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23 February 2017 Question Bank


23rd FEBRUARY 2017 


(2 Questions)

Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.

Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.


1.    The recent oil spill disaster along the Tamil Nadu coast off Ennore port has taken a toll on the environment. Critically examine the disaster response.

(Repeat Question from 6th February 2017 Question Bank)




The disaster:

  •  MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram had collided in the early hours on January 28, 2017 off Kamarajar Port Limited’s (KPL) harbour in Ennore, Tamil Nadu and one of the ships, which was carrying 32,813 tonnes of oil, had suffered damage, leading to the spill.
  •  The Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) has estimated that about 20 tonnes of oil may have leaked when the vessels collided.
  •  About 43 kms of the Tamil Nadu coastline may have been affected, the agency added.
  •  The M.T. Dawn Kanchipuram, was carrying 32,813 tonnes of oil as cargo, though in a statement, Kamarajar Port authorities said it was engine oil and not cargo oil, that had leaked.
  •  Several dead turtles and hatchlings coated with the black oil were washed ashore and discovered among the boulders.

Underplaying the disaster:

  •  The consequent oil spill, the disaster that is unfolding in the name of containment and remediation, and the hurry to declare the clean-up operation complete raise questions that go beyond the incident.
  •  Denial, downplaying and buck-passing are standard disaster response protocol that have stood the test of time from Bhopal to Kodaikanal to the Chennai floods.
  •  Despite the visibly oil-coated coastline, the Coast Guard, KPL and various ministers have sought to underplay the disaster by referring to the spill as minor or a non-incident, and its environmental effects as negligible, nil or temporary.
  •  It has been claimed within a week, “Over 90% of the work has been completed and most of the residual work is expected to be over in a couple of days.”
  •  It was announced that ‘super suckers’ have removed 54 tonnes which contained 70 per cent water.

National Oil Spill-Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP)

  •  It was sanctioned in 1993, drafted in 1995 and adopted in 1996.
  •   In the two decades since then, the plan has routinely been updated and revised to reflect the latest in international safety and regulatory standards. Evidently, the only thing it reflects is a complete failure in action.
  •  The Indian Coast Guard has been demanding, for over 20 years now a State contingency plan from States.
  •  This was reiterated as recently as August 2016 in the 21st annual meeting of the NOS-DCP and during the most recent meetings of the State Coastal Zone Management Authority. Despite this, Tamil Nadu has not furnished such a plan.
  •  For the past three years, the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board has been working on a draft for the plan. The State now needs to tell its people why a local contingency plan has not been put in place. The regulatory deficit is so glaring that no probe is required to prove it.

Handling hazardous waste:

  •  This nonchalance towards a toxic, inflammable chemical cocktail has emboldened the state to deploy untrained, bucket-wielding student volunteers, fishermen and conservancy workers to handle toxic oil with inadequate protective gear.
  •  Petroleum oils are complex mixtures of chemicals that are toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent in the environment. Some, like benzene, are known human carcinogens. They enter the body through inhalation, ingestion and the skin.
  •  An oil spill clean-up is a hazardous waste remediation exercise. But the world watched as Chennai’s youth rolled up their sleeves and scooped the oily emulsion bare-handed by the bucketful.
  •  No advisories on the toxicity of the spilled material have been issued.
  •  No prosecution has been launched for violation of environmental laws by various agents.
  •  If this is how hazardous waste is cleaned in full view of the world, one wonders what crimes will be committed while cleaning up sites like the Bhopal factory, Unilever’s mercury-contaminated site in Kodaikanal, or the DDT-laced soils of Hindustan Insecticides in Eloor, Kerala — that are off-limits to citizens.

Clean-up complete?

  •  In 1996, Union Carbide handed over its factory to the Madhya Pradesh government stating that the clean-up was complete. Twenty years later, the site remains contaminated and begging for a real clean-up.
  •  In Ennore too, the Coast Guard has been threatening to complete the clean-up in a couple of days — less than 10 days from when it commenced.
  •  Ending the clean-up should not be determined by the stamina of the executing agency, but by the results of post-remediation assessments.
  •  Containment and damage control must continue until the damage is contained and not stopped at an arbitrary time fixed by the authorities.
  •  The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services’ (INCOIS) computer model on the first day of the spill estimated that for a 20-tonne spill at this time of the year at Ennore, more than 60% would be beached by the end of the ninth day.
  •  What has been removed is the weathered oil and sludge from the nearshore sea and the accessible parts of the intertidal area. The rocks remain covered with oil, and the gaps between rocks filled with toxic oily residues.
  •  Standard practice is to use warm high-pressure water and foams to remove oil from such terrain.
  •  Given that only buckets were in evidence, it is safe to assume that KPL or the Coast Guard do not have what it takes to clean spills that affect such rocky shores.

What is normal?

  •  Even after a thorough job of removing the beached oil, talking about a return to normal is problematic. Chennai’s seas and the Ennore Creek were in a state of crisis prior to the spill. The spill is the latest in a series of insults on the estuarine and marine habitats.
  •  KPL — a key agent in the unfolding drama — is dumping dredged sand onto salt pans that are part of the Ennore wetlands.
  •  The petrochemical industries in Manali are discharging tonnes of oily chemical effluents into the creek and the sea. The power plants in the area are discharging their coal ash and hot waste water into the wetlands. Our regulators know all this and do nothing to enforce the law.
  •  It is this normal that is being offered to us at the culmination of the clean-up.
  •  This governance deficit needs to be fixed if we are to avert the death of our life-support systems through the slow-motion disaster of day-to-day pollution or shock incidents like oil spills.

Sludge burying hazardous:

  •  More worrying are reports of sludge having been buried in neighbouring hamlets, where seven pits containing oil sludge were found.
  •  Further burying was stopped only after local residents protested.
  •  It is horrifying to think that the ship owner/agent actually tried to dispose off the sludge waste among the very community most affected by the spill, and despite grave hazards to their health and safety.
  •  Are the authorities complicit in this? If not, they were certainly negligent in allowing this to happen.

More ecological damage

  •  Reports indicate that the slick has spread to Cuddalore in the south, will soon reach the Pichavaram mangroves and then northwards to affect the Pulicat mangroves.
  •  The compromising of mangroves would be a disaster of epic proportions.


  •  While culpability and compensation matters are being legally thrashed out as the matter is before the National Green Tribunal, the State and Central governments are duty-bound to keep the public informed.
  •  Let the public know how much damage has occurred, where and whether the damage continues. What are the safety precautions that have to be taken now, and for how long?
  •  Sharing of information honestly is the very least that the public expects from its governments.
  •  Those in authority, officials and otherwise, who are guilty of criminal negligence must be brought to book. The culpable owners/crew should be severely penalised. It must ultimately be ensured that the polluters pay an exemplary price for their sins.



1.   The problem of pit emptying must become central to India’s efforts to eliminate open defecation.  Elaborate.


  •  Both Ambedkar and Gandhi protested the practice of untouchability by encouraging upper castes to deal with their own waste
  •  It’s now well established that the history and continuing practice of untouchability plays an important role in explaining why there is so much open defecation in India.

Why latrines not used by Rural Indians:

  •  Rural Indians do not want to use the latrines promoted by the Indian government because these latrines require periodic manual pit emptying.
  •  Studies find that many rural Indians associate emptying a latrine pit by hand with manual scavenging, work that Dalits have traditionally been compelled to do.
  •  Caste Hindus refuse to empty latrine pits themselves, and hiring someone else to do it is now expensive and complicated.
  •  This is in part because, thankfully, the exploitation and exclusion of Dalits is slowly being challenged in India, and many have abandoned degrading work.
  •  People want to use latrines with very large pits or tanks that take decades to fill. Yet, latrines with very large pits are expensive, so most rural families cannot afford them.

The solution:

  •  The Indian government’s response to the problem of pit emptying is to promote affordable latrines with two pits.
  •  Having a second pit allows the contents of a full pit to decompose before being emptied.
  •  According to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 which made the employment of manual scavengers illegal, emptying human waste that has decomposed in a latrine pit is not considered manual scavenging, and is therefore not illegal.
  •  The two-pit latrine design is a technical and biological solution to the problems of open defecation and manual scavenging, but it does not address the social consequences associated with pit emptying.

The solution not sufficient:

  •  When we asked families in rural areas whether they would empty a decomposed pit by hand, the resounding answer was “no”.
  •  Most believe that emptying even a decomposed latrine pit would be ritually polluting and would cause them to become outcaste.

The way ahead:

  •  Secretary of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Parameswaran Iyer’s recent public display of latrine pit emptying was a really important step forward.
  •  We hope that this effort will not stop with the Secretary and that it will kick-off many pit-emptying demonstrations by everyone — from celebrities to village leaders — across the country.




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