Puducherry becomes a centre for a coastal management project

If you detect a streak of smugness in your friend from Puducherry, just sigh it off; after all, it's richly-earned. See what he / she has — a clean, promenaded beach that keeps out vehicles from dusk to dawn; excellent eateries easy on the wallet; shopping areas with regulated parking and uncluttered footpaths; the stamp of spiritualism; the allure of Auroville; French architecture... And, now there's an addition to the list!

New role

Puducherry is now the pilot site for a centre for an integrated coastal management project sponsored by the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME — www.boblme.org). Eight countries around the Bay of Bengal — Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand — have gotten together to lay the foundations for a co-ordinated programme to better the lives of their coastal populations by improving regional management of the BoB environment and its fisheries. And, the government will work with PondyCan — Pondy Citizens' Action Network — for the project. BOBLME can create a platform for fishing communities, experts, research institutes, NGOs and government departments, says Probir Banerjee of PondyCan. Why Puducherry? Because its small coast makes it easier to implement replicable projects, he says. It has inter-State agreements with Tamil Nadu on coastal management. Around 400 million people in the BoB area depend on the water and what they get on the coast, for food, livelihood and security, he says. But, there is no combined action to stop degradation. The centre can net the co-operation of various groups to educate people, formulate local-level policy, start research studies, hold educational / awareness programmes. “We'll school fishermen on over-fishing, the differences between mechanised and traditional methods of fishing, what nets to use, etc. We'll train officials about coastal management, talk of the need to preserve mangroves,” he says. It will aim for an integrated coastal management system.

The wave of action will start at Puducherry. With BOBLME's support, the centre will try to stop sea erosion, activate the sand by-pass system. It will try to re-design the harbour to allow sand to by-pass. “Erosion has affected 7,000 families,” says Banerjee. Homes have been destroyed, eco-systems damaged, ground water has turned saline, and drinking water is transported from 20 to 30 km away. The government has lost 200 acres of beachfront land. What is it worth now? “You know, 65 per cent of the world's GDP comes from coastal areas, and 30 per cent of the population lives on the coast. It is rich in resources. It has to be saved from illegal construction, violations of law,” he says.

Advantageous position

Banerjee insists India is in an advantageous position when it comes to coastal issues. “Our coastal-community-based organisations are recognised and consulted on programmes. A news channel ran a save-our-beaches campaign, media reports often bring coastal issues out for discussion. Courts readily accept coast-related litigations. Cases are heard, sentences are awarded. It's not possible in many countries in this region.”

From my verandah in Puducherry, I look out at the boulder-lined walkway. Even without the beach (lost to erosion in the last two decades!), it is breezy and beautiful. The waves rise above the protective wall in a roar of “dare you!” It is worth fighting for…

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