Hidden behind sea walls

Reasons for Kerala government's love for a harmful exercise

Published: Monday 28 February 2005

Do they look capable of checki (Credit: Amit shanker / CSE)tsunami-hit Kerala is witnessing a hot debate on the effectiveness of sea walls. The state government has requested the Union government to provide it Rs 757 crore for reconstruction and rehabilitation work. A sizeable portion of this will be spent on sea wall construction off the coast at Kollam and Alappuzha, the worst affected. But while scientists and fisherfolk raise doubts about the effectiveness of sea walls, the Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (ksmtf) also alleges that the government is trying to help "the contractor-construction lobby".

"The government held consultations with scientists, but they did not agree on the advisability of constructing sea walls to protect the coasts...But the people wanted sea walls. So, the government is considering the construction of sea walls immediately at Alappad, Arattupuzha, Andhakaranazhi and Alapuzha," state chief minister Oommen Chandy said recently. The government has also decided to release Rs 250 crore for the purpose, without inviting tenders.

But contrary to Chandi's claim, the people don't seem to want sea walls. "The water moved in with double force where there were no walls. But even where they were there, their presence did not help much," says Sudheendran, a resident of Alapuzha. "The water rushed in through the gaps. The walls will not protect the areas but they will certainly affect the adjacent places adversely," explains Mary Martin, a resident of Neendakara sea front in Kollam district. "A few kilometres (km) long wall is constructed and then left unattended. But it can't even save us from a monsoon surge. During the subsequent monsoons, another stretch has to be constructed," says Christudas, a fisherman living along the Poonthura beach.

Kerala's agriculture and water resources minister told the Lok Sabha recently that the state government has already constructed 354 km of sea walls to prevent sea-erosion. In fact, since 1964, this is the only activity it has undertaken against sea erosion and tidal waves. But scientists at Thiruvananthapuram-based Center for Earth Science Studies (cess) believe sea walls affect the entire hydrodynamics of the coast, causing mass migration of fish. They actually hinder sediment travel, leading to severe erosion on their leeward side. "The best coastal protection strategy is to preserve the beach by distancing all developmental activities and creating a buffer zone for the interplay of land and sea," says cess 's director. cess has also repeatedly urged the state government to strictly implement Costal Regulation Zone controls. The Mutunayagam Committee on Disaster Mitigation appointed by the state government to assess the post-tsunami scenario has also suggested that sea walls should be constructed only after detailed scientific consultations.

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