AP capital may raise environment issues

The Centres seems to be in a rush in handing out clearances to the upcoming capital city in reclaimed area.

Again, as usual, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) is spiralling its way towards the centre of negative attention because of its knee jerk reactions, such as assurance of super-fast clearance to upcoming capital city – Amaravathi for Andhra Pradesh – or clearance to the Coastal Highway of Mumbai in reclaimed area.

The MoEF has not changed its decision-making process despite several reverses it suffered from the judiciary as well as the committee under the chairmanship of former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, both of which withheld several of the ministry’s decisions. The ministry has opted to rush in to take decisions, more because of political issues and less on the merit of the issues concerned.

It has cleared the ambitious 35-km-long coastal road connecting Nariman Point of south Mumbai to Kandivali of north Mumbai and also involved reclamation of land, after its interaction with team from Maharashtra government. According to the proposal, the estimated cost of the project is Rs 8,500 crore and benefits are expected to be several folds higher. The draft notification for approval was issued by the MoEF in June and is open to public remarks.

Based on the suggestions and objections received from people, final notification for approval would probably be issued in August. The MoEF had expressed its concern over later-day commercial exploitation of land to be reclaimed for completing this coastal road project and as it expected, the Maharashtra government had vehemently opposed such a prospect and assured that in no way would reclaimed land be used for commercial purposes.

In a similar vein, after a high level meeting with Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu, the MoEF declared its intention to accord clearances required for the construction of capital city of And-hra Pradesh ‘as soon as possible’. The construction of Amaravathi is bound to impact the ecosystem of river Krishna and might violate one or the other section of Coastal Regulation Zone Notifications. Such sweeping statement by the MoEF does not augur well from an environmental perspective.

It is agreed that development and environment need not be pitted against each other but can go together provided the conce-rned regulators/ enforcers show sincere concern for environment. For instance, in situations like Mumbai or Amaravathi, a simple, black and white evaluation of environmental impacts is not possible due factors ranging from economic to political to social to cultural aspects.

However, such complex situations should not force the agencies concerned to ignore the ecology of the region. Due attention needs to be given to ecological functions and processes involved such as ‘Ecosystem Services’ of that particular area, be it the coastal zone in case of Mumbai highway or the river Krishna in case of Amaravathi.

The most popular current definition of Ecosystem Services (ES) is “the functions and products of ecosystems that benefit humans, or yield welfare to society”. Wetland ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, marshes, rice fields, and coastal areas, provide many services that contribute to human well-being and poverty alleviation. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) has divided  ecosystem services into four categories, namely:

Ecosystem services

Provisioning services: Food production (fish, wild game, fruits, grains), freshwater storage and retention of water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use, fibre and production of fuelwood, fodder etc.

Regulating services: Micro climate regulation, sink for greenhouse gases; groundwater recharge/ discharge, water purification, erosion regulation, retention of soils and sediments, flood control, storm protection, pollination habitat for pollinators etc.

Cultural Services: spiritual and inspirational values, recreational activities, opportunities for formal and informal education, training; and Ecological Supporting Services: soil formation sediment retention and accumulation of organic matter, nutrient cycling storage, recycling, processing, and acquisition of nutrients.

According to Prof Anil Markendya, noted environmental economist, the total value of ecosystem services from wetlands in India is estimated to be Rs 665 billion ($14 billion) annually. The average is Rs 38,000 ($800) per hectare. Although many of the sites have a value per hectare greater than that, the largest sites have much lower values with the result that the average comes out as indicated.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) studies indicate that river Krishna is already a closed river system (means that no more utilisable flow is left in the basin) not only at the mouth of the river but also at a sub-basin level and thus significant reduction in quantity of fresh water joining the Bay of Bengal.

Several studies are reporting the decline of fisheries in its estuary, resulting in reduced provisioning service of river at its mouth, impacting the reduced household income of coastal fishing communities. Again, the losers are lower and economically deprived sections of the society as it is they who depend more on ecosystem services.

(The writer is associated with  Karnataka State Women’s University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)

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