Thursday, March 19, 2009

RTI forces removal of encroachments

Repro of a news item published on New Indian Express on March 19:

CHENNAI: A relentless campaign launched by an RTI activist and local residents has forced the Chennai Corporation to act remove an encroachment on the eastern corner of the Turn Bulls Road-Chamiers Road junction that has posed as stumbling block to free flow of traffic on the busy stretch.

The disputed spot, located inside the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) shopping complex along the Turn Bulls Road-Chamiers Road junction was under encroachment for last several years.

It is said that the open space inside in the complex (along the corner of the road) was rented out to run a ‘vegetable shop’, but soon it flourished and become a full-fledged-eatery serving customers of the (now closed) TASMAC shop.

Locals considered the TASMAC outlet on the junction a traffic hazard and petitioned the authorities to remove it, so that the area would be free of such nuisance.

After a nine-month-long battle using RTI tool, we forced the State-owned TASMAC to shut its outlet in that TNHB complex last September and it was the same RTI which helped us to reclaim the area of roughly around 200 sq ft for the public use, R Natarajan, a resident and research scholar told Express.

Though the officials removed the encroachment only after two months of passing the initial demolition order, the victory did not come easily, Natarajan added.To remove the encroachments, he filed his first RTI petition in 2007 with the officials concerned (TNHB), and the battle continued with them since they preferred not to part any ‘useful’ information to the RTI applicant.

Irked with the dilly-dally attitude of the government machinery, Natarajan went on further appeals with them and also got the opportunity to inspect documents related to the disputed spot which clearly mentioned it as a space meant for a public road.

In November 2008, left without any option to delay the process, a top official of the TNHB gave his nod to the removal of encroachment, thus enabling the civic body to clear it for extending the road space.

With an intense campaign by Natarajan to remove the encroachment, the civic body officials last week removed it. It may be noted that the demolition order by the civic body was passed in January.

It is now up to the Corporation to add the reclaimed space to the road-space, so that traffic is eased on the ever-busy stretch, Natarajan added.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ANOTHER CASTE-BASED PARTY IN THE OFFING?

ANOTHER CASTE-BASED PARTY IN THE OFFING?
Published Date: 2/17/2009 - (NIE)
G Saravanan
Chennai, February 16:
IN what could be a ‘timely’ decision for Tamil Nadu Parkava Kula Sangam, a united body of Udayar, Moopanar and Nainar communities in the state, the association has mooted a plan to float a political party to meet the community’s aspiration in different levels.According to sources, T. Pachamuthu, one of the prominent faces of the community and Chancellor of SRM University has openly asked the officer-bearers of the Sangam during its general body meeting on Sunday to seriously think about floating a party for safeguarding the community’s aspirations in future.The annual meeting, described as a significant and important one, was attended by more than 800 representatives from different parts of the state. A resolution was passes at the meet. V.R. Venkataachalam, prominent patron of the Parkava Kula Sangam and Chancellor of Sri Ramachandra University also seconded Pachamuthu’s idea of forming a new party during the meeting.Based on the resolution that was intensely debated and later passed unanimously, a 10-member committee comprising influential people, was formed to envisage the floating of the new party. Though the name and flag of the party are not finalised yet, the newly formed committee is expected to give its detailed report in the next few days.The community is estimated to have a strength of around 60 lakh and they do not form a majority in any district of TN, but they are noticeable group in areas in and around Pudukottai, Karur, Trichy, Salem, Namakkal, Tanjavur, Mannarkudi, Kumbakonam, Thiruvannamalai, Ramanathapuram, Chennai, Sivagangai and Puduchery.

Robbed of their lives

Robbed of their lives

http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Robbed+of+their+lives&artid=45OL1PbTIxE=&SectionID=f4OberbKin4=&MainSectionID=b7ziAYMenjw=&SectionName=cxWvYpmNp4fBHAeKn3LcnQ==&SEO=Tamil%20Nadu,%20%20Gulf%20of%20Mannar;%20Velammal,%20%20seaweed%20co


G Saravanan
First Published : 06 Mar 2009 02:29:00 PM IST


For Velammal, a seaweed collector from Chinnapalem fishing hamlet near
the Gulf of Mannar in southeastern Tamil Nadu, the concept of a Marine
Protected Area is nothing less than a direct attack on her only
available livelihood — seaweed collection.

Not only has Velammal, a mother of two, been humiliated by forest
officials for venturing ‘illegally’ into the Mannar area for seaweed
collection, but there are also around 5,000 women from various fishing
communities in the area whose livelihood is threatened.

India’s marine and coastal ecosystems constitute an important natural
resource, with millions of people dependent on them. The Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs) were conceived to conserve dwindling marine
resources.They were implemented by the government in the late 1960s.
However, the MPAs have increasingly become tools that limit, forbid and
control human (traditional fishermen) activity through a structure of
rights and rules.

Velammal and other women like her can’t understand the issues, because
the community has always looked to the sea for resources and employment.
The sea is an integral part of their identity, and women have been
collecting seaweed for decades. “We started collecting seaweed regularly
in the 1970s. But things have gone awry after the demarcation of the
area as protected,” says Parvathi, another seaweed collector from
Chinnapalem.

With the MPA now defined, seaweed collection in the Gulf of Mannar has
been seriously curtailed. Officials prohibit women from venturing to 21
tiny islands, rich sources of seaweed. In several instances, these women
have fallen foul of the authorities and have been subjected to
harassment for entering the protected area.

The women are not the only sufferers. The restrictions have robbed more
than 10 per cent of the fishermen of a sustained livelihood. They are
forced to adapt to a new environment to eke out a living. “For
traditional fishermen, sea is the only resource. They cannot be easily
accommodated into another profession,” says K Bharathi, president of the
South Indian Fishermen’s Welfare Association. “They are better
protectors of marine ecology,” he adds, “and conservation cannot be
decided without considering their (traditional fishermen) views.”

Chandrika Sharma of the International Collective in Support of
Fishworkers (ICSF) says fishermen everywhere are facing the same
situation. “We are concerned about the livelihood problems of
traditional fishermen from unfair restrictions on their operations in
the course of implementing MPAs.”

The first MPA was designated in 1967 for the protection of wetlands and
of migrant birds, even before a specific legal framework for protected
areas was put in place. According to statistics, there are 31 MPAs in
India, designated mainly in the 1980s and early 1990s. The main MPAs in
mainland India are the Gulf of Mannar national park and biosphere
reserve, Gahirmatha wildlife sanctuary (Orissa), Gulf of Kutch nati­onal
park and wildlife sanctuary (Gujarat), Malvan (marine) wildlife
sanctuary (Maharashtra) and Sunderbans national park and biosphere
reserve (West Bengal). The Andaman and Nicobar islands too has several
protected areas.

In any case, she adds, the true culprits of habitat destruction are not
traditional fishermen. The worst damage is from untreated urban waste,
agricultural runoff and industrial activity, all of which add up to
indiscriminate pollution and widespread habitat degradation.

“But traditional fishing communities bear economic, sociocultural and
environmental costs, while the benefits often go to outsiders,
particularly the tourist industry.”

According to Chandrika, there can be no success without the full and
active participation of (traditional) fishing communities in decision-
making at all stages of the MPA process. These communities should be
seen as rights holders, not stakeholders, and community-led initiatives
for management and conservation should be recognised and supported.

Though the government introduced the Marine Protected Area concept
nearly four decades ago, its inability to mark the boundary till today
has raised questions about its zeal for conservation, says M Sakthivel,
former chairman and director of the Marine Products Export Development
Authority.

Sakthivel was involved in propagating seaweed farming among the Mannar
fisher folk, and he says the approach has been conservative and
top-down. The focus is on keeping people out, hence the success of
conservation through MPAs stands as a distant dream.

Before punishing the traditional fishermen, who do not have any other
option but to live in the same areas, the government should place some
markers (like floating buoys) to indicate to them that they have entered
a protected area, Sakthivel added.

The international experience favours his thesis. Participatory models of
conservation and resource management have been found more effective in
protecting both livelihoods and biodiversity, and communities can be
powerful

allies in efforts for conservation and management of coastal and marine
resources.

— saravanan.gee@gmail.com

NHRC admits complaint against cops

NHRC admits complaint against cops
Published Date: 3/11/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, March 10: IN what could have been a perfect start to fix the uniform-clad policemen’s ‘visit’ to an RTI applicant’s house for ‘giving reply’ as a cognizable offence, National Human Rights Commission recently admitted a complaint by a Chennai-based RTI activist who personally witnessed it a few months ago. Instead of sending a reply through post for an RTI complaint filed by R Natarajan, an activist and a research scholar from R A Puram, with the Mylapore police station (E-1) about noise pollution and other environmental issues, a police inspector from the very station landed at his house at 10.30 pm in uniform to give a ‘reply’ in person. According to Natarajan, police presence in his house at the odd-hour not only made him angry but also dented his reputation among neighbours. His ‘visit’ was nothing less than an intimidation to the RTI applicant, who just asked a few details of action taken on his reports filed several months ago with the Mylapore police station, said Natarajan.

I took the bullying tactics by the policemen with the RTI applicant seriously and filed complaint with the State Human Rights Commission, he added. But for his bad luck, the Commission merely forwarded the complaint to the City Police Commissioner, who in turn forwarded it to the Deputy Commissioner for suitable action. But the Chennai police officials are yet to take any action against the sub-inspector and inspector of E-3 police station, Natarajan said.

Though the Tamil Nadu police have an appellate authority to send details sought under RTI pleas in the ranks of commissioners, an inspector from Mylapore police station sent a ‘detailed’ reply to Natarajan’s RTI pleas.

Irked by the cold response from the police officials, Natarajan filed the same complaint with the Chief Information Commissioner and NHRC seeking action against the policemen. After going through his complaint that was published in The New Indian Express in last August, NHRC scrutinized and registered as case number 2403/22/13/08-09.

Cooperative sugar mills across State face closure

Cooperative sugar mills across State face closure
Published Date: 3/1/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, February 28: WITH the private-run sugar mills eating into their designated command areas and the State Government’s failure to conduct election for cooperative (sugar) societies for the past 42 years, remaining 14 out of 16 cooperativerun sugar mills in the state are facing imminent closure, according to sugarcane farmers.

These cooperative mills were just running to show that they are indeed active, but in reality, they were surviving with a ventilator support, C Nallasamy, president of Lower Bhavani Project Farmers’ Association and field coordinator for Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement told Express.

Out of 16 mills, two mills -- Madurantakam Cooperative Sugar Mills Ltd and National Cooperative Sugar Mills Ltd were not working since 2001-02. “Even after four decades and recommendation by the Vaidyanathan Committee few years ago to conduct elections in such cooperative societies to revitalise their basic concept of cooperation, the State Government did not blink yet,” Nallasamy lamented. Besides 16 cooperative sugar mills, there are two public sector mills and 22 private-owned mills. And very recently, the government has given permission to start another five private mills.

Of the 16 cooperative mills, six of them were commissioned during early 60s and the rest during mid-70s and 80s to enable the cane farmers to get due profit for their products. For a State like TN, 20-25 sugar mills were ideal, but the foray of private players with a much higher per day crushing capacity had complicated the supply chain for the cooperative mills, Vettavalam Manikandan, president of Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Association (TN and Pudhucherry), told Express.

The cooperative mills have a crushing capacity of 2,500 MT per day, while some private mills have the capacity up to 10,000 MT per day. With the cooperative mills incurring several crore of loss every year their intake has decreased drastically forcing the farmers to sell their canes to private mills at a rock-bottom prices, Manikandan decried.

Each cooperative mill has a command area as allotted by the State Government. And, an average of nearly 20,000 to 30,000 farmers, who have registered themselves with the mills, can sell the cane only to the mills. Though the farmers have to be involved in managing the mills, the government chose to run the show with their handpicked officers. The farmers have thus been marginalised completely and the whole system, has failed, Manikandan went on to say.

Further, the government’s move to allow private players to set up mills in the same command areas has killed the very basic set up of cooperative mills, Manikandan added.

Pallavaram civic chief takes a ‘cheap’ shot at city dustbins

Pallavaram civic chief takes a ‘cheap’ shot at city dustbins
Published Date: 2/13/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, February 12: CHENNAI may be the biggest city corporation in the State, but it apparently cuts costs and corners in its line of duty. The corporation’s recently acquired trash cans have received a trashing from the municipal chairman of a suburb, Pallavaram. He has described them as ‘cheap’ and ‘not durable’.

The four lakh dustbins procured by Chennai Corporation at a cost of Rs 12 each for distribution among slum dwellers - to encourage source segregation and help them keep their surroundings hygienic - cannot be compared to the Rs 69 a piece bins that the Pallavaram Municipality proposes to buy for its 16,000 slum dwellers, said the municipal chairman, E Karunanithi.

Rubbishing a news report comparing the rates and saying that the municipality had gone in for dustbins each costing a whopping Rs 69 when the cost of the bins bought by the Chennai Corporation was just Rs 12, Karunanithi defended his action by throwing muck at the capital’s trash cans.

He said that while many states and cities in the country were using bins made by different companies using high-class plastics, the Chennai Corporation purchased dustbins from the Central government’s Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET), Chennai. “CIPET’s dustbins are developed from recycled and low-grade plastics, hence cheap,” he said.

The soon-to-be purchased bins for Pallavaram Municipality from a private party K M S Traders are made of high-class ‘virgin grade’ plastic that come with a lid unlike Chennai’s bins, which are without lids, he said. Besides, the city’s dustbins have a capacity of eight litres as against the 10-litre capacity of Pallavaram’s bins.

The rate difference between these bins is due to the size variation and the thickness of the plastic, said Karunanithi. Incidentally, the adjacent municipalities — Alandur and Tambaram — have also decided to buy dustbins for their slum settlements from private contractors