Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh launched the Green Action for National Dandi Heritage Initiative project in the historic coastal village in south Gujarat on Wednesday. It was at Dandi that Mahatma Gandhi launched his salt Satyagraha 80 years ago.
Mr. Ramesh said the project was a “much delayed and very small step” but would go a long way in guiding the rest of the world on “how to conserve environment sustainability while ensuring overall development of society.”
Named consciously to ensure that the acronym forms GANDHI, the Rs. 25-crore project is intended to design a plan for integrated development and heritage conservation, embodying the Gandhian values of village development and environmental conservation, of Dandi and surrounding villages.
The activities to be undertaken include mangrove afforestation and bioshield development on an eight-km shoreline, conservation of coastal features and wetland, nature-based development of resources including setting up solar power projects, and promotion of integrated village and community development to support all activities to transform the “heritage area,” which includes Dandi and three surrounding villages, into a “carbon neutral” zone. Eco tourism to promote Gandhian values and networking will also be promoted.
“The focus should not be on developing tourism for commercial values; Gandhian values should be at the centre of all development in the heritage area while attracting tourists,” said the former West Bengal Governor and Chairman of the Dandi Memorial Committee, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
He mentioned about a Rs. 15-crore project of the committee to develop a Gandhi memorial in front of Saifee Villa, the house where the Mahatma stayed the night before he launched the satyagraha against the Salt law under the British rule.
The GANDHI project, to be completed in two years, would be jointly implemented by the Society of Integrated Coastal Management (SICOM), working under the Union Environment and Forest Ministry, the state-owned Gujarat Ecology Commission, and the Ahmedabad-based Gandhian institution, Gujarat Vidyapeeth.
Mr. Ramesh said Dandi and the villages of Samapar, Matwad and Onjal with a population of about 20,000 had been declared an “Eco Sensitive Zone” under the Environment Protection Act 1986, to ensure that no industrial project that could disturb the ecology of the region came up there.
The Centre was considering a proposal of the State government to similarly declare the Gulf of Kutch region an eco-sensitive zone.
GANDHI would be part of the Rs. 300-crore “Integrated Coastal Zone Management” project sanctioned for Gujarat, for the first time in the country. Besides Gujarat, West Bengal and Orissa had been included in the first phase of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management project with a sanction of Rs.300 crore and Rs. 222 crore respectively.
For monitoring the implementation of the entire project, another Rs. 200 crore had been sanctioned for setting up the National Institute for Sustainable Coastal Management, with its headquarters at Anna University in Chennai. It will be connected with 11 other organisations, including the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, which would provide inputs for the implementation of the project.
Pointing out the dangers of rising sea level as a result of global warming, Mr. Ramesh said the Centre had sanctioned a Rs. 200-crore project for the Survey of India to undertake a study of the entire 7,200-km coastline in the country to identify the “hazard line.”
The Survey team would take about two years to complete the project and thereafter steps could be taken in the ecologically sensitive zones to protect 30 crore people living in the coastal areas. Mr. Ramesh praised the Gujarat Forest department, which restored mangroves plantations on over 1,000 square km from just about a 200-sq. km. area in the last 10 years. He, however, came down on the State authorities on the issue of environmental pollution, pointing out that a survey, commissioned by the Centre and conducted by ITI-Delhi, had found that the Vapi and Ankleshwar industrial estates were the worst polluted zones among the 88 industrially most polluted centres.