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A guest post by Vijay Panjwani, Advocate Supreme Court of India from Gandhi Darshan, Delhi.

A beautiful cool sunny spring morning in the calm of Gandhi Ashram, Raj Ghat, Delhi can turn anyone into an environmentalist. It was 9.30 AM a full 30 minutes before start time. Taking the opportunity walked around in the vast open ground. In one corner is the Khadhi and Village Industries Commission [KVIC] North Zone Office with a compact Conference Hall. At another point is Indira Gandhi Open University [IGNOU] office and seminar rooms. The ground is surrounded by boards with poems from great poets and book extracts of well known authors. Faiz, Kedarnath Agrawal,Munshi Premchand are all over.

The seminar room was big and commodious for 200 Ganga activists, civil society leaders and swamis in all hues and shades of saffron clothing united in the goal of saving ganga river.

Most speakers emphasized that if ganga lives then only pollution issues would follow. The danger is to its very existence. There is widespread tunneling going on in the Himalayas coercing the river to change course. Seminarists want a stop to tinkering with the main current and the natural flow of the river to produce electricity. Electricity is necessary but other ways should be found to generate.
Interlinking of rivers came under critical discussion one speaker grand daughter of the Mahatma Gandhi Mrs Tara Bhattacharya questioned the wisdom of opposing a very sane project to reduce flood and drought conditions and demanded that someone should explain how it is harming the ecology. There was no response to a perfectly valid query.

The question of dangers to Ganga are connected with dangers to Himalayas. Some thought is needed on the efficacy of smaller dams and small dams. Why few large dams and not many smaller ones. These issues are to be explained anew through documentaries and short films and the internet by the I&B ministry. A small 50 seater permanent film theatre at Rajghat and Gandhi Darshan Complex would provide this information to tourists coming from all over India and abroad.

Like the Dandi March against salt tax the organizer Mrs Rama Rauta pitched for a similar agitation for clean air and water. It was on 12th March that the Mahatma launched the salt agitation for that reason each year at Gandhi Darshan the Save Ganga activists meet but with increasing frustration. The lament was that media ignores them, government is indifferent, public unaware, lack of funds, and local agencies only interested in starting treatment projects but deep into matters unrelated to regulating waste waters. A strong demand was made for declaring Uttarakhand a fragile eco-sensitive state. The ‘separation of river and sewer’ would help to reduce pollution load. It is also said that treated water to be put to other uses and not released in the river. Very laudable objects. Nothing new but definitely a reminder that alls not well in the Himalayas.

Admittedly PM is a busy man. In such a scenario it would be practical to appoint a vice-chairman in the Ganga Authority from amongst them. Businessman Rajneesh Mehra of A2Z group stressed on more sewage treatment plants but ignored the maintenance part. Most STPs on the Ganga banks are mal-functioning. There are many reasons and not just diversion and siphoning of funds.

‘Pay and pollute’ regime is promoted by an environmentalist like Padma Shree Miss Sunita Narain Director CSE an NGO registered by late Mr Anil Agarwal. Such a line is followed by CSE in permitting use of diesel combustion engine for passenger car/suv and other light vehicles. But such a policy overlooks the subsidized rates of diesel [for the rich] and the enormous amount of carbon emission into the atmosphere contributing to global warming and climate change. Such warming causes the Himalayan glaciers to melt more than acceptable summer standards.

The principle of ‘Pay & Pollute’ tilts in favour of the rich. It means if you have money you can pollute. This is what India is arguing against the developed west and Miss Sunita Narain supports it in international conferences in USA and other countries. Is there a contradiction when CSE says passenger car diesel engines should pay Rs 80,000 more as a one time carbon tax ? Those who cannot afford to pay that excess over normal price would be deprived of use of subsidized diesel. Diesel in India is subsidized to help the small and marginal farmer and also the goods transport sector. The subsidy was never meant for Sports Utility Vehicles [SUV]. SUV is usually a tall four-wheel drive heavy bodied luxury 8 seater with high ground clearance and costs around Rs 1.7 million [17 lakhs]. Followwing its success now two-wheel drive SUVs are also available and many more would be introduced this year. Respectable Tata group has surrendered to market forces. It is mass producing diesel cars for every pocket starting with 1.25 lac rupee Nano mini [wef july 2012].

Captains of industry have adopted corporate responsibility duties and one of them is to reduce and prevent future pollution load. Highly paid managers attend 5 star hotel [mid-day meal] luncheon meetings and discuss methodology of containing pollution levels. As a role model Sir Ratan Tata can simply stop manufacturing diesel car engines. The central government can issue a notification banning such manufacture and import. The Supreme Court would in all likelihood uphold the validity of such a notification.

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Construction must stop to save endangered sea turtles

April 05, 2008

Gahirmatha's
seas are one of the world's largest breeding areas for the Olive Ridley
Turtle. The Dhamra port could signal the end of this habitat forever.


Delhi, India — A coalition of Indian conservationists, comprising
Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the Wildlife Society of
Orissa (WSO) and Greenpeace India, has called on TATAs to reconsider
their Dhamra Deepwater Port [1] in Orissa, citing the threat it poses
to endangered sea turtles and two important Protected Areas.
Construction on the Port is proceeding in the absence of a
comprehensive Environment Impact Analysis and with disregard to the
Precautionary Principle, which TATA Steel professes to adhere to as a
member of The Global Compact [2].

Speaking
to the media, Belinda Wright, Executive Director of WPSI, said “The
olive ridley turtle is a species that enjoys the same legal protection
as the tiger. Yet despite its ecological significance, the Dhamra area
was purposely excluded from Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha Sanctuaries to
facilitate the Dhamra Port [3]. It is amazing that while trawling is
rightly banned to protect the turtles, the Orissa state government is
bending over backwards to assist a huge industrial project in the same
area, which will probably drive away the turtles for good.”

The
Dhamra Port is coming up less than 5 km from Bhitarkanika Sanctuary and
less than 15 km from Gahirmatha’s beaches, one of the largest mass
nesting sites for the olive ridley turtle in the world.
Conservationists highlighted the Port’s potential environmental impacts
when it was first proposed in the 1990s. In April 2004, the Supreme
Court appointed Central Empowered Committee had recommended that the
Dhamra Port be relocated.

Over 100 leading
scientists from India and across the world have also called on TATA
Steel, the joint promoters of the Dhamra Port, to halt the project in
light of potential impacts on sea turtles and the environment, through
a petition campaign [4] hosted by a coalition of conservation groups
[5]. The list includes over 20 scientists from the Marine Turtle
Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN,
besides other renowned conservationists and researchers. The petition
also urges the Orissa state government to protect the Dhamra area.

Conservationists
charge that in the absence of a credible Environment Impact Analysis
and baseline ecological data, no mitigation plan, even if prepared by
the best experts, will be an adequate safeguard. Significantly, there
has been no mass nesting at Gahirmatha this season. In the past, even
minor disturbances have been enough to prevent turtles nesting, so the
influence of ongoing dredging for port construction cannot be ruled
out.

“There are alternatives to Dhamra that
TATAs must explore. A study commissioned by the Government of Orissa
and conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, has
identified several potential port sites [6]” said Biswajit Mohanty,
Secretary of WSO “The ongoing expansion of Paradip Port will also
provides the state with sufficient cargo capacity. If TATAs are as
environment friendly as they claim, they must make the effort to shift
to another location further away from the turtle nesting grounds,
rather than seeking to hide behind mitigation plans that can never be a
proper safeguard against the impacts”, he added.

In
2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dr. S.K.
Dutta of the North Orissa University established the presence of rare
species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site [7]. The study also
revealed the presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on and near the
area. TATA is yet to respond to these findings, despite earlier
committing to reconsider their role in the project if evidence of
ecological significance was presented.

The pressure on TATA is mounting, with Greenpeace’s cyber campaign (www.greenpeace.org/india/turtles)
providing a platform for the public to voice their concerns on this
issue. Over 9,000 people have already written to Ratan Tata within
three days of its launch.

“The scientific
community is advising against this port, fishermen have opposed it [8],
science has shown the presence of rare species in the area, and now the
public is adding its voice to the conservation community. What more
does Mr. Ratan Tata need? As a global corporation with a growing
presence overseas, TATA needs to show that its commitment to the
environment goes beyond mere lip service, by halting work on the port
immediately”, said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
India.

For more information, contact:

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace, 99801 99380 ashish.fernandes@greenpeace.org
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, 98111 90690 belinda@wpsi-india.org
Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, 94370 24265 kachhapa@gmail.com
Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, 93438 62212 stripath@in.greenpeace.org