‘Petrochemical hub would devastate Sundarbans’

By Soudhriti Bhabani, IANS,

Kolkata : Fisherfolk and green activists have voiced serious concern over the government’s go-ahead to a petrochemical hub in Nayachar in West Bengal, saying it would cause immense ecological damage in the nearby world-famous Sundarban mangrove forests.

Support TwoCircles

The Nayachar island being a deltaic estuary zone of the Hooghly river, they say the project would contaminate the water, which is home to a large variety of aquatic life and feeds the mangrove forests that are home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

“We are astonished that in conceiving and going ahead with this petroleum, chemical and petrochemical investment regions (PCPIR) project, the government has paid scant attention to the ecological devastation that such a project is going to inflict on the area,” National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF) chairperson Harekrishna Debnath said.

The chemical hub project at Nayachar in East Midnapore district got the nod at a meeting between the state government and a high-powered committee in the national capital Feb 3.

“If the project comes up at Nayachar, the entire region would get affected by its toxic chemical discharge,” Santanu Chacraverti of the NGO Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA) told IANS.

“Not only would it disturb marine life but these poisonous chemicals would also enter the Sundarban creeks and affect the bio-diversity of the large mangrove swamp.”

“The entire mangrove forest is criss-crossed by water channels and there is a huge possibility that this water will get polluted by the Nayachar project.

“The project will endanger a large number of people who earn their livelihood out of this deltaic estuary. It’ll cause immense environmental menace,” Chacraverti added.

Debnath said the area where the project is expected to come up is of immense ecological importance.

Nayachar is located within 10 km of the Sundarbans biosphere reserve and within the Hooghly-Matla estuarine zone, a region which is undoubtedly one of the world’s richest in terms of biodiversity.

The region is the spawning ground of a vast array of marine life forms, including numerous commercial varieties of finfish and shellfish. The Hooghly-Matla estuarine and coastal waters of West Bengal provide livelihood to over 250,000 fishermen.

Nayachar is located about 200 km from Kolkata. As part of the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB), the government of India had declared the entire 9,630 sq km of the forest as the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve in 1989.

“The petrochemical industry is hazardous and accident prone. The plan to locate such an industry in the Haldia region, especially processing industries in Nayachar, constitutes a horrible assault on ecology, livelihoods and resources,” Debnath said, terming the state government’s effort to bag the final clearance as ‘ignoble’.

“It is also of great concern that the government, in planning ‘developmental’ schemes, avoids consultation with citizens and in planning the PCPIR it did not discuss its plans with the fishermen in the state,” Debnath said.

He pointed out that the area provides food and nutritional security to tens of millions in West Bengal and the neighbouring states.

The fishermen’s committee also called upon all concerned citizens to voice their protest against the petrochemical industry which would affect the coastal ecology.

Nayachar, a stretch of land measuring 12,500 acres on the river bed of the Hooghly, was handed over to the Prafulla Chandra Roy Chemical Complex (PCRCC). It is a joint venture company in which the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) has 49 percent stake and the New Kolkata International Development (NKID) has 51 percent share.

The NKID is a consortium formed by Unitech Ltd and the Salim Group of Indonesia with each partner holding 40 percent stake. Indonesian firm Universal Success holds the remaining 20 percent.

The NKID entered into an agreement with the West Bengal government on July 31, 2006, for developing mega infrastructure projects in the state.

(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at [email protected])