Beach restoration runs into rough weather
MARCH 04, 2017 23:36 IST UPDATED: MARCH 05, 2017 03:11 IST S. Prasad
Shifting of dredged sand an impediment; govt. floating parallel tender for dredging of harbour mouth adds to the problem
PUDUCHERRY, 01/03/2017: An aerial view of the Puducherry coastline including the old pier on March 01, 2017. Photo: T. Singaravelou | Photo Credit: T_Singaravelou
An ambitious project to restore the sandy beaches of Puducherry, a popular hangout of domestic and international tourists, has hit a few sandbars even as a controversy rages overthe award of dredging contracts.
The steady erosion of the coastline in Puducherry, which originally extended almost 100 metres into the sea, is believed to have begun with the establishment of the fishing harbourin 1989, say environmentalists.
The construction of the harbour, with its wall projecting into the sea, blocked the movement of sand from the south towards the north. Though a sand bypassing system was provided at the harbourto regularly shift the sand from south to north, this has not been done forthe last several years forcing the authorities to take up the sand restoration project.
This year, marking a departure from the practice, the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) was chosen forthe dredging contract over private contractors on the instructions of the Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi.
Though the DCI had commenced the dredging process after a delay as it had faced a number of challenges, including the sub-optimal functioning of the high-tech dredger, the dredged sand is being deposited right next to the harbourinstead of nearthe Gandhi Statue,.
Meanwhile, the government, under pressure from the fishermen community which has been on the warpath overloss of livelihoods from not being able to put their vessels out to sea because of the dense layers of silt, floated a parallel tenderfor emergency dredging of the harbour mouth.
Activists cry foul
Activists allege that this was in blatant violation of the tender guidelines and the Environmental Clearance issued on February 7, 2017.
“The Government of Puducherry has already given a contract to Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) to dredge 3 lakh m³ of sand and depositing it behind the Gandhi Statue to restore the beaches in front of the town with funding from HUDCO. The parallel project to dredge 0.75 lakh m³of sand underthe guise of“emergency dredging”for ₹ 2.67 crore and allowing it to be deposited right next to the harbour mouth instead of near the Gandhi Statue will not only be a misuse of the HUDCO funds but will defeat the whole purpose of the beach restoration project,” Probir Banerjee of PondyCAN said.
The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), consultant for the project, has already conducted several surveys and finalized the concept design for the beach restoration and nourishment work.
The project proposed two submerged reefs; one near the Chief Secretariat that will be attached to the shore and another offshore reef opposite the Hotel Ajantha at a distance of 200 m from the shore. The reefs will be submerged and are designed to reduce wave activity on the shoreline and help the new beaches to stabilise.
A bathymetry survey conducted by NIOT had clearly specified that the depth of the sea outside the harbor mouth is in the range of 2-3 meters only. Though the fishing vessels need a depth of only 1.5 to 2 meters to navigate, the Government plans to dredge the harbour mouth to a depth of 5 meters.
“For the beach nourishment project, as many as 4.5 lakh m³ of sand will have to be dredged and placed near the Gandhi Statue. Around 1.5 lakh m³ of sand has been previously dredged but it has been placed on the land to the north and south side of the harbour. The sand being dredged now will have to be subsequently shifted to the Gandhi Statue which will only result in cost escalation and delays” Mr. Banerjee pointed out.
A top official in NIOT pointed out that there were delays due to some technical reasons. Work on the artificial reef structure will begin from Saturday.
With work on the artificial reefs scheduled to begin, the Port Department has to now ensure that the sand is placed, as stipulated in the guidelines, by end of May. If the climate is favourable the reef work would be completed in the next six months while the nourishment work would be carried out simultaneously.
Though the government had awarded the work order they are yet to sign an agreement. As of now DCI has been instructed to expedite clearing the silt at the sea mouth and deposit the dredged sand on the north and south side of the harbour. However, shifting the sand to the Gandhi Statue would be a massive exercise, alternative methodologies have to be explored, P.M. Saravanan, Captain, DCI, Visakhapatnam said.
A government official said that the dredged sand should not have been deposited on the north and south side of the harbour. It should be carried through pipelines. Even now they can shift the dredged sand through pipeline within three days. Since the work was delayed by DCI, the government had to call for a parallel tender to MARG.
Mr. Banerjee wonders why the government had to hastily opt for another contract when the DCI was already engaged with dredging.
“The DCI has assured that the channel will be cleared in the next 10 days and they have also made arrangements to deposit the dredged sand directly near the Gandhi Statue as planned,” he said.
Also, the DCI could instead dredge to a depth of 4 m on a priority basis and cover a larger area, so that neither the fishermen nor the beach restoration suffers.