Environmental Scientists in Kolkata speak out against Chemical Hub in Noyachar

Environmental Scientists in Kolkata speak out against Chemical Hub in Noyachar

Translated by Soumya Guhathakurta, Sanhati. Sept. 5, 2007

According to environmentalists, the flowing and mixing of effluent from the chemical plant at Noyachar with the waters of river Ganges cannot be ruled out. During high tides it is possible for the contaminated water to flow upstream for a considerable distance. The possibility of the water flowing into waterways connected to Ganges cannot also be ruled out.

The previous head of the Department of Marine Science, University of Calcutta, and an expert on the Sunderbans, Amalesh Choudhury, opines that the decision to build a chemical hub at Noyachar cannot be taken by politicians and administrators. He believes that the last word on this issue can only be pronounced by environmental scientists. Presently, Amalesh Choudhury is a specialist member of ‘Sunderbans Mangrove Wetland Development Board’ and ‘ Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve Development Board’. According to him, the environment of Noyachor should be left in its present virgin state, in the interests of the Haldia industrial area. There are 10 to 12 varieties of grasses growing in Noyachor which protect the said industrial area. Further, they absorb a portion of the chemical pollution that is generated by Haldia. Environmentalist Shubhash Datta has gone on record saying that in case a hurried decision is forced upon the state then he will seek legal redressal.

Retired professor Manju Bandopadhyay of the Department of Botany, University of Calcutta, has worked extensively on the flora and fauna of the Sunderbans delta. She asserts that the existence or the absence of human settlements cannot be the only criterion for the project. She feels that none can guarantee that chemical effluents from the hub will not flow into the Ganges and pollute the water upstream and that of water bodies connected to the ganges, during high tides.

Retired professor Manosh Joardar, Department of Applied Physics, University of Calcutta, is apprehensive that a fate similar to the well known disaster incident in Japan (the presence of mercury in chemical effluents which flowed into the sea) awaits the ganges. He states that the river Ganges is presently heavily polluted and the government and its administration are in no position to enforce environmental norms on industries or management, whose index is profit and not environmental protection. No one is in a position to guarantee that the pollution of Noyachor will leave untouched the banks of the Ganges.

This article originally appeared in Bartaman, September 5, 2007

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Developing news:

Sept. 4: Island in zone of no development

Experts today warned that setting up a mega chemical hub on the mud island of Nayachar would violate coastal and environmental laws.

Although seen as relatively stable and gradually growing in size, as an uninhabited island it falls under Coastal Regulation Zone 1 (CRZ 1) where development is banned.

“No development work can be undertaken in such uninhabited coastal zones unless specifically cleared by the Centre,” said Sugata Hazra, the director of the School of Oceanographic Studies in Jadavpur, who is also a member of the state Coastal Zone Management Authority.

The estuarine island, 3km east of Haldia and 15km from the sea, comes under the coastal authority since it has a salinity level of little under 10ppt (parts per thousand). Areas with salinity levels of 5ppt and above fall under the coastal authority.

Development is allowed in already developed CRZ 2 areas like Digha. It is also permitted to a small extent in partially built-up CRZ 3 areas like New Digha and Sankarpur or CRZ 4 areas like the Andamans, which are detached islands and need some development to be self-sufficient. But it is banned in the uninhabited CRZ 1 areas.

“The island is also home to five varieties of mangroves, which have played a major role in stabilising it and preventing coastal erosion over the years. It has a sizeable forest cover,” Hazra added.

Officials said cutting down mangroves to build a chemical hub would not be ecologically sound.

In need of around 10,000 acres of contiguous land near Haldia, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’ s government is banking on Nayachar as its lone hope, especially after yesterday’s meeting with political parties where the island was declared the “obvious choice”.

The government has concluded that acquisition of 10,000 acres in any other area would be impossible at this point. The search for an alternative site began after the choice of Nandigram fell through.

Yesterday, asked about reports that the island ran the risk of instability, industry minister Nirupam Sen said the soil could be technologically modified to make it suitable for development.

The 16,000-acre island is home to a tourist bungalow and a prawn cultivation project. Some 400 fishermen’s families live here, of whom 500 work in the prawn project. Another 200 come from outside to work every day.

The state has to get the proposal vetted by the coastal authority, which will forward it to the Central Coastal Zone Regulation Authority for clearance. Clearance from the Union forest ministry would also be required.

Sept. 5: State opted for Nayachar ignoring GSI warnings

Ignoring a Geological Survey of India report that the Nayachar island (see photo) is prone to earthquake, cyclone and even tsunami, the state government proposed at the all-party meeting on Monday to set up a mega chemical hub.
It came to light today that the state fisheries department, which had sounded the GSI’s opinion on the status of the island’s soil, got the report about a week before the much-touted meeting, yet it went ahead with building the case for Nayachar. Its two proposals for two other sites ~ Haldia and Khejuri-Contai ~ were shot down at the meeting, since many people would have to be displaced if the project were to come up.

The GSI report stated that the soft land, apart from being vulnerable to earthquake, cyclone and tsunami, is also “young”, not more than 60 years. Because of its proximity to the coastal area, it runs the risk of getting inundated owing to tidal surges, the report said. At the all-party meeting, Left Front’s junior partners gave their nod to the proposal, while the Congress decided to communicate its decision “soon”. Now, the principal secretary, fisheries and aquaculture department, has called a meeting with GSI officials at Writers’ Buildings on Friday to discuss the quality of the island’s soil and related issues.
The fisheries minister, Mr Kiranmoy Nanda, has, however, no difficulty in making alternative arrangements for fishermen who run cooperatives on about 850 hectares on the island.

The state environment minister, Mr Sailen Sarkar, expressed his worries about the possible negative impact the chemical hub would make on Nayachar island. Mr Sarkar told reporters, after attending a seminar, that his department hasn’t been contacted for carrying out an environmental impact study of the proposed hub on the island.

The former director of the Zoological Survey of India, Dr Ashish Ghosh, said GSI geologists should be informed about the nature of the proposed industrial units before assessing the land stability. Dr Ghosh said the government would have to strictly monitor the environmental factors. “The chances of dumping chemical waste into the waters surrounding the island are high. Proper technology should be in place for air, solid waste and effluent management,” he said. According to environmental experts, if chemical waste mixes with water, the rich fishing ground in the sandheads, off the Digha coast, will be poisoned.

Sept. 4: Congress reservations over Nayachar

State Congress leaders have expressed reservations over setting up of a chemical hub on Nayachar island, citing topographical reasons. “Nayachar is away from the mainland though it is a newly developed island. And it is only 1.5 metre above the water level. The island located at the confluence of the Haldi and the Hooghly rivers is newly formed and is topographically unsuitable for a chemical hub,” PCC working president Mr Pradeep Bhattacharjee said today.

“We are happy that the state government has finally shifted from their stand of acquiring farmland for setting up a chemical hub,” he said. Mr Bhattacharya said that Nayachar situated off Haldia, though is a possible site for the mega chemical hub, is sparingly inhabited and faces threat from soil erosion.

The Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce and Industries had already visited Nayachar before the state government decided to select it for the chemical hub. In all South East Asian countries such as Singapore and Indonesia, chemical hubs are situated off the main island and as per that logic, Nayachar may be an ideal choice. But the newly developed island would not be an ideal place for setting up a chemical hub.

Yesterday, chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and commerce and industry minister Mr Nirupam Sen informed the all-party meeting at Writers’ Buildings that the outlying area of Haldia Petrochemical complex would not be selected for setting up a chemical hub as the land there was fertile. Nayachar was opted for the chemical hub as most of its 14,000 acres belong to the state fisheries department and Haldia Development Authority.

The PCC working president said that the chief minister had failed to answer all the queries regarding chemical pollution. The party has demanded at the meeting that an expert committee be set up for studying how to dispose chemical waste and effect of pollution on human beings.