Tuesday, October 19, 2010
NDTV did a brave thing on October 14. On a day when Karnataka Chief Minister was exulting over having won the vote of confidence in the Assembly and the Commonwealth Games were winding up, at prime time the channel telecast an environmental story. It was not just another environmental story. It was one that hardly anyone had reported.
On August 15, Nand Aparajita, a 78-metre long cargo ship belonging to Essar Shipping floundered off the coast of Kavaratti island in the Lakshadweep and was grounded. Since then it has been sitting there, buffeted by strong waves even as efforts to salvage it flounder because of the weather. The ship was carrying 35,000 tonnes of cement that has now been off loaded. Fortunately, it had very little oil by the time it ran ashore and that has also been removed.
Any shipwreck is a disaster but an accident off Lakshadweep is especially tragic even though no one was killed. This is because the Lakshadweep is one of the most fragile ecosystems and is one of the global biodiversity hotspots. These islands consist of 12 atolls, 3 reefs and 5 submerged banks apart from 36 islands with an area of just 32 sq km. Only 10 islands are inhabited and Kavaratti is the administrative centre. The coral reefs of Lakshadweep are some of the best preserved in the world displaying an awe-inspiring array of biodiversity and are the only living coral reefs in India.
Significantly, a few days before this accident, the MSC Chitra collided with MV Khalijia near Mumbai. The former was carrying oil and pesticide and as a result an estimated 800 tons of oil spilt into the sea. Marine life was affected, as were mangroves. The media gave it detailed coverage including efforts to clean up the oil. The story has now disappeared from the radar but the effects of that oil spill will still be playing out. Thus, the story is far from over.
The Lakshadweep accident is also an on-going story. There is the environmental cost of the damaged coral that has yet to be estimated. There are the long-term costs of further damage if the ship is not salvaged soon. And there are linked stories about pollution, construction, tourism, global warming and other factors that are already stressing coral reefs around these islands. In other words, an accident that the shipping company dismisses as minor because it has not resulted in a major oil spill could actually open the way for a larger environmental crisis. The coral reefs are the only protection for the islands from erosion. If they are damaged, life on the islands would be severely affected.
Coverage of many events is still determined by physical proximity even though today media houses have far better resources to be able to send their journalists out to follow up on stories even in remoter locations. The pity is that the Indian media continues to function within a very narrow geographical area – usually around the national capital, state capitals and a few other important cities. The rest of the country only appears on the radar when a disaster of what they consider major proportions takes place. Then too it is covered and forgotten.
Therefore, full credit must go to NDTV for following up on this story that could otherwise be easily forgotten. For every one story like this, there are dozens waiting to be reported.
We are so cavalier in our approach to nature in this country. The media will take up the bigger campaigns, the tiger, elephant corridors etc. But the environment is damaged daily by such occurrences, ships that get wrecked off our shores and are allowed to remain there until they break apart. For instance, in Goa, the MV River Princess, a 240 metres long cargo ship belonging to the Salgaocar Shipping Company, ran aground near Fort Aguada in June 2000. Yet 10 years later, the ship continues to be in the water and nothing is being done. Meanwhile, it has altered the tidal pattern and damaged the popular beach of Sinquerim-Candolim.
An interesting aspect of the Lakshadweep story is the effort by the administration to keep media away. Why? NDTV quoted from a letter written by the Indian Broadcasters’ Association to the islands’ administration which stated: “The capricious denial of entry to journalists directly and immediately impedes their right to carry on their profession and violates the free speech guarantee contained in the Constitution. Above all, such action on the part of your administration deprives the people at large of their ‘right to know’ about the goings on in their own country by receiving news from all over.” As a result of such an intervention, the ban was removed. Yet not many journalists have rushed to cover the story.
Apart from the on-going environmental angle, this reason behind the media ban needs to be investigated. Who prompted the island administration to ban the media? What was it afraid of? Are there other developmental activities taking place in the Lakshadweep that are also impacting the environment?
NDTV should follow up all these aspects after this important exclusive.
(To read the original, click on the link above and if you want to see what is meant by "living coral" click here)