India has become the first country in the world to incorporate tsunami proofing for environmental clearances of major projects, after a titanic tsunami devastated key projects in Japan this month. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Thursday asked the Expert Appraisal Committees, mandated to give environment clearances to projects, to include tsunami related risks in the terms of reference for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for four sectors — nuclear power, infrastructure, thermal power and industry. The EIAs are supposed to be scientific studies on environmental viability of the projects, on whose basis the EAC takes the final call. While earthquake impact is considered in the EIAs, tsunamis are not.
Considering the large number of projects being proposed on India’s 5,400 km long coastline such as refineries, oil storage depots, power plants, the ministry wants tsunami proofing to be a part of the Detailed Project Reports (DPR). And, therefore, it has been included in the EIAs. To find out whether the existing projects in the coastal areas can withstand the impact of a tsunami of an intensity similar to the one that hit Japan last week and if not, what additional safeguards are required, the ministry has constituted an expert group under former bureaucrat A M Muthunayagam. The group will submit its report to the ministry in three months.
In addition to it, the group will examine a suggestion made by Rajya Sabha member and agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan on whether to declare areas around nuclear power plants in coastal areas as Critically Vulnerable Coastal Areas. If this is done, it would mean there would be tough restrictions on any sort of development around nuclear plants and developing bio-shields of mangroves and non mangroves species will become a must. “There is a concern over safety of nuclear plants located in Kalpakkam and Kudangulam in Tamil Nadu makes me feel that in addition to other steps we need to promote bio-sheilds,” Swaminathan, said in a letter to Ramesh.
A study on impact of the 2004 tsunami on Indian coasts by V Senthil, director National Coastal Zone Management Authority had shown that the damage to wildlife and habitation in coastal areas having good mangroves cultivation was less than in mangrove deficient areas. “My studied showed that the mangroves protected Gulf of Manner, Nagapattnam and parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands from the 2004 Tsunami,” he said. Swaminathan said the mangroves acted as a “speed-breakers” in 2004, reducing the damage caused. Ramesh also said that Rs 1,200 crore has been sanctioned for conducting a hazard line mapping of coastal areas for seawater impact caused by a cyclone or a tsunami or climate change. “This is being done by the Survey of India and it will be completed in 24 months time,” he said.