Sabyasachi Patra

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 5 Issue III

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 5 Issue III

Newsletter-Mar2013 (3.2 MB, 875 downloads)


Sea Cow no Holy Cow

The Sethusamudram saga continues

The Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Straits are pretty shallow so that large ships cannot pass through. Due to its shallow waters, the ecosystem of this place is unique. It is also relatively undisturbed by human activity, except fishing. So digging up the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits for the Sethusamudram project will cause irreversible damage to the marine ecosystem.

These shallow waters are home to about 3268 species out of which 377 species are endemic. There are about 11 species of sea grass found in this area which forms exclusive diet of the dugongs or sea cows. There are also 147 species of seaweeds in this area. The Dugongs are endangered and classified in the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. There is seasonal movement of Dugongs from Gulf of Mannar to the Palk bay and vice-versa to avoid rough seas induced by monsoons.

When dredging is undertaken in this area, the disturbance will force the dugongs to stop migrating. The dredging and blasting of the hard rock will also result in sedimentations which will stop the sunrays from reaching the sea grass leading to their death. As a result the dugongs will also die. Apart from the dugongs, the seagrass also forms an ideal ecosystem for various fish species which sustains commercial fishing and the economy of Tamil Nadu.

It would be pertinent to mention that the NEERI Environment Impact Assessment report had acknowledged the presence of dugongs and the fact that they can get hit by ships. In a muddle headed proposal NEERI had proposed that a person should be stationed in the deck of the ship while the ship passes through the proposed Sethusamudram canal and on sighting a dugong the ship should make course correction. Perhaps NEERI wants us to believe the ships are not large and fast but nimble like small catamarans moving at slow speeds so that they can make course correction. Unfortunately despite such EIA reports which assumes us to be intellectually challenged, the Government continues to back this proposal.

Many people have argued that the Sethusamudram project is going to destroy the Adams bridge which is inextricably linked to our cultural heritage as the Ram Setu, built by Lord Ram for moving into Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) to fight against the demon king Ravana who had kidnapped Lord Ramas wife Sita. The proponents have used images from NASA to bolster their argument that this is the Ram Setu, however, NASA has clarified that they had not made any official statement that the adams bridge is man made. Nevertheless mythology, perceptions and beliefs are inextricably linked with our cultural heritage and we should protect it.


Adams Bridge or Ram Setu: Hindus believe it was constructed by Lord Rama. This ecologically significant area is going to be destroyed by the proposed Sethu Samudram canal project

Recently the Honble Minister for MoEF Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan has said that Sea cows would be protected. In a statement in the Lok Sabha, she had said that Dugong has been identified as one of the 16 selected species for initiating recovery programmes in their respective habitats under the Centrally Sponsored Schemes of Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats`. Financial and technical assistance is provided to the Union Territory Government of Andaman & Nicobar Islands under the component Recovery of Critically Endangered Species. Legal protection has been provided to wild animals against hunting and commercial exploitation under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The minister further said that Protected Areas, viz., National Parks, Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves covering important wildlife habitats have been created all over the country under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to conserve wild animals and their habitats.

In 2008, the R K Pachauri committee was formed as per the observations of the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court Shri K G Balakrishnan. The Pachauri committee gave its report last month in February 2013 suggesting that the Sethusamudram project would neither be economically nor ecologically viable project. It said that the projected rate of return is “over optimistic”. The committee has said that “benchmark rate of return of 12 percent isn’t met for the range of scenarios examined in the case of alignment 4A”. However, the UPA Government has swiftly moved to junk the Pachauri committee report. The Government in an affidavit to the Honble Supreme Court has reitereated its resolve to cut across the Adams bridge or Ram Setu to create the channel for navigation of large ships. It said that already Rs. 829.32 crores have been sunk on the project since 30th June 2012. It even has the audacity to dub the dubious EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report prepared by NEERI as well as other such reports as well-researched technical studies.

In 1964 the area was ravaged by a huge cyclone and the entire town of Dhanuskodi stood broken and was abandoned. Even today one can see the old railway station broken. Such was the devastation that only a few families of fishermen stay there now along with a Navy outpost to stop smuggling. Apart from the birds, I could see a few feral dogs in the distance. At that time the word tsunami was not in vogue and hence the complete destruction of the area is not attributed to tsunami. However, according to experts this area is a comparatively young formation and hence highly susceptible to tectonic movements. Experts also opine that due to the shallow sea in the area, the 2004 tsunami couldnt hit the Kerala coast as it had to take a circuitous route. However, if the area is dredged, apart from the possibility of its tectonic the tsunami could impact the area and now hit Kerala coast.

Our existing ports are fighting with silting and need continual dredging operations to remain navigable. If the Government goes ahead with the present alignment of the Sethusamudram project cutting across the Adams bridge, then it would require continual dredging to remain navigable. The resulting sound is going to cause a lot of distress for dugongs and dolphins.

Dolphins depend on eco-location and are stressed by sound. Image Abhishek Jamalabad/

The BP Oil disaster should have woken us up to the threats of oil leaks from tankers. One such disaster is going to wipe away our entire Gulf of Mannar bio-sphere reserve.

The UPA Government in its infinite wisdom has set a trend of approving environmentally disastrous projects under the pretext of money already spent in projects. So no wonder that it has again taken the tack of the 800 crore plus spent on this project.

I hope the Honble Minister of State for MoEF would walk the talk and move ahead to protect the habitat of the Sea cows ie dugongs and convince her Government to drop the Sethusamudram project.

The last such grand canal digging project was the Panama Canal which was done more than a hundred years back when there was not much awareness about the consequences of ecological impact. Neither they had any sophisticated modeling tools available nor much understanding of science. In the twenty first century with the spectre of climate change looming large over us, do we continue to ignore the environmental impact of our actions?

It is well known that the DMK party is the major champion of this project and its rival the AIADMK is strictly opposed to it. With the DMK pulling out of UPA, will the UPA finally reverse its stand?

With the political action hotting up in the anticipation of early elections, does it matter to the UPA Government if the ecologically fragile area like the Adams bridge is broken up for questionable commercial reasons?


Save the Dolphins

Every year between September to March, in Taiji, a small town in Japan, dolphin massacre continues unabated. The number of whales having plummeted due to commercial whaling, the Japanese have taken to killing the bottle-nosed dolphins. They are herded into a small cove and killed by spearing them. Roughly 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed by the Japanese and the dolphin meat is sold as whale meat. In an incredibly meticulous and audacious documentary The Cove this massacre has been depicted in detail and has found out that dolphins have high level of mercury and eating their meat is a sure shot recipe for disaster. Despite this documentary getting an Oscar in 2010 couple of years have passed by, this massacre continues unabated.

It is sad state of affairs that the Japanese continue their slaughter of these peaceful and highly intelligent creatures. Some of the imagery in this film is heart wrenching and nauseating. India and Japan are two ancient civilisations and they are at war with the natural world. Whereas the Japanese are directly butchering the dolphins and whales, the present Indian Government by virtue of pushing for the Sethusamudram project is acting as a silent killer and is also having blood in its hands.


PM Manmohan Singh’s Economics and Anti-Green Philosophy

Hon’ble PM Manmohan Singh has always been credited as the architect of India’s economic liberalisation. We have believed in whatever the PR machinery had dished out. However, it is time we take a stock of the situation.He had steeply devalued the rupee twice by as much as 40% and had promised that the exports will surge to 20%. His logic was that a weak rupee will make our exports competitive. Unfortunately, it was like the story of the blind men and the elephant with each person having a different perception about the elephant. Whereas the exports organisations like FIEO have been harping on a weak rupee and the RBI also hears them – as in todays prevailing form of democracy one who makes the loudest noise is heard the most – no one is looking from a holistic perspective. Today we are in a position where our forex reserves are high. However, we continue to import heavily. The Government is harping on Oil and Gold imports. However, electronics imports is also silently moving up and is going to exceed the oil import bill. By 2020, India is projected to import about 400 billion dollars worth of electronic items and will have a net imports of about 323 billion USD. The weak rupee makes the imports much more costlier than they should. Our domestic consumption as well as the manufacturing in all sectors have a import component. So keeping the rupee at the present 54-55 levels really hurts India’s economy.

Whereas, some of our business leaders have sarcastically talked about rupee becoming a toilet paper, no one is willing to stick his neck out and openly say that we have failed to unleash our potential. To make matters worse we have faced Sovereign ratings downgrade. This Government which has failed to protect our economy. And when we hear that he is ready to sacrifice the environment and forests for our economic growth, will you agree with his actions?

During Manmohan Singh’s two terms as PM of India, he has systematically gone about trashing the environment and forests. He is the champion of big industries, however polluted those might be. His two terms have seen approvals given to mines, dams and roads to cut across pristine forests. The PM has often given statements that mines, dams, road projects have to get priority clearance putting pressure on the Minister for MoEF.

His Government has signed agreements to set up Nuclear Power Plants in Jaitapur and Kundakulam. The protests of people have been systematically stymied. Rather than listen to the people, his government has unleased the investigative agencies, tax authorities to hound people in the pretext of accepting donations from abroad. During Rajiv Gandhi’s time it was fashionable to blame external agencies for fomenting trouble. Now it is fashionable to persecute voices that oppose the Government’s questionable decisions.

Shri Manmohan Singh has now given a statement that Kundakulam I will be commissioned within the next one month. Despite the nuclear holocaust in Fukushima in Japan, and experts pointing out the fallacy of the Kundakulam project, the Government is fierce in its resolve to go ahead at any cost. We wonder why? In one of the conferences, the Minister for PMO Shri Narayana swamy went on to reel off incorrect data and made the audience believe that Solar power is costly and not feasible. Whereas the cost had dropped down to Rs. 9 a MW, he quoted a figure of Rs. 17. PM Manmohan Singh had made grandiose statements while launching Indias National Action Plan on Climate Change on June 30, 2008. Dr. Manmohan Singh had said:
Our vision is to make Indias economic development energy-efficient. Over a period of time, we must pioneer a graduated shift from economic activity based on fossil fuels to one based on non-fossil fuels and from reliance on non-renewable and depleting sources of energy to renewable sources of energy. In this strategy, the sun occupies centre-stage, as it should, being literally the original source of all energy.

We will pool our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with sufficient financial resources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people. Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India. It would also enable India to help change the destinies of people around the world.

Unfortunately, the Honble PM seems to have gone back on his commitment and is pushing for setting up of Nuclear Power plants in collaboration with foreign Governments.

It is strange considering the fact that we don’t even know what will be the impact of Nuclear wastes after a hundred or two hundred years. This technology is not even a hundred years old. Why are we ready to sacrifice the interests of generations to come?Why this Government is so short sighted? Why are we looking at Present and ignoring the future?

Or is it because the National Action Plan on Climate Change and other such things are not a priority for the Government and his statements are just the work of some speech writers entrusted to the department with the Honble PM merely reading from a prepared speech? If so, that would be indeed a really sorry state of affairs.


Committee Report on Trees Grown on Private Land

MoEF had constituted a committee on “The Regulatory Regime regarding felling and transite regulations for tree species grown on non forests/private lands”. The Committee Report has now been made public for consultations. The report can be downloaded from this link:

The last date for submission of suggestions is 15th of April. Interested persons may kindly forward us their suggestions on the subject.


India’s Conservation News:

Satkosia Tiger Reserve Update

The Satkosia Tiger Reserve, once known for its dense forests, teeming wildlife, huge crocodiles in the breathtakingly Mahanadi gorge is under terrible stress due to the more than hundred villages inside the reserve. Anthropogenic pressures and poaching have virtually decimated the herbivore population. The carnivore population is also pretty low. For more details read on at the following link:

When a Tiger Fears a Goat

Climate Change: 18000 Pashmina Goats killed

Extinct lizard discovered after 135 years in Odisha

The Rhino Massacre Continues

92 Lions died in 2011 and 2102 in Gujarat


Equipment Discussions

Canon EOS 100D/SL-1 the lightest DSLR

Canon has introduced the EOS 100/Rebel SL1 camera which is touted as the world’s smallest and lightest DSLR.This camera has a 18 Megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor with a Digic 5 processor. The camera is 25% smaller and 28% lighter than the EOS 600D (or Rebel 4Ti). For further details:

Canon EOS 700D/Rebel T5i DSLR

Canon has updated its consumer range of DSLR cameras by announcing the EOS 700D which is branded as Rebel T5i in the US market. This camera has a 18 Megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor with a Digic 5 image processor. The 700D has an ISO range of 100-12800 and it is expandable to 25600 in H mode. The EOS 700D can shoot at 5 frames per second. It sports a 3 inch vari angle touch screen LCD.


Natural History

Wildboar feeding on Deer Kill

Country Notebook: M Krishnan – Egrets


Wildlife Photography: Image of the Month

The Image titled “Pelican Landing” by Gautam Biswas has been adjudged as the Image of the Month for February 2013


Wildlife Photography

Bottle-nosed Dolphin by Abhishek Jamalabad

Black-headed Oriole by Dr. Jitendra Katre

Himalayan Griffons at Ranthambhore by Vijay Rajan

Crimson Sunbird by Anshul Jain

Kestrel by Sucheth Lingachar

Moment in the Wild: Leopard by Balaji Loganathan

Flights of Fancy: Flying Fish by Abhishek Jamalabad

Grass Jewel: One of our smallest butterflies by Vikram Gupchup

Sunset in Bharatpur by Gautam Biswas


I look forward to your inputs and support in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in our beautiful country. For other interesting articles and images check –

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