The Puducherry government’s bid to revive the mini harbour-cum- port project at Pudukuppam near Bahour here which was twice rejected for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms has sparked outrage among environmentalists and farmers.

The decision to revive the project came to light after the Directorate of Fisheries and Fishermen Welfare, in its recent reply to the concerns raised by a water user’s organisation over the project, had pointed out that the “cut opening” of Mullodai river mouth and provision of retaining walls perpendicular to the harbour, was a long-pending demand of fishermen to anchor their fishing boats during natural calamities.

“The issue was also raised by legislators in the Assembly. As this is a persistent demand of MLAs as well as fishermen of southern fishing hamlets such as M. Pudukuppam, Narambai, and Panithittu, the Directorate has initiated action for a scientific study of the “cut opening” of the river mouth by the Central Institute of Coastal Engineering for Fishery, Bengaluru,” an official said.

According to Probir Banerjee, member of PondyCan, a civil society organisation, and Alliance for Good Governance (AGG), “Coastal erosion is a big problem and all States should come up with Coastal Zone Management plans to handle the erosion problem. But in Puducherry they are creating another erosion problem.

“The existing Thengaithittu harbour has caused huge devastation on the coast from Puducherry right up to Auroville in Tamil Nadu. The entire water aquifers have become saline, which is a huge threat to our water security. However, the government does not understand the long-term impacts of this project.”

He added, “Instead of trying to see and learn from the mistakes caused by the previous harbour in the city, they are creating another disaster, which will further destroy the environment, and livelihoods and result in huge economic loss. The mini harbour will have a cascading effect on the remaining coast of Puducherry from Nallavadu to Thengaithittu.”

Mr. Banerjee pointed out that the mini harbour project was twice rejected by the Ministry of Environment of Forests (MoEF) and the World Bank. An expert member deputed from the MoEF had rejected the project due to its serious environmental impacts. “For the second time, the authorities revived the project by approaching the World Bank for funding.

However, the World Bank withdrew funding and rejected the same after concerns were raised by environmentalists”, he said. According to V. Chandrasekhar, president of Bangaru Vaickal Neeradhara Koottamaippu, a water users’ organisation, “The proposed project is in complete violation of CRZ rules and will result in irreversible destruction of agricultural lands upstream of the Mullodai channel.

No Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had been carried out so far and the government should not go ahead with the project.”

According to T.P. Raghunath, Director of Svarnim Puducherry (Sri Aurobindo Society), “The mini harbour project is a disaster in the making in the name of fishermen who are not told that the very same harbour will erode their coast completely resulting in intrusion of salt water into the shallow aquifers of the coastline.” He added, “For a sustainable coastal management plan, such knee-jerk projects without proper studies should not be taken.

What we need is a calculated, scientific and rational solution to the issues of fishermen and not end up creating artificial groynes, sand bypassing, which the government will be happy to push as they are perpetual money-making projects which offer no solutions.

“The government should have a healthy debate on the developmental agenda for Puducherry and not hire experts from outside who have no knowledge of what happened to Puducherry post the existing port.”

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