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Kovalam Artificial Reef: Groups Demand Judicial Enquiry

By Swatanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation & Kerala Tourism Watch

16 th September 2010, Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Independent Fish Workers Federation (KSMTF) and Kerala Tourism Watch demands from the Government of India and the State Government, a comprehensive judicial and scientific enquiry, as well as a social audit to analyze the failed aspects and evaluate the overall process of the Artificial Reef in Kovalam.

The Reef has proven itself to be a failure in Kerala, however, more reefs are being planned in India using Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank funds in other states like Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc, majority of which are tourism hotspots. The ongoing washing up of geo-textile bags, the key component of the reef, to Kovalam and nearby sea shores, starting two weeks after its inauguration is a serious cause of worry. Diversion of ` 8 crores of Tsunami Rehabilitation funds provided by the Planning Commission, Government of India, meant for coastal communities was wasted on tourism infrastructure while Tsunami affected communities' need for rehabilitation still waits to be addressed.

The multipurpose reef implemented under the disguise of promoting fisheries, coastal protection, tranquillity for fishery activity and tourism potential has proved to be an irony. The fishermen expressed their concern that shore seine fishing nets were yielding damaged portions of the artificial reef rather than the increased fish resources promised to them.

At the same time the New Zealand based MNC, ASR Limited is engaged in aggressive propaganda and lobbying for more reefs, highlighting the Kovalam artificial reef as an undisputable model. The Kerala Tourism department is also providing the much needed fodder to their campaign by publishing reports that act as advertising manuals for the company. The Kerala Tourism or officials within the department, seem to have taken up the mandate of promoting this company as part of their tourism promotion agenda. It is interesting to note that both the department and ASR groups do not talk about the portions of the reefs being washed ashore.

The project itself was granted to ASR using a single tender process in which the technical bid was evaluated by the then Tourism Director and director of Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), Thiruvananthapuram. While the technical expertise of the tourism director is questionable, the director of CESS has been associated with ASR at various levels. No Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Fisheries Impact Assessment were insisted on for such a major geo-physical intervention.

The initial project proposal was for 3000 m 3 and cost ` 4 crores .The project received a facelift midway, where its volume increases by a mere 1000 m 3 while the cost doubled to ` 8 crores. The calculation in its absurdity has been approved by the concerned government agencies. These facts lead us to look at the whole deal with suspicion.

A judicial enquiry is needed to expose the unholy nexus between bureaucrats, scientists and MNCs for using public money with vested interests. ASR Ltd had been lobbying to get the reef project done in Kerala for quite some time. The Coastal Marine Task Force of the Planning Board, Kerala Government earlier rejected the proposal for artificial reefs in Kerala. However the Kerala Tourism Department had no inhibitions in approving the same project using Tsunami funds.

Information sought through Right To Information Act regarding the project details have been denied. The Kerala Tourism department takes a comical stand here by providing no information on their award winning web site about the publicly relevant information, at the same time pushing subjective, opiniated and misleading reports promoting the reef. This lack of transparency and accountability clearly projects itself through these actions.

ASR has recently been part of the group who prepared a “Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Project Report” worth thousands of crores, suggesting reefs as a major portion of the solution for coastal protection/restoration and management in coastal areas of the country. As a seemingly strategic move, in this Report, CESS has been mentioned as a key institution in the field of coastal environment and engineering.

The recent artificial reef in UK, the first of its kind in Europe, created by ASR Ltd. is receiving much brickbats for not yielding the promised results. The area council has withheld a portion of the money payable to ASR limited and has conducted an enquiry to review the reef because of its ineffectiveness. It is interesting to note that the cost estimate even in this case was escalated mid-way through the project.

In these contexts Government of India's efforts to borrow money from ADB and World Bank for constructing artificial reefs as a coastal protection measure has to be withdrawn at this stage. The government should stop following such capital intensive and ineffective models. As civil society groups we also demand full transparency from the Kerala Tourism department. Therefore we call for a comprehensive judicial enquiry and a transparent social audit to evaluate the reef.

For more information please contact:

www.keralarourismwatch.org

Name

Contact Number

E-mail

Ravindran Nair, Former Joint Director, Department of Fisheries

9447974903

ravinairs@gmail.com

Sanjeev Ghosh, Former Additional Director, Department of Fisheries

9447957408

sanjeevaghosh@gmail.com

sanjeevaghosh@yahoo.com

Advocate Sandhya, Lawyer with Human Rights Law Network

9847032397

kandalilsandhya@yahoo.com


V. B. Ajayan, RIGHTS

9895500717

ajaydalit@gmail.com

Dr. K. Soman, Former Scientist, CESS

9847083000


T. Peter, President, KSMTF)

9447429243

peter.ksmtf@gmail.com

K. C. Sreekumar, President, Theeradesha Samrakshana Samiti, Allapad

94477985909


Anto Elias, Secretary, KSMTF

9656860402