Chemical Hub at Nayachar: Citizens’ Expert Committee Report

March 25, 2008

This is a press statement issued by the Expert Committee formed at the Citizens’ Initiative to explore the possibilities of a Chemical Hub at Nayachar. This Committee made a visit to Nayachar and explored all the angles of the proposed project.

PRESS STATEMENT

March 17, 2008

In view of the appalling lack of transparency pertaining to various aspects of the West Bengal Government’s proposal for, and efforts towards, setting up a Chemical / Petrochemical Hub at Nayachar and the numerous urgent issues of public interest thrown up by such a project, a Citizens’ Expert Committee was constituted to look into the desirability and viability of the said project. The Committee comprises of eminent specialists drawn from various disciplines – geology, chemistry, physics, river science, medicine, economics and fisheries. Presented below are the preliminary observations of the Committee.

Preliminary Observations of the Citizens’ Expert Committee

Geological, Hydrological, Hydro-Morphological and Related concerns

Nayachar is an estuarine Island (or Bar) covering an approximate area of 47 sq. km. and having an elevation of about 1.5 m amsl (above mean sea level). The tidal fluctuation at that point of the river is more than 5 m. during the peak of the monsoon when large parts of the island are submerged.

Such a premature island emerged above water during the 1930s and still continues to evolve by the processes of erosion and accretion. The island / bar may, therefore, be identified as an area of incomplete morphogenesis. Historically speaking, such estuarine shoals appear and disappear in active littoral tracts in connection with the hydrodynamics of the delta. Any major structural intervention would obviously imperil the delicate hydro-morphology of the estuary. It is to be noted that such areas are the major sources of nutrients to various aquatic life forms.

It may further be noted that the island is geographically proximate to and has close similarities with the region of the Sunderban biosphere, which survives on the unique juxtaposition of sweet and saline water regimes. This hydro-geomorphology of the Sunderbans and also that of the Purba-Medinipur coast support a marine fishing population of more than two and a half lakh.

Our Environment, Coastal Resources and the Chemical Hub

However the livelihood of this vast population and the food and nutrition security of tens of millions of people stand threatened as fish stocks are facing severe depletion. Fishers in coastal West Bengal report steep decline during the last two decades, both in the number of available fish variety and catch per hour of fishing effort.

The most important causes of this biocide are global warming and the pollution of our waters. We may here note that a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report (entitled In Dead Water) has already identified the Indian Ocean as one of the most imperilled in terms depletion of aquatic resources, and pollution from land based sources is identified as one of the major culprits.

Worldwide experience shows that chemical industries are potentially as dangerous as nuclear plants, as the effluents are highly toxic and disastrous to the environment causing irreversible damage to air, soil and water and pose serious threat to public health. The toxic chemicals released into the environment often have immeasurably long half lives.

Even within the currently “permissible pollutant limits”, the effluents and discharges can cause long lasting damages to environment and human health – evidences for this are well documented.

The increased port activities would lead to regular spillage of crude in the port and adjacent areas and that is bound to destroy local marine ecology affecting the fishing communities as have been the experience of other similar production zones where MNCs and TNCs operate.

Thus, selecting a coastal/estuarine site for the purposes of chemical / petrochemical industrialization is in essence a declaration of war against coastal resources and livelihood – spelling disaster for marine life, livelihood of fishers, food and nutrition security.

Note that the proposed site is across the passage of tidal intrusion and also along the passage of the S-W monsoon. Further, the ‘coast’ as defined by the Govt. of India does not corroborate with the explanation of coastal geomorphology. The area enclosed within the line delineating the limits of tidal intrusion is generally identified as the coastal region in the geomorphological literature. A line joining Bandar on the bank of the river Rupnarayan, Shantipur on the bank of Bhagirathi and Benigopalpur on Ichhamati may distinctly be identified as the northern limit of tidal intrusion. This entire area happens to be the most densely populated area in the state of WB. The southern limit of tidal intrusion would include vast areas of the Sundarbans. Any spillage of toxic chemicals in Nayachar and its adjacent location is bound to affect all these areas. Similarly, any leakage of the toxic gases in the Chemical Hub is bound to be carried to densely populated areas of WB by the monsoon wind.

The WB Govt. in one of its policy papers in 1994 declared its commitment to protect the 220 km coastline of the state. And the West Bengal Coastal Zone Management Authority is bound, as per the order through which it was constituted, is to take all measures necessary “for protecting and improving the quality of the coastal environment and preventing, abating and controlling environmental pollution in coastal areas.”

However it is abundantly clear that the West Bengal Government is being disloyal to its declared commitment. And the West Bengal Coastal Zone Management Authority, by recommending reduction and dilution of the CRZ status of the island, has betrayed the responsibility with which it had been entrusted.

The Economics of the Chemical Hub

As regards the proposed chemical hub, the technology is not ours, the raw material is not ours and the investments will be made by the foreign multinational and transnational corporations. Our country will only provide cheap labour, land free of cost and lax environmental regulations. Hence the hub would, in effect, lead to net drainage of national wealth.

Chemical industry is a highly automated knowledge based industry and the employment generation cannot exceed few thousands. In the case of Jurong Island, the most commonly cited example, it is expected that the entire hub will generate a sum of 15,000 employments in the year 2010 when a total of 150 units will operate.

If the island of Nayachar, the proposed site, is embanked and elevated, the intervention is likely to impair the navigational channel that will, in turn, adversely impact the import of crude and raw materials as well as the export of finished goods from the island, thereby affecting the claimed `economic viability’ of the hub itself.

It is now known that the chemical giants, particularly after the adoption of REACH (registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals) in Europe and similar stringent laws of EPA in USA, have been trying to shift their production units in low cost countries (LCC) to take the advantage of their lax environmental laws and ineffective regulations.

The logic of low per capita consumption (about 4 kg) of plastics has been offered as a ground for setting up of chemical / petroleum hub. This argument does not hold water once we look at the poor indigenous demand and an actual slowdown in growth of the demand for plastics. The government is thus adopting a programme for export of the bulk of production at the cost of our natural resources. This is anything but development.

Conclusions

In short, the setting up of a chemical hub, according to the considered view of the committee, would only benefit the foreign multinationals while degrading our environment and ecology and leading to the net drainage of wealth from the country. The generation of jobs on which the Government is harping as its cardinal selling point, is incorrect.

Therefore it is recommended that the Government should drop the present proposal and set up a committee to explore the possibility of setting up of environment friendly indigenous industries including chemical manufacturing or processing units for the benefit of the people and nation as was originally envisioned by Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy. And instead of destroying Nayachar and other ecologically sensitive sites in our coastal and estuarine waters, the Government should try to envisage

i) Projects that preserve and nourish such sites and
ii) Economic activities that can draw on the ecological wealth of such sites without annihilating it.

Members of Citizens’ Expert Committee on Nayachar and Chemical Hub:

1. Dr. Rabindranath Majumdar, Professor of Chemical Technology, University of Calcutta
2. Dr Kalyan Rudra, River Scientist and Member, Ganga Monitoring Committee
3. Prof. Kalyan Kumar Bandopadhyay, Department of Applied Physics, Department of Marine Science, University of Calcutta.
4. Dr. Tapan Chakrabarti, Associate Professor, Indian Statistical Institute
5. Dr. Subrata Sinha, Former Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India
6. Dr. Mandindra Narayan Majumdar, Former Professor of Chemistry and Dean, Faculty of Science, Kalyani University
7. Dr. Partha Sarathi Ray, Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Calcutta
8. Dr. Subhendu Dasgupta, Former Reader, Department of South and South East Asian Studies, University of Calcutta
9. Dr. Meher Engineer, Former Director, Bose Institute, Kolkata
10. Dr. Abhee Dutt-Mazumder, Associate Professor, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics
11. Samar Bagchi, Former Director, Birla Industrial and Technological Museum
12. Harekrishna Debnath, Member, National Fisheries Development Board, Government of India and Chairperson, National Fishworkers Forum.
13. Abhijit Sengupta, Former Principal Scientist, Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
14. Dr. Siddhartha Gupta, Senior Medical Officer, Kolkata Port Trust

Nayachar Features – A Note for the Editor

Nayachar is an island / bar near the confluence of the Hooghly and Haldi Rivers where the two rivers open out to the sea, off Haldia in Purba Medinipur. It is a dolphin shaped landmass. At its longest it is about 15.7 km and at its broadest about 4.5 km, tapering out at both ends and is roughly oriented in the direction NNE to SSW. The area is about 47 sq. km. The geographical coordinates of the two endpoints of this longish island are 22o01’ N, 88o08’ E and 21o54’ N, 88o02’54 E (to a close approximation) . It is located in a dynamic zone and it is difficult to predict what may happen to the island in future. Large chunks of the island are subject to tidal intrusion and the island is crisscrossed by numerous creeks.

Submitted on behalf of the Citizens’ Expert Committee on Nayachar and Chemical Hub and Citizens Concerned over Nayachar and Chemical Hub by:

Bhaskar Gupta, TASAM (Teachers and Scientists against Maldevelopment). 8, Lenin Sarani, Kolkata-700013. Phone: 22286089
Santanu Chacraverti, DISHA (Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action). 20/4 Sil Lane, Kolkata – 700015. Phone: 23283989, 23297662, 9831034089

Counterviews has extensive and ongoing coverage of issues pertaining to the proposed chemical hub at Nayachar.