Demands on the Indian Coasts: opportunities and conflicts
The watchword today is balance. How to have a Balance with nature and at the same time ensure greater economic opportunities. In other words how to ensure sustainability. This has become the central theme of planners since the World Environment Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. Since two thirds of the world lives within 50 Kms of salt water, the pressure on coastal and island systems is increasing. These demands arise out of the increasing urbanisation accelerating industrialisation as developing countries race to catch up with the developed world in search of new frontiers of science and technology. Development of improved infrastructure for ports, tourism and recreation centres has contributed its mite. There has been a consequent growth of pollution, destruction of wet lands, lagoons, mangroves, estuaries, beaches, and erosion of the coastline. Any approach towards understanding and tackling these problems has to do with peoples lives and livelihood.
The complexity of the coastal environment is difficult to understand. Since human activity encompasses the coast as well as the hinterland, impact of coastal activity can be felt at considerable distance in time and space. For example, export of wood from the port has an impact on deforestation; discharging pollutants into the sea has impact on fish resources, and even impact on movement of sea currents, which in turn affect the air currents and rain bearing clouds and temperatures. The interdependence of the various factors is apparent but needs greater study to establish the linkages.
The demands on the coast are governed by a conflict of interests, which are within groups and between them. For example CONFLICTS occur between the following uses and users:
Coastal areas will see greater conflict of interests due to the fact that they are located at the confluence point of the land and the sea. With water scarcity on land becoming more intense, the need to exploit water resources of the sea will bring the conflicts top the shores of the nations.
These conflicts of interest raises a number of issues:
Opportunities: While there are challenges, there are opportunities as well. The history and culture of India of an unbroken civilisation has a lot of lessons for us. There are communities living in India in harmony with the environment because they have evolved and elaborate system of enculturation of environmental values over hundreds of years. I am referring to the Bishnois of Rajastan who have learnt to live in perfect harmony with the wild beasts and suffer no economic deprivation on that account. They have recently caught a film hero shooting the protected black buck while at the same time appearing in an ad film for WorldWild fund for Nature! So our culture will tell us the way if we search for it.
We should learn from the mistakes of the world and not repeat them. The conflict between the small fishing trawlers and the large trawlers is a case in point. It was an example of how conflict resolution mechanism could focus of the fears of the local fisherman and the policy of GOI to grant trawler licenses was cancelled.
The great challenge is how to involve people in the process of sustainable growth. This calls for a complete overhaul of the policy formulation methodology. We should try to have a " bottom up" approach to planning, instead of the "top down" approach being followed hitherto. This would ensure that diversity of the environment is recognised and included in the planning process.
In conclusion I would say that there is urgent need to address the challenges to the coastal environment in India. Since there is interdependence between the coast and the hinterland, the dynamic relationship needs to be studied while looking at a resolution of the conflicts and the answers to the Sustainability question. In the developing countries like India the race to "catch up" the missed years of growth may lead to less importance being given to issues of sustainability. The choice for them is whether to follow a known model or discover a new one. The developed countries need to ponder on the question of Balance and find the solutions to save the Environment.