The ill-conceived water aerodrome and seaplane project proposed by the Centre at the Chilika lagoon has been struck down for all the right reasons. The Odisha government deserves to be appreciated for standing firm against a move that would have been detrimental to the health of Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon. The plan, if implemented, would affect not just the ecology but also jeopardise the livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk.
Most importantly, what is worrying is the manner in which the project was announced by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry without consulting the state government. It is downright silly to even think of a project at a Ramsar-designated site— that recognises the rare and unique ecosystem and gives priority for the conservation of the biological treasures! The plan seemed like an arrogant business model and smacked of indifference to coastal ecology. It is not just about the Chilika lagoon.
It is rather about protecting the coastal ecology of India in the face of a barrage of projects the Centre is working on. Huge plans have been drawn up for coastal highways and connectivity to ports as part of infrastructure development. A worrying factor is most of these mega projects go through technical and engineering assessments but rarely are environment costs examined. Statutory clearances for such projects follow the initial project formulation process, which is not the right way to go forward at a time when climate change and global warming have already begun to extract heavy costs.
India’s policymakers are known to have selective amnesia. The 2013 Uttarakhand devastation has been forgotten. And the Kerala floods have served as a grim reminder. Over 14 per cent of India’s population lives in coastal districts—home to wetlands, lagoons, estuaries and mangrove vegetation that encompass not just an astounding biodiversity range but are also key to sustenance. At no cost should these ecosystems be compromised.