Court says artificial shrimp farms harmful to wetlands
‘Waste water discharge will affect ecology’
In a judgment that has come as a shot in the arm for those fighting for protection of wetlands, the Madras High Court has ruled that setting up of artificial shrimp aquaculture farms on the boundaries of wetlands and consequent construction of ponds and other infrastructural facilities are “hazardous and are bound to degrade the marine ecology, coastal environment and the aesthetic uses of the wetlands.”
Justices M.M. Sundresh and Krishnan Ramasamy passed the ruling in a peculiar case where the Forest and Fisheries departments were at loggerheads over permitting a 1.39 acre shrimp farm on the boundary of the Kazhuveli wetlands spread over 74 sq. km in Tindivanam Taluk of Villupram district. The wetland was a place for the congregation of 40,000 migratory birds every year, the court was told.
Though the District Level Committee constituted under the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act of 2005 and chaired by the Collector defended the permission granted by it to the shrimp farm on the ground that such farms were in existence in countries such as Thailand, the District Forest Officer opposed the argument by claiming that the natural shrimp farms formed in Thailand could not be equated with artificial farms formed here.
Accepting the officer’s submission, the Division Bench said the drawal as well as discharge of waste water into the Kazhuveli would certainly affect the mangroves. Since over 3 acres of the petitioner’s land was right on the banks of the Kazhuveli, the judges said that creation of bunds would prevent natural flow of water and result in blockage of drain apart from paving way for flooding on the village side.
Authoring the judgment, Justice Ramasamy said: “It appears, fifth and sixth respondents (Assistant Director of Fisheries and District Level Committee) have filed their counter affidavits not to protect the interest of the public but only to protect the interest of the petitioner. We were surprised to go through such a counter... Since the members of the Committee belong to various departments, it is just and necessary to take unanimous decisions.
“In other words, unless and until consensus is arrived at on the issues, no decisions should be implemented. Each and every issue should be dealt with independently. It is not the meeting of shareholders or some other election to decide the present issue on the basis of majority, but this is the matter pertaining to the public and all the members of the District Level Committee or the Heads of Departments should have a say.”