Oil Spills and India


I suppose most of us love sunshine, water, beaches, shorts and wind, at least on a vacation. What would happen if we went to Goa and stand near the secluded Colmar beach, waiting for the sea tides to hit us and instead we have a black tar kind of liquid lashing at our feet?? God forbid, more than disgust or bewilderment, we would be horrified if such an incident occurs.

However, it’s been happening to Mumbai and their Juhu and Versova beaches from the past 1 year and except for the hue and cry raised by the non-profit ‘Bombay Natural History Society’, we see zero action by our government authorities.

To put this into perspective, let’s recall about the  Gulf of Mexico or the BP oil spill controversy last year and its subsequent ghastly consequences on the marshes, fish, birds and beaches. Lawsuits ensued to cover up liabilities, fines were imposed on BP by US environmental agencies and cleaning responsibilities of ocean water were effectively delegated.

However, even after all the above operations; it was found that close to 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea in the next few months which exterminated all the microbial organisms which are part of the larger aquatic food chain. Marine biologists claim that the effects of this spill on fauna and flora can be assessed and completely felt in the long term, approximately after 10years.

With the above background in mind, let’s see where and why I am driving to. The increase in Oil spills and shipping disasters in the past few years is mind boggling.

Last year, 2 ships MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia III collided near Mumbai in August last year which resulted in 900 tonnes of hazardous oil leak. Regarding this spill incident, I didn’t come across any information on the compensation benefits or the penalties levied on the ship owners or their companies by Indian government.

Again, just in June this year, a massive 9000 ton cargo ship ‘MV Wisdom’ which was commissioned to a Gujarat port for dismantling was stranded due to technical faults, near Juhu beach. However, since the ship was empty and didn’t carry any oil or cargo, it didn’t pose any environmental risks unlike earlier case. Our Navy officials registered a case against the foreign captain and his employees manning the towing ship, for negligence.

Now, it’s the Oil spill from the ship M.V. Rak near Juhu beach, Mumbai which is worrying me to no end. According to a report by Indian Coast guard, the sensitivity of Mumbai area to oil spill is high because of its proximity to sea and also due to the presence of corals and mangroves. These mangroves are home to many species of turtles, birds and are a breeding ground for variety of fishes. These species will be endangered not only due to the toxic oil but also due to the cleaning liquids and aerosols sprayed to stop the spread of the oil.

With no clear contingency plans and strict enforcement of laws dealing with environmental pollution and lack of coordination with research institutes, Navy, Coast Guard and Environmental agencies; such accidents are bound to destroy the few fragile ecological habitats India has, which inevitably would take decades to replace if ever we can.
Also, check IMOWatch’s take on this disaster and their suggestions for the shipping industry in India in dealing with toxic wastes, spills and other related issues.

The fate of our sea waters and coastline would be known by the reaction of government for this incident and its aftermath. Until then, fingers crossed!

Image source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2334057.ece

Public attitudes and Development disasters :A case study of Bholakpur, India

Most often, people confuse Development for Economic Growth which is only partly right. According to United Nations (UN), human development is achieved when people are healthy with a high life expectancy rate, are literate and employable with good income and have political freedom in their country. Within this context, I am presenting a simple case of Water pollution incident in Hyderabad which claimed lives and subsequently thrown light on issues of Public actions and responsibilities, need for strict law enforcement and vigilance etc. This incident spurred a discussion on the social cost and environment cost of industrialization and the thin line between development and ultimate destruction.

This is the infamous Bholakpur water tragedy which occurred in Hyderabad in May, 2009. Similar to all the underdeveloped ‘Old city’ areas with potholes, broken roads, gaping manholes, crisscrossing sewage and water pipelines, hanging ‘raw’ animal hides and foul stench ; Bholakpur is famous for leather tanning industry which is operating from more than 5 decades along with iron scrap and plastic trading.

Ground Water was contaminated due to the unorganized and illegal leather tanning and plastic industry practices and pollution, and this water was supplied to the residents for daily consumption by the Water Board (Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (HMWS&SB)). This heavy metal contamination along with bacteria resulted in the death of 14 people and close to 500 people had to be admitted to the hospitals overnight. A severe outbreak of Cholera was reported in the nearby areas too. The victims blamed the government and the politicians for not paying enough attention along with the Pollution and Water Boards for such gross negligence and lack of periodic industrial inspections in the area.

To read the rest of the article, refer to the Machaan Ventures Development perspectives column available at :

Smart cards and UID project: Do you have an identity?

In India, in earlier times, an individual was identified through various personal details which necessitated the existence of different cards according to their purposes. If you were a student or an NRI, you’re Passport or a bank book suffices to prove your name, parent’s details and proof of address. If you are a white collared employee, your PAN card with income tax details can be produced and if you belong to a low class or below poverty line strata, your ration card can be used. Even credit cards with photo identities were used to produce during airline booking, train travel, asking out for a mobile or LPG connection etc.

Until recently, all these cards and their respective transactions were handled by various state and central institutions, private organizations and were decentralized with little information linkage; which leads to corruption and inefficiency in the system. There were incidents of even 8-10 ration cards reported for a 3 person family in which the excess cereals, oils, sugar etc were diverted to the black market; ultimately defeating the very purpose of Public Distribution Systems(PDS).

This prompted for the UID(Unique identification number) initiative by the central ministry in which all the people in India(1.2 billion)  are to be provided with unique all purpose smart cards based on their fingerprints and iris scans—which is supposedly the most fail proof method to certify the existence and identity of an individual and is being used by crime agencies and the FBI. It  is supposedly the largest biometric project takenup by any country or institution for the purpose of assigning citizen identities and is claimed to be a very ambitious one-whether the task or the processes or the economical cost.

An IEEE study states that this biometric factor could decrease the false negative rate (if a single person enrols twice with different details to enjoy benefits provided) by almost 30%-50% even as privacy advocates voice their concerns on the biometric function creep and the possibility that systems storing these details are vulnerable to theft.

However, there seems to be a rise in public slandering and negative media reports on the lag in issuing Aadhar cards in various states.
With insufficient application registration and card issue centres, inefficient government individuals, little public disbursal of information and slow computers; isn’t it a bit preposterous to actually link these smart cards to pension funds and civil supplies and ask for all these individuals to produce these UID cards if they want to avail their rightful benefits or else they will be penalised?

For example, in an instance in Hyderabad, there was a riot like situation where people flooded the Aadhaar card centre in hundreds on a single day demanding for their applications to be accepted—due to panic that their ration supplies would be stopped with immediate effect.
For now, this process seems to be laced with problems— In Hyderabad, there were 1.2 crores of applications and only half were delivered the cards within stipulated time of 1month. Many have been issued a smart card with the wrong details; close to 6000K people throng to these centres with queries. If you are yet to apply, you get a slot after a month and you wait endlessly terrified if you will be issued an LPG cylinder in time or will you even eat next month (IBN live, 2011).

More information on this topic could be found at :
1. http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/it/fast-start-for-worlds-biggest-biometrics-id-project/1
2. http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/security/biometrics-data-is-vulnerable-warn-experts
3. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/issuance-of-aadhaar-cards-held-up/164901-60-121.html
4. http://www.inclusion.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=680

Development versus Environment: A classic dilemma

In India, recently, there is an increase in demonstrations and fasting on varied issues from airline pilots to activists and babas on corruption and black money to workers at Maruti Suzuki limited to journalists in Mumbai on Dey’s murder. However, there were also effective protests by small village people from Jaitapur and farmers at Noida, Uttar Pradesh who raised their voice against concerns as different as Nuclear energy or Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

The conflict of interest between Economic growth and Environment has been on the fore front of India’s development from the past few years and perhaps dates to the initial days of the era of liberalization in 1990s. In the early days of Independence, such a dilemma felt distant and buried. But now in the crux of globalization and a GDP growth rate of 9% and an encouraging notion (delusion?) – that we are the major superpower in line with China-, we require more natural resources, power plants, automobiles and machinery, high value manufacturing, developed infrastructure and well equipped cities apart from other basic amenities of food, water, housing, gas supply and channels of communications of mobile, internet and satellite to cater to the needs of a billion plus nation.

At this juncture, we seem to be faltering and incapacitated in making this choice between overall economic developments and preserving our environment along with concerns about social wellbeing and public safety. With our limited landscape and high population density, conservation of precious natural resources also equates to averting major environment disasters in form of floods, famines among others. Also, the responsibility to consider the possibility of compromising the standards or quality of living for the upcoming generation weighs heavily while such a decision is being made

More of this post can be found and read at the Machaan Ventures blog found at : http://www.machaanventures.com/?p=589&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=twitterfeed

Sanitation, Water and Women

I have wanted to start my blog with the issues of sanitation in India.

The context of this post stems from the interview I attended with a prestigious organization working on water and sanitation issues in Bangalore, India and the many travelling experiences in India from the past few months.

One of the interviewers from this NGO asked me a curious question: “Why don’t people in our country build toilets even when they could afford to, especially in the rural India?”

This question has thrown me back to an interesting lecture that I attended at the Humanitarian center in Cambridge University, titled “Would you prefer a mobile phone or a toilet?” by Mr. David Grimshaw.

Mr. Grimshaw explained the ways in which technology has touched the human race and spoke about the change in attitudes and preferences of people with the progressive penetration of technology. He showed certain powerful examples of the mobile revolution and its impact in developing countries of Africa and South Asia. This lecture concentrated mainly on the contrast between the ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ and it concluded by aptly depicting the picture of our villages and urban slums.

People using the open spaces for nature calls, are a pretty common sight in urban cities and every nook and corner of a street is a public urinal. However, certain NGOs and government managed to build public urinals for men in popular places in various cities which remain unused because they are grossly maintained and are known for their disgusting appearance and foul stench.

Lack of access to toilets seems to affect women comparatively and to corroborate my stance; I would like to mention a terrible incident among many which relates to the seriousness of this problem. Few months before, a nursing mother and her baby were found dead in sleep due to poison intake in Bangalore city which is supposed to be the Silicon Valley of India and is highly acclaimed for its infrastructure and development. It wasn’t either a murder or a suicide but an unfortunate accident due to the lack of toilet in her house (a bare makeshift shed of bamboo and asbestos). It was deduced from her husband that the lady had to use the open space at a distance from her house, in the wee hours of the morning and breast feed her crying newborn once she came back. The doctors concluded that she was bitten by a poisonous snake and she probably was ignorant of the same due to darkness and absence of any significant pain; which killed the mother and baby in sleep.

It is common knowledge that women are more prone to crimes of molestation and rape when they are alone and vulnerable. However, in Indian metros and II tier cities, these crimes occur more often in slums and rarely get reported. Again, the reason here is the lack of toilets and clean water in slums. Since women from slums tend to use an open area for their nature calls only while it is dark, to escape from embarrassment and prying eyes; they are immediate target for assaults. To combat these crimes, women now use the open spaces only when accompanied by others and always move in groups to keep watch.

Apart from accidents and crime, it is a well known fact that lack of access to sanitation and clean water results in water borne diseases and also ovarian and cervical cancers in women.

Hereby, I conclude my post stating that it is high time that people should be made aware of the implications of their individual preferences and the heightened need for proper sanitation EVERYWHERE.

We cannot expect people from slums or anyone with zero access to sophisticated toilets to behave impeccably groomed or punish them for urinating in public places.

Since no one has the right or capability to change other’s view, we should adopt an experiential type of learning wherein people get influenced by their experience and learn from it.

Rather than depending exclusively on government to push the agenda on sanitation, it would perhaps be more effective to resort to community action and the objective is to build at least one toilet for every 10 people with locally available resources on a priority basis , at least for the time being . The density of women and young children in any particular area commands the number of toilets to be built and their location.

Not exempting the government’s responsibility, the municipal commissioner should disburse grants to every ward which comes forward with the above initiative. Since labour cost is eliminated because it is a community building exercise, maintenance of the toilets automatically is transferred to the community.

The proximity of a toilet and access to clean water eliminates the need for scouring open areas in the dark and vulnerability to crime; which would imbibe a sense of possession and responsibility among the people of the slum and can mend their public attitudes and stance on cleanliness.

We should perhaps celebrate ‘’Water”, “Earth “and “Environment “days only when we could be certain to find clean water everywhere and toilets anywhere. Whether travelling on roads by cars or taking buses for an overnight journey, no one should be worried about the prospect of finding a clean toilet even for a price!!!

Please find useful attachments at below mentioned links :

Introduction to greeninfraworld.com

Welcome to Greeninfraworld.com.
This website is solely dedicated to infrastructure and its issues within the technological, political, social and economic context and is committed to seek solutions which are creative and sustainable. Also, it is concentrated more on the challenges faced in the developing world and in the emerging economies of India and others. However, examples of success are frequently quoted from the industrialized world and they are customised to provide solutions to the problems in Indian scenario.
Infrastructure according to Wikipedia dictionary is defined as:
The basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function.
Common examples include roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, airports, public transport, communications, Electricity transmission and distribution network etc.
In India, a more suited explanation on the infrastructure sector is given by Planning Commission which rests on the characteristics of (a) Natural monopoly, (b) High-sunk costs, (c) Non-tradability of output (d) Non-rival ness (up to congestion limits) in consumption, (e) Possibility of price exclusion, and (f) Bestowing externalities on society.
Basic infrastructure services include electricity, clean water access, public transport, healthcare, internet among others.
The importance of infrastructure is critical for the development of a country and is a major indicator of the quality of life in a society. Also, in addition to the pace of economic activity, it suggests the ease of life and a certain standard of living.
Also, this website would contain a plethora of resources such as academic articles, debates and discussion on various projects all over the world on power generation and renewable energy issues, urban development and urban design challenges, a brief on various Non government organisations and their development oriented projects, policy briefs on various technologies along with certain random posts on the conferences I personally attended and about the eminent personalities I know in the development sector.
• Definition of Infrastructure available at: infrastructure.gov.in/pdf/doi.pdf