India is witnessing rapid economic growth and invariant efforts to achieve ‘development’, the current buzzword, and it is being carried out in various forms and capacities at diverse fronts. Development is best understood economically but it often overlooks the cost of environment and social disruption. Over the past few decades, there has been massive industrialisation and urbanisation. Further, the preference is for a large number of mega projects which have been sanctioned and most carried out under the Public Private Partnership model.
To understand the implications of such mega projects, let us take the example of the seaplane service first introduced in 2011 in the Andaman islands. This was done to provide a fillip to the ongoing tourism and now being adopted by several coastal states.
Seaplane is a specially designed aircraft that can land and take off on water surfaces. Seaplane production started almost eighty years ago but was not in great demand until recently when it gained popularity as commercial aircraft to operate between areas that are inaccessible through roads, rail and air. The growth of tourism around the world is a direct factor that has contributed to the popularity of seaplanes. Islands like Mauritius and Maldives have well-established seaplane tourism.
Seaplanes in India
The success of this venture in the Andaman Islands, led to its implementation in many other states but some were met with strong opposition. For example in 2013, the Government of Kerala introduced it after witnessing its success, but it was subjected to strong protests from the local communities especially the fishermen and activists claiming that the service will deeply affect livelihoods and marine ecology of the region, immediately stalling the service. Goa, on the other hand conducted a test flight in May 2015, despite a strong opposition from the fishing community and plans to launch the service after July 2015.
Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have announced the initiation of seaplane services soon. A clear pattern is observed among the coastal states for their growing interest in using seaplanes. In the last two years itself, around five states have undertaken the project.
Seaplanes come with a package of adverse impacts ranging from environmental and ecological to social. The seaplane service fundamentally aims to open new places for tourism that are presently inaccessible. These places may include deep forests, high mountains or serene islands which are extremely rich in biodiversity and are of high ecological importance. Subjecting such fragile eco-sensitive regions to anthropogenic interventions will definitely have adverse effects on the entire ecosystem. Some of the impacts include:
*The operations requires a massive area of approximately 2000-2500 feet in length (radius of 1 sq km). It implies that large expanses of the water bodies will be made off limits from fishing activity therefore curtailing the fishing space of the traditional local fishermen who have used these water bodies as a source of their livelihood for centuries in a sustainable manner. The water currents that seaplanes produce will displace fish population in the water body thereby reducing catch.
*It will add to the degradation of the environment by spillage of fuel into the waters thus threatening the rich aquatic life. A study conducted by Future Seaplane Transport System and Harbour Air Malta to gauge the impact of seaplanes on the environment in 2010 reveals that the probability of fuel spillage is one of the most devastating impacts that seaplane service can pose.
*Research has noted that consumption of fuel per minute by a seaplane is greater than that of a marine surface vessel, resulting in a higher carbon emission. Noise produced during landing and take-off of seaplanes is close to 75 dBA which is significantly higher than noise produced by commercial marine vessels.
*The visitation of migratory birds will be deeply affected as the service generally operates on serene water bodies that attract these birds from across the world.
An international problem
The seaplane service witnessed similar oppositions in Sri Lanka and Ireland by local fishermen on similar grounds and resulted into a long struggle. The Negombo lagoon in Sri Lanka was chosen as a suitable site for seaplane operations but local communities especially the fishermen of the region came together and fought for the 'Right to Feed' (of the fishermen) and the 'Right to Breed' (of the fishes) in the lagoon. The Sri Lankan government finally took a decision to move the project to another site.
Tourism, its conception and form should lie in the hands of the local people. For the enjoyment of a handful of people from the affluent section of society as tourists and private gain of the operators, traditional livelihoods of local communities and the environment are being adversely impacted. The projects should go through vigorous impact assessments, and those minimally harmful to both the environment and the local communities should be prioritised after the consent of the local communities is attained.