Even as authorities step up disaster-management efforts, environmentalists say what is needed is prevention, not a cure. They cite the fact that a large number of coal-fired thermal power plants are coming up in coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, allegedly violating the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification.
The increased industrial activity in coastal areas is affecting the environment and the nature of these regions, potentially increasing the impact of natural calamities, says environmentalist and writer Nityanand Jayaraman. Thermal power plants with a capacity of about 26,000 Mw had received environmental clearance in coastal areas, including Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Tuticorin, he added.
Sand dunes, lagoons & estuaries and vegetation such as mangroves act as a cushion against potentially damaging waves. As such, when these are affected, the risks increase manifold. Thermal power plants require small ports, which necessitates setting up huge walls. These trap the movement of sand in the sea. When the movement is hit, the northern part will see soil erosion, while mangroves in the southern part will also be affected.
Natural disasters pose a risk to the two 100-million litre desalination plants in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. These plants also lead to pollution in neighbouring areas, says Arulselvam, coordinator of the Sipcot Area Community Environmental Monitoring group. He adds in Cuddalore, most industries involve chemical and hazardous substances and, therefore, a natural disaster such as a tsunami will take a huge toll if it hits these facilities.
“What we are saying is the government should carry a capacity study before allowing any industry to set up operations in a particular place…The government needs to do a cumulative impact assessment study,” he said, adding to apprise themselves of the issues faced by fishermen, district collectors should meet them once a month.
Tamil Nadu has 581 fishing villages in its coastline. Though the implementation of CRZ guidelines could help these areas, the enforcement agency in this regard hasn’t taken any action against violations since 2011, says Jayaraman, citing a government response to a Right to Information query. “Whatever industry you want to develop, its site is important, especially in the case of power plants. The guidelines from the Centre state these should be away from the population.”
That India and Russia have recently signed a pact to set up two more nuclear reactors at Kudankulam, in southern Tamil Nadu, near the sea, has led to concern among many. Jayaraman says nuclear plants have inherent problems and can never be considered completely safe. “Why should one risk lives if there is a less risky method? And here, the risk is high for those who don’t want the plant to come up in their area,” he says.