Fishy project

SANE counsel seems to have finally prevailed upon the judiciary arbitrating on culturing exotic fish in the Andaman & Nicobar (A&N) islands, It all began when the island administration granted a licence nearly one and half years ago, to an entrepreneur organisation called Lakshadweep Shilpi Aquaculture Ltd to introduce two exotic fish species - the European Sea Bass and the Guilt-head Sea Brearn - to be cultured in huge cages placed in the sea. However, the licence was granted without conducting any environmental impact assessment and also without obtaining prior clearance from the Union ministry of environment and forests.

Arguing that the move could spell disaster for the islands' indigenous fish stock - as the exotics were predatory in nature - the NGO, Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE) alongwith other environmental groups, mounted a campaign against the administration's decision. But as there, was no un mediate action by the island administration, SANE took the matter to the Port Blair High Court and filed a public interest litigation.

Following this, the Court ordered the A&N administration to file an affidavit on the issue, which the latter did not obey. Next, the Court ordered an expert committee to be constituted to probe the matter. Says Pratibba Panday, a New Delhi-based environmentalist, "The Sea Bass is the most successful species of its family because of its aggressive nature. Bringing in such a species to the Andamans would mean endangering the existence of the local fish and other marine species, some of which are endemic to the island waters."

However, the expert committee failed to take off because the Andaman administration seemed to have other fish to fry. On the other hand, for exotic fish breeding, construction work and laying of pipelines started in full swing, and that too, barely within 200 in of the high tide line along the A&N coast, which is against the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules framed tinder the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Nearly Rs six crore has already been spent on the project. Sensing danger, SANE then sounded its warcry, this time to be heard by the Government of India.

V Krishnamoorthy, director of fish-cries, A&N, filed an affidavit on behalf of the Centre on December 15, 1995, stating that the A&N administration had not acceded to its order which stated that the exotic fish culture project must be stalled considering the deleterious impact it would have on the marine life of the istands' waters.

Justice A K Chakraborty of the Calcutta High Court Circuit Bench at Port Blair, in a landmark judgement, stayed the implementation of the project on December 22, 1995, on these very grounds. This is the first instance where the Indian government carne forward to support an NCO against one of its own agencies. And it is expected that the case, the first of its kind, will set a precedent to arbitrations on other cases of a similar nature.

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