1, 2005 — just a week after the tsunami hit. Eventually, more than 500 domestic and international NGOs conducted projects in the region.  In Tamil Nadu the government quickly issued a directive that established the legal basis for cooperation with NGOs — a partnership that involved the government providing land and infrastructure and the NGOs building housing for displaced survivors.

Under the plan, displaced households would receive the title deeds to a plot of land in a safer place provided they signed away their rights to the land where they lived when the tsunami hit. Virtually everyone signed. They then received new land and new housing — but very few vacated the land they had signed away.  In many cases they rebuilt on this land. They did so because those most affected by the tsunami were fishermen who needed to be close to the coast. They rationalized that they needed places to store nets and other fishing equipment on the beaches where they kept their boats, so it made sense to rebuild damaged homes there. Meanwhile, the new homes gave them a sense of security for their families.  As a result, some fishermen emerged from the tsunami with two houses and plots of land — and also received new boats. So the disaster left many far better off than before.  Why didn't the government crack down? George explained that the local government was unable to enforce the ban on beachfront rebuilding because it went against popular sentiments and, "With elections hanging over their heads, voters had power over the authorities."

Intervention and tunnel vision

George believes too many NGOs suffer from tunnel vision and are motivated to engage in projects that they can take credit for and use for self-promotion whether or not such projects represent the most effective use of resources.  There is also considerable overlap, turf fighting and duplication of efforts by NGOs that don't prioritize local needs and interests.  In George's view, cooperation is not a strong point of NGOs, and in too many cases it is institutional imperatives and the need to justify outlays and raise more funds that drives their disaster-relief efforts. They also squander considerable money on inappropriate and unsustainable projects because they act individually in an ad hoc manner, and don't coordinate programs connected with a broader plan.  Initially, it's crucial to get people onto their feet by giving them cash for work related to recovery efforts such as clearing debris. This ensures that people have money to spend and can choose how to spend it. But BEDROC asserts that it is crucial from the outset to ensure that immediate livelihood-recovery efforts feed into a second stage of livelihood sustainability and security.  George argues that interventions are most effective when they are planned from a long-term perspective and focus on strengthening traditional livelihoods. However, NGOs frequently favor nurturing alternative livelihoods, but these are often unsustainable and depend on continuing support and guidance that is not always forthcoming. In addition, many organizations involved with disaster relief do not stick around and implement "off the shelf" programs that are not suited to local needs and capacities.  George cited the case of a village that was offered funding for various projects formulated by NGOs, but the village head negotiated with the donors to pool the funds and use the money to drill six wells to serve the community.  Previously, the village had lacked water for agriculture, so many laborers had to commute elsewhere and the children had to drop out of school to help support their families. But because the village now had a plentiful water supply, it could refocus on agricultural production and create local jobs and keep the kids in school. According to George, that was one rare case of donors listening to what local people think will work best for them.

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TN announces slew of relief measures to cyclone-hit farmers

Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday announced a series of relief measures to farmers in the Thane cyclone-affected Cuddalore district, including a sum of Rs. 210 crore as compensation for damaged crops. Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said standing crops including cash crops over 2.24 lakh hectares had been completely damaged due to the cyclone, which hit the district on December 30, thus severely affecting the farm sector.

India: Court Challenges Dubious Environmental Impact Reports

NEW DELHI, Mar 11, 2011 (IPS) - India’s Supreme Court has questioned clearances to industries on the basis of environment impact assessments (EIAs) carried out by private consultants in the pay of project proponents.

A special bench of the court led by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, that is hearing a petition challenging approvals granted to the French company Lafarge to mine limestone, likened the practice to "paying the piper to call the tune."

Kapadia’s bench noted that every report that had been placed before it was produced by agencies hired by Lafarge. The judge commented on Mar. 4 that it was unlikely that a "project proponent (private company) would pay a packet of money to get an adverse report."

Kapadia, who is gaining a reputation as an activist judge in an atmosphere ridden with scams and cases of high corruption, kicked up a political storm last week by annulling the appointment of India’s chief vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas.

The fact that Thomas was the main accused in a case of corruption involving the import of edible palmolein appeared to have been overlooked, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was compelled to accept responsibility for it in Parliament on Mar. 8.

Kapadia’s views on the way EIAs are carried out have serious implications for investors planning to set up environmentally sensitive industries. Leading environmental activists have welcomed the court’s pronouncements.

"An EIA should be carried out and approved at the planning stage and not after land has been acquired and loans taken from banks, as is being done in this country," Ravi Agarwal, who leads the prominent environment activist group Toxic Links, told IPS. "But that is not the way they are done in this country."

M.H. Qureshi, former professor of geography at the centre for the study of regional development at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told IPS that EIAs are not conducted seriously. "EIAs are seen as a perfunctory exercise," he told IPS.

Qureshi, who is a member of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) which monitors resettlement and rehabilitation of tens of thousands of people people displaced by the mega Narmada valley project, said it is important to consider the opinions of people from different disciplines before large projects are planned.

"Agencies hired by private players rarely take into account the interests of important stakeholders such as people living close to a planned project," Qureshi said.

How a project would affect the local population, biodiversity, air and water quality, catchment area and groundwater contamination should be considered at the EIA stage along with detailed studies and public comments, said Qureshi.

The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an EIA as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made."

India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh said at a press conference on Feb. 15 that there is a tendency in India to start work on projects without seeking clearances from his ministry or its agencies.

"The attitude is that the system can be navigated and that clearances can be managed even after the project is at an advanced stage or complete," Ramesh said. "My ministry will decide on each case according to the laws and statutes."

One of the cases that Ramesh is currently looking into is a controversial 2,010 tonne per day "waste-to-energy" incinerator that is nearing completion in the heart of the national capital, for which the operator had not sought clearances from his ministry.

A right-to-information application to the ministry filed by concerned residents of the area came back with the response that the EIA, to be carried out by Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited, was "not available". That was on Aug. 16, 2010 when construction for the plant was more than 50 percent complete.

In many cases EIAs have had to be redrawn after staying on the pending list of the ministry for years.

When the ministry, on Jan. 31, finally cleared, a 12 billion dollar steel plant to be built by the South Korean Pohang Steel Company in eastern Orissa state, it demanded the drawing up of a revised EIA.

Among the deficiencies of the original EIA, prepared in August 2006 by the Kolkata-based M. N. Dastur & Company (P) Ltd. was the fact it had failed to mention that the plant was coming up close to a beach where the highly threatened Olive Ridley turtles nest each year.

Kapadia’s court suggested that the "huge sums" being spent on private consultants should be channeled into setting up government infrastructure that is capable of carrying out reliable EIAs. (END) 

INDIA: Green Schemes Turn Into White Elephants

BANGALORE, Mar 17, 2011 (IPS) - Several incinerator facilities that were supposed to turn waste into energy have proven to be white elephants that are now adding to the country’s pollution woes, instead of alleviating them.

"Massive waste-to-energy plant subsidies are ruining the waste management field in India," said Almitra Patel, a civil engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. "Companies are now using these subsidies to set up plants that fail."

Solid waste experts are alarmed these facilities - which failed to work in the 1980s and 1990s - continue to exist.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, are releasing toxic fumes because wastes are not being burned properly. Waste incineration technology - controversial in western countries - is even more toxic in India due to mixed, un-segregated wastes, which emit a medley of poisonous gases such as dioxins and furans when burned.

At Timarpur in New Delhi, a WTE incineration plant imported from the Danish firm Volund Milijotecknick in 2003 - which subsequently failed - has been resurrected, and another WTE incinerator is being built in Okhla.

Activists are protesting violations of environmental procedures at the Timarpur plant, which is surrounded by a community of about 500,000.

In February 2011, the Asian Development Bank withdrew funding to the plant under its Asia Pacific Carbon Fund, but the Timarpur Okhla Waste Management Company claims it will be able to reduce carbon emissions by 262,791 tonnes per year for the next ten years, and has filed for carbon credits.

WTE "works only on paper", said Mumbai-based Ragini Jain, who works on dry waste policy, explaining how Indian waste will not combust sufficiently to produce adequate electricity. Indian waste is mainly biodegradable compostable waste with high moisture content. When it arrives at the WTEs it is also mixed with non-biodegradable plastics, aluminium and similar substances - the wastes are not separated.

India set up solid waste management rules in 2000, making urban towns responsible for waste segregation and disposal, and recommending composting as the most suitable form of waste disposal after segregation.

The Solid Waste Rules of 2000 were set up after Patel petitioned the supreme court in 1996, claiming that the government was neglecting the responsibility of proper waste management. The court later appointed Patel head of a national committee on solid waste.

In 2005, Patel again filed a public interest lawsuit before the supreme court, petitioning the court to put a stay on government subsidies for all proposed and future WTE projects until the current plants had been adequately reviewed for feasibility.

The court ordered a stay on government subsidies for further WTEs, allowing only five of these projects to proceed for research and development purposes.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy however says there is no court ban on promoting further WTE projects.

India now has a reported 33 WTE projects in the works, of which several have the makings of financial corruption and administrative malfeasance, say NGO activists and waste management experts in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai.

Shanta Ram Maley, who specialises in solid waste management, pointed to the lack of understanding in India of technologies for dealing with municipal wastes, citing current failures in WTE technology in places like Hyderabad and Vijayawada in southern India, and Chandigarh and Jaipur in northern India.

Chandigarh, touted as having India’s most well administered municipality, is now "throwing good compost into a landfill [thereby wasting both compostable material and landfill space]", says Maley.

Following a ban on plastics and a new recycling system for non-biodegradable wastes, the local WTE plant in Chandigarh is now deprived of non-biodegradables needed for refuse-derived pelletisation, and left with incombustible biodegradable waste.

"There is no accountability for operations from these companies, and no responsibility for their monitoring taken by the Ministry," Maley says.

There is some ambiguity over where responsibility lies. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy passes the buck on approval of technologies to another department, the Central Pollution Control Board.

Under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, WTE technology is one of the ways the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has chosen to promote renewable energy.

Small-scale municipal WTE plants are working well. In Pune, Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Jagtap said a successful system of segregation has been set up for their twelve micro WTE units.

"Most of these work well only in small-scale systems where wastes can be segregated according to its nature," says Maley. What Indian municipal wastes need, Maley suggested, is an integrated system of management that incorporates both composting and small-scale combustion technologies. 

Hope revives for the tiger in India

NEW DELHI: There is reason for tiger enthusiasts to celebrate: India's wild tiger population has grown 12 per cent in the last four years.

According to the 2010 tiger census, whose results were declared on Monday, there are approximately 1,706 of the big cats in the country, which includes about 70 in the marshes of the Sunderbans, which have never been scientifically surveyed before. The 2006 census had estimated that there were 1,411 tigers, without including any from the Sunderbans.

Thirty per cent of the tiger population lives in areas outside the government's reserves, giving conservationists a new challenge in the effort to protect them.

The celebrations, however, were muted by the decrease in land area where tigers can thrive. “Tiger occupancy areas shrunk from 9 million hectares to less than 7.5 million hectares over the last four years,” said Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh. “This means that tiger corridors are under severe threat, especially in central India…in Madhya Pradesh and northern Andhra Pradesh.”

Not surprisingly, these are the two States that have fared the worst in the census, with tiger populations falling to 213 in Madhya Pradesh and 65 in Andhra Pradesh.

Successful efforts

The largest number of tigers lives in Karnataka – about 280 – and conservation efforts have been successful in the entire Western Ghats area, with Tamil Nadu and Kerala also seeing good results. The Terai belt of grasslands at the Himalayan foothills in Uttarakhand have also done surprisingly well in nurturing their tiger populations.

While Kaziranga in Assam has 100 tigers, the largest in a single reserve, there are worrying signs from the North Eastern area. These forested hills are capable of supporting far more than the number of tigers that were found in the area, but poaching and the pressure of developmental activities have kept the numbers low.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Water Resources Minister Salman Khursheed flanked Mr. Ramesh as he announced the census results.“We can deal with the threat of poachers, of the real estate and mining mafias, but it's much harder to deal with the developmental dynamic,” said Mr. Ramesh, pointing to energy projects — whether coal, hydel or nuclear — irrigation schemes, and highway proposals as among the developments endangering tigers and their ecosystem.

“A country of 1.4 billion cannot survive on solar, wind and biogas alone, so we do need commercial sources of energy, but we also need to conserve these forests,” he told Mr. Ahluwalia. “We must decide whether we can afford a 9 per cent growth agenda which would destroy our forests and the cultures and livelihoods that depend on them.” He added that river linking, hydel and irrigation projects could destroy the Panna, Buxa and Valmiki tiger reserves.

India Resists Ban on Deadly Pesticide By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Apr 21, 2011 (IPS) - Will India, the world’s biggest manufacturer of the pesticide endosulfan, and also the biggest victim of the toxic pesticide, persist with opposing its ban globally?

A coalition of health and environmental activists fears that the central government is preparing to oppose a ban at the Apr. 25 -29 fifth conference of the parties (CoP) to the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, or ‘POPs Treaty’, in Geneva.

"We understand that the central government will continue to support endosulfan use, although India risks being isolated in Geneva," said Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link, a participating member of the International POPs Elimination Network.

At the last review committee of the POPs Treaty in October 2010, that had recommended a ban on endosulfan, India forced a vote and then became the only country that voted against it.

But the 172 countries that have ratified the POPs Treaty, in force since May 17, 2004, can push for a ban at the CoP in Geneva, though countries like China, which abstained, and others may oppose it at the forum.

India signed the POPs treaty under the United Nations on May 14, 2002, and ratified it on Jan. 13, 2006. The POPs treaty has helped classify chemicals which are toxic for the environment and to human health.

To attract a ban under the POPs Treaty a chemical has to be persistent, bio-accumulative and a risk to human health - all of which have been scientifically proved in the case of endosulfan.

Independent studies in several countries, including one carried out by India’s National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), have linked the chemical to seizures and deaths. Long-term effects of low-dose exposure have been linked to autism, delayed puberty and birth defects.

Agarwal told IPS that the central government’s attitude was "unfortunate", considering that two Indian states, southern Kerala and Karnataka, have already banned endosulfan.

Separately, he said, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a statutory body, had on Dec. 31, 2010 recommended a ban on endosulfan saying that the stand of the central government had led to grave violations of human rights.

"Since endosulfan is a POP, the dangers it poses will linger and multiply through the generations, causing harm on a scale that cannot presently be quantified," the NHRC said.

The NHRC had earlier been informed by the central government that it did not believe that endosulfan was harmful, and had, therefore, opposed its listing under Annexe A chemicals of the POPs Treaty that are fit to be eliminated.

NHRC said it could not understand the logic of the Indian government when "the countries that have banned endosulfan are those that have access to the most advanced scientific research and include the United States, the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, that have taken their decision on the basis of scientific data and studies."

NHRC categorically asked the central government to "join the international consensus at the next meeting in April 2011 of the state parties of the Stockholm Convention and permit the listing of endosulfan as an Annexe A chemical."

Already 81 countries have either banned or decided to phase out endosulfan, though 27 countries continue to use it. Many of them like the Philippines face local demands for its ban.

Brazil, China, and India are major agricultural countries where the use of endosulfan continues to be legal. Brazil, however, has announced that it will be phasing out the chemical.

Endosulfan is also currently under consideration as an addition to another international treaty, the Rotterdam Convention, which requires government-to-government notification when dangerous pesticides and other chemicals cross international borders.

India produces about 10,500 tonnes of endosulfan annually and exports about 50 percent of it, with the manufacturers successfully lobbying the government to oppose moves for a global ban.

The pesticide, sprayed on crops by aircraft or manually, is popular for its cheapness with farmers who grow cotton, cashew, potatoes, coffee and soybeans.

Endosulfan not only kills such insect pests as whiteflys, aphids, leafhoppers, potato beetles and cabbage worms, but also agricultural workers. The Kerala government acknowledges that several hundred of its workers may have died of endosulfan toxicity.

Various abnormalities have also been found among the population near the estates of the state-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala, where aerial spraying of endosulfan was conducted for more than two decades.

Health surveys have identified at least 4,000 victims in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, with more than 2,500 of them chronically ill or maimed.

Against such evidence the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) has been conducting a counter-campaign, planting ‘scientific’ reports in newspapers to question the findings of the NIOH.

India exports about 40 million dollars worth of endosulfan annually, or about 70 percent of the world trade in the chemical.

Agarwal says the money involved is trivial compared to the price paid in terms of public health. He says many alternatives are available.

"It is for the government to put public health before profits for the pesticides industry," said Dr. Mira Shiva, a respected physician, who represents the Initiative for Health and Equity in Society and the All- India Drug Action Network.

Shiva said the evidence from Kerala and Karnataka on the dangers to human health caused by endosulphan was overwhelming and that the government should have honoured the NIOH study rather than "succumb to pressure from corporate interests."

Gopal Krishna, convenor of the Toxics Watch Alliance, a major campaigner, said the non-seriousness of the government towards the POPs Treaty can be seen from the fact that it missed the Dec. 4, 2008 deadline for transmission of its National Implementation Plan (NIP) to the POPs secretariat.

The draft of the NIP was available for public comment until l April 1, 2011.

Govt to prepare digital maps of coastal belt

The government today signed an agreement to prepare digital maps of the country’s seven km wide coastal belt from Gujarat to West Bengal as part of its efforts to delineate the hazard line for coastal regions.


An agreement to map the 11,000 km coastline arc from Gujarat to West Bengal was signed between the Ministry of Environment and Forests and M/s IIC, Hyderabad in the presence of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Mr. Ramesh said Stereo Digital Aerial Photography (SDAP) technology will be used to map the coastline of the country.

This initiative is a critical part towards the planned management of the country’s coastal zone, he said.

The total cost involved for SDAP is Rs 27 crores and the project is backed by the World Bank.

For the purpose of SDAP, the Indian mainland coastline has been divided into eight blocks - from Indo-Pakistan border to Somnath in Gujarat; Somnath to Ulhas River in Maharashtra; Ulhas River to Sharavathi River in Karnataka; Sharavathi River to Cape Comorin in Tamil Nadu; Cape Comorin to Ponniyur River in Tamil Nadu; Ponniyur River to Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh; Krishna River to Chhatrapur in Orissa; and Chhatrapur to Indo-Bangladesh Border in West Bengal.

The SDAP will be completed within an estimated 15 months depending upon the weather.

Based on this, maps will be prepared in 1:10,000 scale and after ground verification, pillars will be erected demarcating the hazard line, an official release said.

The hazard line is a composite line of the shoreline changes including sea level rise due to climate change, tides and waves.

Military Debris Threaten Oceans

BANGALORE, Apr 14, 2011 (IPS) - Military debris dumped into the world’s oceans are hazardous to coral ecosystems, reefs, fish and marine wildlife, say experts, who also warn - in light of the recent tragedy in Japan - that earthquakes and tsunamis could disturb this debris and even wash it ashore.

"The tsunami from the Japan earthquake increased the likelihood of sea dumped conventional and chemical weapons washing ashore as they rest at a shallow depth of 200 metres in Choshi Bay of Chiba Prefecture in Japan," said Ryo Sato, marine researcher at Global Green, the U.S. affiliate of the NGO Green Cross International.

The Baltic Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Pacific Ocean are hotspots.

In the Philippines "Coron, Subic Bay and Leyte Gulf have the highest density of planes and ships sunk during the Second World War, and numerous shipwrecks and airplanes litter the seafloor in the reefs," according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Philippines. 

"The U.S. Army dumped over 8,000 tonnes of chemical weapons off Hawaii," said Paul Walker, director of Global Green, at the recently concluded Fifth U.N. International Marine Debris Clearance conference in Hawaii. Around 300,000 tonnes of chemical warfare agents were dumped in oceans from 1946 to 1965. Upwards of 400,000 gas filled-bombs and rockets float in U.S. waters. 40,000 tonnes of Conventional Weapons (CW) are in the Baltic Sea. 21,000 tonnes of CW agents float in Australian waters, and more than 6,600 tonnes off the coast of Japan.

"Marine debris... adversely impacts marine life, destroys habitat and entangles food for marine organisms and seabirds," says Finn Longinotto, senior programme fellow at Global Green.

France conducted 137 undersea nuclear tests between 1975 and 1996 in French Polynesia creating an artificial crater 140 metres in diameter - disturbing one million cubic metres of coral and sand. The explosions injected nuclear material into the carbonate rocks that will be released gradually into the ocean. Earthquakes and undersea landslides will intensify release of the radioactive material, affecting seafood, ocean currents, and rain bearing clouds around the whole planet in the long term.

Residual nuclear material is negligible according to a study initiated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the behest of the France in 1998.

According to a study undertaken by the University of Florida, missiles, torpedoes, and submarines emit sonar waves leaving cetaceans like dolphins, dugongs and whales hearing impaired - affecting their hunting ability, group communication, migration patterns, and mating behaviour.

India’s armed forces have also destroyed fragile marine habitat and coral ecosystems. In the Bay of Bengal, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) conducts missile tests in the middle of a turtle-nesting site within the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.

"DRDO is not supposed to carry out missile testing during the turtle nesting season. However, they flout this rule despite regular forest department objections," charges Biswajit Mohanty, of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.

"In one recent incident, the missile misfired, resulting in the destruction of the turtle nesting habitat in Nasi Island inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary - a breeding ground for olive ridley turtles. The vibration coming from missile launches being almost equal to seismic intensity can have an impact on the fragile eggs, we still don’t know scientifically what happens as an impact on the eggs," Mohanty told IPS. "The DRDO is insensitive that the state’s unique natural heritage - olive ridley turtles - might abandon the nesting grounds if the missile activity disturbs them."

The DRDO "have not disclosed the nature of debris littered in the sea," Mohanty added.

The government response: "DRDO takes due care to avoid any adverse effect on eco-system while planning and conducting missile tests from DRDO ranges. The launching pad has been designed in such a manner that it does not affect the fauna and flora of that area or cause any adverse effect on the environment."

"The flares emanating from missile launch heat the habitat, and disorient the turtles and hatchlings especially when they head to the sea," says a concerned Mohanty.

The DRDO however told IPS that, "All illuminated lights are placed in inverted position with shades and flames coming out of missiles lasting less than a minute, which do not affect the nesting of olive ridley turtles."

The Indian Navy has also chosen the coral island of Netrani on India’s west coast for "target practice," V. N. Nayak, marine biologist at the post graduate centre of Karnatak University in Karwar told IPS. "Netrani Island is home to diverse fauna, enlisted both in the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] Red Data List and the Indian Wildlife Protection Act’s Schedule One."

Naval exercises are a dire threat to the ecosystem, Nayak said. The large number of bullets, bombs, missiles and torpedoes fired at the endemic wildlife of the island and the seas cause mass mortality of fish and corals in this ecosystem. "Target practice on endangered wildlife is irresponsible," he stressed. "Netrani Island is located under the Coastal Regulatory Zone 4 and fishing zone."

Netrani Island’s fauna includes the white bellied sea eagle, corals, coral fish, whale shark, tiger shark, giant groupers, giant clam, dolphins, sea snakes, crustaceans, reef sharks, stingrays, squid, sea cucumbers olive ridley turtles, jelly fish, sea urchins, killer whales and edible nest swiftlets. The island is the only place outside of the Andaman Nicobar Islands where edible nest swiftlets live.

"Naval firing practices are periodically conducted on a 16-metre barren rock, located close to Netrani Island," the Indian Navy told IPS. "Such firing practices have been conducted for the last six decades." With chances of an outbreak of hostilities stemming from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai "the necessity for the Indian Armed Forces to remain combat-ready... at all times can hardly be over-emphasised. It is precisely this realisation that has already led the Karnataka Biodiversity Board to drop the proposal to consider Netrani Island a Biodiversity Park."

"Who is the enemy for the Indian Navy to bombard unarmed wildlife?" asks K. S. N. Cikkerur, the additional director general of the police forest cell of Karnataka, in Bangalore. Is the enemy the rare "Schedule One species listed in the Wildlife Protection Act?" Cikkerur wonders.


Central Team visits Thane-hit Nagapattinam

Nagapattinam (TN): A two-member Central Team today visited some of the villages in the district that were worst-hit by cyclone Thane and interacted with farmers and affected people.
The Team comprised Manoharan, Director in-charge, Tobacco Development in the Department of Agriculture and Sundramurthi, Superintending Engineer, Water Resources Ministry.  Manoharan later told reporters that the district administration had submitted a report stating paddy crops in over 50,000 hectares and horticultural crops in 450 hectares had been damaged in the district.
The district administration has put the total loss suffered due to the cyclone at Rs 106.75 crore, he said.