THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is a scene of absolute destruction.
Acres and acres of tree stumps that look as if ravaged by a massive fire. Just across the road, there is a similar scene with dead, black trees with patches of an unhealthy green at the centre. Migratory birds sit atop the stumps, looking perplexed at what was once home to their parents and grandparents. Migrant workers fish amidst the dead roots.
That such an appalling thing happening in Kerala, in the SEZ area of Puthuvypeen in the Vembanad wetland, should be a shame not only to the Forest or Finance Minister but also to the whole Left Government.
What is even more disgusting is the mode of destruction. Residents of the area allege that the mangroves were poisoned with high concentrations of a herbicide to effect a slow death. It was done in such a way that the mangroves right in the core area were first poisoned, and then in concentric circles and finally in the periphery.
The whole area looked green and healthy from outside for a long time, until the mangroves in the periphery started wilting. By then, they get labelled as `dying mangroves’, making it too late to save the clump. Earlier, a large section of the mangroves were destroyed for the construction of a road right through them, and now it is the turn of the mangroves on both the sides of the road. What is ironical is that the Rs 450 crore office complex of the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology is coming up on the land cleared of mangroves.
The law insists that mangroves should be conserved even while taking up developmental projects.
However, no regulatory norms were considered when the mangroves at Valanthakkad were mercilessly chopped.
“When most tropical countries are struggling hard to rehabilitate mangroves along their coastal shelter-belts, mangroves are being systematically decimated in the name of development along the Kochi and Malabar coasts,” said scientist and RARS director K G Padmakumar.
In Kerala, the area covered with mangroves has dwindled to 1,500 acres from the original 70,000 hectares. Of what is remaining, the largest group is at Valanthakkad, which has species like avicennia officionalis, rhizophora apiculata, bruguiera and a number of mangrove associates.
“When the tsunami struck in 2004, it was these mangroves which absorbed the shock of the waves. It is true that roads are necessary for the industries in the are to function, but one road would have been more than enough. You have two roads here passing right through the mangroves, and a coastal highway is coming up just 2 km away. Further, the levelling of the land on both the sides of the road is continuing.
If the authorities had done some kind of planning the mangroves on either side of the roads could have been saved,” said Major Moosankutty, a resident of the area.
A total of 23 acres of the mangrove ecosystem were wiped off from Puthuvypeen. Complaints were sent to the Malayattoor DFO by Yesudas of Varappuzha and C M Joy, but to no avail.
The Forest Department states that it can take action only if the destruction of mangroves takes place in areas assigned as forest land and those coming under the Coastal Zone Re gulation Authority(CZRA).
The CZRA can take action only if the mangrove is situated within 500 metres of the coastline, and even then the CZRA can only direct the police to take action as it does not have any regulatory power. Consequently, the state is still in a quandary as to whom the mangroves belong and who is responsible for its protection.
“Penaeid prawns and fish varieties like pearl spot, mullets, seabass and shrimps such as kara, naren and thelly live in the mangroves and the destruction of this vegetation would affect the fish resources of the state,” said Cusat School of Industrial Fisheries B Madhusoodana Kurup, who is also advisor to the Fisheries Minister.
With Vypeen being transformed into an industrial hub, the residents are moving out fast, but only after filling the mangrove marshes with a mixture of bentonite and waste.
(The study was conducted with a fellowship from the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi)