Natarajan calls for corpus fund to tackle sea oil spills

Mumbai, June 20 (IANS) Union Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan Thursday called for setting up a corpus fund to help quick response to oil spills in the sea and protecting India's fragile coastal eco-system.

In the recent past, there have been frequent incidents of leakages of crude from broken ships or from oil company pipelines on India's west coast. However, the cleaning up operations post-spills often get delayed due to lack of clarity on who would bear the costs, she noted.

"A corpus fund would come in handy under such circumstances and the cleaning-up operations could begin immediately, thereby limiting damage to the environment," Natarajan told media persons after reviewing the existing safety systems of agencies concerned to tackle the issue.

The outgo from the fund would be reimbursed once the compensation liability is established and claims are settled, she added.

Natarajan said the corpus fund size, pattern of funding and other details would be finalized after consultations with all stakeholders and discussing this with the prime minister.

In this context, the minister said that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board has had some experience in dealing with multiple oil slicks during 2010 and the model would be studied in-depth.

Natarajan informed media persons that at present as many as 40 ships are stranded at different locations off the Indian coast, including two just off Mumbai.

She assured that there is "no immediate danger" of any kind from these ships, as the shipping authorities are monitoring the entry-exit of ships in Indian waters by following well-laid out guidelines.

Natarajan underlined the need for strong environmental laws to deal with shipping vessles that damage India's delicate coastal environment, including provisions within the laws to establish criminal liability.

She asked the Central Pollution Control Board and state pollution control boards to review the status of existing pipeline networks at major ports to identify vulnerable areas that would require replacement or upgradation.

In this context, Natarajan advised oil companies to upgrade their existing pipelines with monitoring systems like SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) to regularly check the health of the networks.

She also stressed that environmental measures for control of pollution in handling materials in ports should be strictly adhered to.

The minister's meeting was attended by senior officers of her ministry and the state environment department, the Directorate General of Shipping, the Mumbai Port Trust, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, the Indian Coast Guard, Bharat Petroleum Corp, Hindustan petroleum Corp, and the Oil and Natural Gas Commission.

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