CHENNAI: Ringing alarm bells over the proposal of a major port in Andhra Pradesh, contiguous to the ecologically sensitive Pulicat lake, environmentalists have warned that the move is fraught with irreversible damage to the fragile eco-system besides threatening the livelihood of thousands of fishermen.
After a lull during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, work has restarted on the proposed Dugarajapatnam port, the second largest after Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, that is to come up at Tupilipalem in the coastal Nellore district, just 2 km from the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the Pulicat lake.
This brackish-water lagoon is the second largest in the country after the Chilika lake in Odisha, which is why activists demand that the project be either dropped or shifted elsewhere.
Besides endangering the livelihood of fishermen in the 46 villages, conservationists warn it would kill the avian paradise there, which has sanctuaries feeding over 80,000 birds, including greater flamingos and other migratory ones, each year.
“The proposed port is 2 km from the lake’s ESZ (eco-sensitive zone) with the operational area coming exactly opposite its mouth in the northern end. Obviously, there will be a lot of dredging to get the infrastructure in place at the channel’s entrance, which is sure to destroy the lake,” warns K Mrutyumjaya Rao, Indian Bird Conservation Network from Andhra Pradesh. “Besides, material like iron suspended in water and the ever looming threat of oil spill can be disastrous,” he adds.
Earlier this year, the UPA government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had even proposed to reduce the ESZ - a buffer zone around Pulicat - from 10 km to 2 km to get clearances for the port, the activists allege. By doing so, they attempted to overrule the AP Chief Wildlife Warden, who had in March 2007 put his foot down on retaining the EZR at 10 km. Activists engaged with conservation and livelihood of fishermen have started flooding the MoEF with pleas to drop the plan.
“Already land in Kudiri Tank, a Pulicat sanctuary opposite Sriharikota, is being promoted for real estate. The Nelapattu sanctuary nearby is a breeding ground for the endangered spot-billed pelicans,” explains Murugavel of Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating in Chennai. He suggests that both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh push for Pulicat getting the Ramsar status, wherein wetlands with rich bio-diversity are given international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
Activist like Narayana, convenor of Human Rights Forum in Nellore, who carried out a study in the fishing villages on the impact of the proposed port, slam the UPA government for not conducting a public hearing for such a major project. “Being an inter-State lake, there should be a Pulicat Lake Development Authority on the lines of Chilika Development Authority,” says bird lover and architect Xavier Benedict.
Significantly, Tupilipalem was not the first choice for the project. Ramayapatnam in neighbouring Prakasam district was on the initial shortlist. It was then shifted it to Durgarajapatnam and later to Tupilipalem. The project, though would be called Dugarajapatnam port. “There is enough land available in Ramayapatnam for the port. We have sent notices demanding transfer of the officials in Shipping and Environment ministries. Now that the government has changed, we will wait to see their stance on the issue and plan our next move,” says K Aruna, secretary, CPI, Prakasam district.
With the Centre claiming that development and environment protection would go hand-in-hand, activists are keeping their fingers crossed.