Mangalore, June 17: The CRZ unit of Mangalore has been in the news of late owing to the mud dumping issue along the Phalguni River at Kuloor. The change in its stand on the issue had angered the activists and villagers who have been demanding that the mud be removed.
Now, in what appears to be a similar case of river encroachment due to mud dumping at Adyar behind the Sahyadri College campus, the role played by CRZ authorities in handling the issue has come under the scanner yet again.
Although the office of CRZ did take note of the mud dumping carried out by the College authorities along the Nethravathi River and asked them to stay clear off the River, it is being alleged that all of CRZ’s action has remained on mere sending of notices.
The body first sent a notice to the College authorities on January 31 intimating them of the CRZ violation caused by the mud dumping. It directed the College authorities to remove the mud in 7 days, failing which, it warned of legal action.
When Coastaldigest.com visited the spot in question at Adyar, it found that the mud had not been removed in spite of the notice being served to the College authorities by the CRZ. When asked as to what action they had taken against the College, the CRZ officials said that another notice had been sent. This time though, to the Tahshildar, as the area in question is a government land.
“We have informed the College authorities that they had violated CRZ norms. Part of the land where the mud has been dumped is government land and they had no business dumping it there in the first place because it does not belong to them. Accordingly, we have asked the Tahshildar to see that the mud is removed from the spot”, says Mahesh Kumar, a CRZ official and Assistant Director, Fisheries and Environment.
The College authorities on the other hand say that they have not received any such letter from the CRZ. “I do not know if they (CRZ) have sent a notice or not but I have not received it. If they ask us to remove the mud, we will be happy to do so. We are not above the government. But what is the harm in the mud being there? We are not constructing a building there. It is just a playground for students. The playground will add to the scenic beauty of the place”, says Manjunath Bhandary, Chairman, Sahyadri Educational Institutions. When pointed out that CRZ authorities have already termed the College’s mud dumping activity a violation, Mr. Bhandary says: “What violation are people talking about? There are people who are mining sand from the River at the very place but that is not being considered as a violation. We are protecting the River instead and I do not accept that our playground activity is an encroachment”.
The notices to the College as well as the Tahshildar have been sent from the office of the Regional Director (Environment), Department of Forest, Environment and Ecology, Mangalore. When asked, Gopalkrishna Reddy, the Regional Director, gave Coastaldigest.com a similar response. However, what is striking to note is that the duration between the notice sent to the College (dated January 31, 2012) and the one sent to the Tahshildar spans almost five months, with the letter to the latter being sent on June 6. When questioned as to why the CRZ had not taken the promised legal action since the College had failed to remove the mud in seven days’ time, the Regional Director gave an evasive reply stating that the CRZ has taken action by sending a notice to the Tahshildar.
The sending of notices is the only thing the CRZ office does, environment activists of the region allege. The villagers of Melakoppala, Athrebailu and Kulur areas had also complained of the indifferent attitude of CRZ officials concerning the Phalguni River mud dumping. The office of the Regional Director (Environment) had sent three notices to the Mangalore Special Economic Zone Ltd (MSEZL) asking the company to remove the mud it had dumped along the River but in the fourth notice, it made a mention of 300 meters stating that only 300 meters of mud needs to be removed. The move had angered the villagers who had complained of the body taking a U turn.
“All that the CRZ officials do is send notices for records’ sake and keep quiet. This was evident in the Phalguni issue and now the same is happening with the Adyar mud dumping. The High Court in its final order has said that MSEZL must refrain from work along the Phalguni River. But the mud continues to remain there and the villagers continue to be a worried lot as rainy season has already started”, says Vidya Dinker, activist.
In their defence, the CRZ authorities claim that the High Court has not asked for removal of mud. “The Court has asked the company to apply for a fresh environment clearance. It has not directed removal of mud”, says Mr. Kumar.
However, Ms. Dinker says that the CRZ officials have got the Court order’s interpretation wrong as it has said that any interference or disturbance or impediment in the free flow of the river or any work carried out on the river banks, without due clearance, is illegal and hence it is the duty of the CRZ Department to get the mud removed.
With the mud still lying dumped along the River Nethravati behind Sahyadri College, the inaction and indifferent attitude of the CRZ office has come in question yet again, as to how serious the Department is in monitoring environment violations in the region.
As per the norms, CRZ authorities are required to put forth the violations before the District Coastal Management Committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner of the district. As far as action against violators is concerned, the Karnataka Coastal Zone Management Authority headed by its Principal Secretary comes into play. Action against violators could be taken under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act of 1986. The Act also provides for action against government officials under Section 17, in case there are evidences proving their providing of consent to violations.
Mud continues to remain along River Phalguni much to the concern of the villagers who dread flooding on their side
Photos by Suresh Vamanjoor