Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Olive Riddley troubles

One of the annoying things about working on something for children to read or to see is that it makes you frighteningly conscious about the future. We are working on a children’s book on India – researching, writing and illustrating it. While it pays so little it’s not funny, what we’ve gained in terms of knowledge and sheer awareness of this large and complex country is awesome. Researching for pictures and textual information means going through a set process: mild curiosity to begin with, and then as we read more and more, awe, shock, delight, wonder, and sometimes, anger and dismay.

Take the case of the highly endangered Olive Ridley turtles which come every winter to nest on the beaches of Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya in Orissa (illustration by Amit for the book). Following an unerring instinct, they come from faraway Sri Lanka and even Australia. They come all along the coast – to Orissa, parts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Khambat and Kerala.

Though numerous eggs are laid every winter by the Olive Ridleys, only one in a thousand hatchlings survives. Trawler nets, pollution and poaching kill many of the turtles, the eggs and the hatchlings. Once hatched, the baby turtles rush to the sea using stars, the sea’s luminescence and moonlight to help them navigate. Reaching the sea is absolutely crucial, and thanks to road lights, they often blunder in the wrong direction. Activists and villagers manage to turn them the right way sometimes.

To add to the mind-boggling dangers they face, a new menace has been approved by the state govt. – the Dhamra port at Gahirmatha beach, 15 kms from the nesting ground of these small sea turtles), gravely endangering an already fragile population. Though owned by the state, it is to be built by the Tatas, who frankly, should know better by now, I think. Apart from the many different kinds of ecological damage the Dhamra port will do, it will have artificial lights which will mislead the baby turtles much more than mere road lights. The port will also seriously harm the livelihood of fishing communities there. For specifics on all the kinds of ecological and human damage, read this.

While creating something for children to read, for the future to see, one realizes – with great shame – what it is that we are doing to the world. How foolishly we are squandering its few remaining treasures, instead of proudly protecting them. I think the world over, a place like this would be preserved, as a sign of human restraint and wisdom. It shames us to sense that only in India, perhaps, would we be ignorant and greedy enough to willfully destroy something so timeless and wonderful.

The Tatas – for all their bad record at Singur – are signatories to the U.N.’s Global Compact for Corporate Responsibility. Tata Steel, for one, is pledged to something called the Precautionary Principle, which, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. But in some legal systems, as the European Union Law, the precautionary principle is also a general principle of law. This means that it is compulsory. The principle aims to provide guidance for protecting public health and the environment in the face of uncertain risks, stating that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to public health or the environment.’

So while the 'developed' world sees protecting the environment and rights of the poor as a sign of progress, only in India, peculiarly, do we see both of the above as signs of weakness and stagnation.

If this disturbs you as much as it did us, go here and add your voice to those of activists and environmentalists from the world over. It may not seem like much, but there's no point not trying, no?


amlansworld said...

Hi there,,
Just read your blog, please have a look at my blog for more information on this subject,,
This is not a TATA port which a certain reputed NGO who have been doing good work but have based their campaign on mis - information,, this is a State Govt port (the ultimate owner), an infrastructural asset, we are only building it in a PPP mode (Public - Pvt PArtnership mode) ,, further in the first such instance in indian shores , IUCN (www.iucn.org) has associated with the Dhamra port to help us guide us with their scientific expertise , the first time conservation science is collaborating with an indian industrial entity for the best environment practices,, and mind you this is not the first instance a port would be near a turtle nesting site,, there are so many examples of ports in US, Australia , Mexico ,, some of them being .. ports of Baltimore and Ocean City MD, Charleston and Georgetown SC, Galveston and Freeport TX, Miami, Tampa, Cape Canaveral FL, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, and many, many other projects which require upfront and maintenance dredging throughout the world.

for more information please mail me,,

Amlan Dutta
Environment Manager
Dhamra Port Company Ltd.
www.dhamraport.com (some correspondences with GP you will find here)
email : amlan[at]dhamaport.com

Anita and Amit Vachharajani said...

Dear Amlan,
Thanks for your comment. However, I am not convinced by your statements at all – I am sure they are all true, but the environment is a fragile thing and any activity as large and invasive as making a port, is bound to damage and wreck it. Even if Tata is only the PPA and not the ultimate owner it is NOT absolved from the damage it is doing and will do to the area in the future.

The project might have links with every enviro-scientific site / body in the world, but at the end of the day, what you are doing is harming something, introducing things into an ecology which should not be there.

There might be sites near ports in all the places you’ve mentioned, but does that mean we should inflict the same potential damage to our coast? And what about the cost and damage to human livelihood? Please don’t give me the old employment-generation excuse, because I have seen what that does to local people: it gives them the lowest-end jobs in the project, takes away their common power over the site, while the high-paying jobs go to people from outside; people with educational achievements far above theirs. So while they become sweepers and cleaners, a huge number of engineers and managers from all over the country have a new place to go to.

You are looking at the port you are working on in an isolated fashion. And each port or ‘development’ site of that kind does the same. And in the end, what we have is a 1000 or more such projects all over the country, quietly and silently and ‘scientifically’ chipping away at our natural resources.

Years back, when a dam was planned in the Silent Valley in Kerala (home of the lion-tailed macaque among others), Salim Ali and a whole lot of others protested and it was stalled. Decades later, scientists and other learned people like yourself keep reviving thoughts of that dam and power project. Some day, some professional like yourself, with a blog and a well-paying job will be explaining away that destruction too.

If you can do all this and still sleep at night, well, good for you. I don’t think I could.

B said...

Hey Anita,
You know my 2-year-old nephew loves to growl like a tiger, wiggle like a fish and grunt like a bear. I can see how happy he is when he identifies their photos or illustrations in a book. I just hope that he does inherit a world which is full of natural wonder...

Aishwariya M said...

In the greed for success and development, big companies are just trying to do whatever they can to reach to the top, not thinking about the consequences and in this case, as are most cases, the environment and the ecosystems of a hundred creatures are destroyed. Mr. Dutta, I too have no idea how you can make up excuses for destroying the habitat and the lives of these beautiful innocent creatures.

Shrradha said...

I personally feel the TATA's are doing a great job,
Orissa in the recent yrs have gone through hell.

sushma_rddy said...

I agree that we cant continue to exist if we harm environment, or if we go against the nature, but it does not mean that the reason of protecting the environment or other creatures, should stop the development of mankind. Man has always achieved something best out of the resources of nature, and it should go on and of course without harming the nature, so both the organizations should together unravel this issue without causing loss to both mankind and environment

Anonymous said...

Would like to share news about mass turtles nesting in Gahirmatha Beach inspite of Dhamra Port construction…