Construction work stomps over Kanyakumari’s ecological heritage

April 24th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by admin  


Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu), April 24 (IANS) Environmentalists are crying foul over construction activity on land acquired by a hotelier along the biodiversity-rich Kanyakumari coast, located at the southern tip of India. While the greens say the construction work is for a hotel in blatant violation of all coastal zone laws and is changing the morphology of the area, local hotelier M. Chandren says it is for a park.

The building work is being carried out along 1.6 km of the coastline by Chandren, owner of Hotel Sea View in Kanyakumari. It is taking place within 200 metres of the coastline, cutting a reef in what is known as CRZ-1 area, where legally no construction activity is permitted.

“The hotel owner has made permanent structures– like a fort– in the CRZ-I area, just 10 metres from the high tide limit, throwing all the central acts to the wind,” scientist and conservationist R.S. Lal Mohan along with several NGOs has complained to district collector Jothi Nirmala.

“The lessee has changed the entire morphology of the coast,” they added.

Mohan, who is a member of the Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage (Intach) and is involved in wetlands conservation, said: “The Kanyakumari coast stands over a 36,000-year-old coral bed and this is a precious ecological heritage site.

“The coral reefs are the seat of biological diversity. They are sensitive biological entities, contributing to fish wealth. By destroying them with building activity, we are killing hundreds of species,” he said.

Mohan is a member of the Cetacean Specialist group of IUCN Basal, Switzerland, and an internationally renowned dolphin expert.

He used the Right To Information (RTI) Act to get some Kanyakumari town panchayat documents that had allowed Chandren to build on the coastline “although the executive officer refused to give me any information”.

Kanyakumari already has about 30 hotels. Many of these came up before the stringent 1991 Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) laws that permitted no construction within 200 metres of the coastline and only allowed existing structures to continue between 200 metres and 500 metres of the coastline.

Construction by the Hotel Sea View owner, however, was initiated just about six months ago — after the more liberal Coastal Zone Management (CZM) plan replaced the CRZ last year.

The CZM allows fresh construction between 200-500 metres if the town panchayat gives its consent and if the CZM Authority (CZMA) gives its approval.

But Mohan said the Kanyakumari town panchayat did not take clearance from the CZMA when it leased land to the owner of Hotel Sea View.

The hotelier was also allegedly given 6.5 acres on the coast for just Rs.16,000, when “in the open market in Kanyakumari district, one cent (0.001 acre) costs Rs.1 million”.

NGOs have alleged that local officials were bribed and have demanded a transparent investigation.

Tourism Minister Suresh Rajan comes from Kanyakumari but the DMK government has been reluctant to take any action against the hotelier connected to powerful local AIADMK and DMK leaders.

Following these complaints, the town panchayat ordered the hotelier to stop construction activity, but he got a stay order against the panchayat this month from the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court and continues with the building work on the seafront.

Chandren has claimed in court that the construction activity was for a park.

NGOs like Intach that are involved in conservation say in the new management (CZM) policy, a lot of land between 200 m and 500 m of the coastline can be freed for commercial activity in the name of development.

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