A Committee constituted by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has held Cochin Port Trust (CPT) responsible for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification. The panel alleged that the CPT reclaimed Vembanad lake which is classified as a Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area in the CRZ 2011 notification.

The four-member committee raised the allegation while looking into a complaint filed by N Ramachandran, a native of Aluva and accused port trust of flagrant reclamation of vast stretches of intertidal zones and backwaters with dredged sediments from shipping channels for the last several years. 

The panel also pulled up the port trust for illegally reclaiming land at Bolgatty Island and allotting it to Lulu group on lease for setting up a convention centre and hotel. The Southern part of Willington Island and Vallarpadam Container Terminal are specific examples of illegal reclamation by CPT, the panel said. 

The findings were made on the basis of imagery observations, and the members stated that the reclamation of intertidal zone and backwaters at Vallarpadam took place in 2011 while Willington Island was reclaimed after 2005. 

Reclamation of Vembanad Lake can lead to large-scale damages. Port trust did not obtain clearance for reclaiming the lake, and it is in violation of CRZ provisions. A thorough probe is needed to identify the reclamation by CPT over the past several years. The Port Trust has reclaimed more areas in Kochi backwaters without obtaining permission from Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority or MoEF, the panel said. 

It was also found that such activities will affect the ecological health of Vembanad lake which is a Ramsar site with a very sensitive ecosystem, a protected wetland system and a Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area. 

Responding to the report CPT chief engineer G Vaidyanathan said that the findings of the panel are incorrect and the port trust was not informed about the formation of such a panel.

However, the panel has, in its report, noted that Susarla, one of its members had interacted with chief engineer and secretary of CPT on April 28, 2016. 

The observations become relevant in the wake of findings that extent of backwaters has reduced significantly owing to encroachments and reclamations.