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6 February 2017 Question Bank


6th FEBRUARY 2017


 (1 Question)

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.




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.

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.
  • 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.


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