20080517

Kerala's sea reclamation move

200 New Nandigrams?


A Kerala government proposal to reclaim land from the sea for promoting industrial development has fishermen worried


KA SHAJI
Thiruvananthapuram


A STRANGE IRONY this. While the CPM in West Bengal is struggling to smother the revolt in Nandigram, the CPM in Kerala, it seems, is readying itself to unleash more Nandigrams. But the fight this time is not over land, but over the sea.

The fishermen community in Kerala is up in arms over the state government’s proposal to reclaim land from the sea for promoting industrial development in the state. The fishermen community has already launched a campaign against the project and even burned the effigy of Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Issac, the man behind the idea. According to Issac, land is very scarce in Kerala and the only option left before the government is to allow industrial units to function on lands reclaimed from the sea. NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) has already promised finance for the project. “The concept is still in a rudimentary stage. The idea came up when we were discussing new areas where NABARD could intervene. The concept is still amorphous and has to be fleshed out,” explains Issac.

However, environmentalists are not impressed by Isaac’s claim. “This is the normal way through which controversial projects are coming up in Kerala. The ministers talk like this till the ground works are over. In the meantime, they would hire some so-called experts to eulogise the project and to win public support. The previous Congress government had tried to establish an expressway linking Thiruvananthapuram and Kasargod, which would have been an environmental catastrophe. So, vigilance is necessary in the case of this project,’’ says Kerala’s leading environmental expert CR Neelakandan.

T. Peter, chairman of Kerala Swathanthra Mathsya Thozhilali Union, a major fishermen’s outfit, is even questioning Issac’s claim that the proposal would not affect the fisheries sector and the highly-sensitive coastal ecology. “The minister says the project would come up in area where there are no fishermen. In the entire 590 km coastal stretch of Kerala, there are over 222 fishing hamlets. Fishermen are living across the coast except in Bakel and Kovalam. These two spots have already been handed over to the tourism department. Where else are you going to establish the project?’’ he asks.

When contacted by TEHELKA, Kolkatabased expert P. Basak, who was previously head of Kerala’s Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, informed that reclamation drives conducted by China, Hongkong, Singapore and Japan have both positive and negative aspects. “Some are good and some are bad, but overall, over a long period of time, environmental impacts are negative. In the case of Kerala, the minister is promising he would not do any harm to environment. So, we will have to wait till he comes out with a detailed proposal,’’ he says.

According to top CPM sources, the idea has never been discussed either in the cabinet or in the ruling Left Democratic Front. However, the move has already evoked entrepreneur interest.

“The government may be thinking the project would help avoid repeating more Nandigrams. But if implemented, it would create as many as 222 Nandigrams along the Kerala coast. We will not allow the real estate mafia to take control of the sea and force us to move out,’’ declares Peter.

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