Tata versus the Turtle

If TATA builds its port at Dhamra, Olive Ridley turtles will pay the ultimate price

Tata Motors is a subsidiary of the Tata Group and has become one of the largest manufacturers of commercial vehicles in the world – from Wikipedia:

Tata Motors was listed on the NYSE in 2004, and in 2005 it was ranked among the top 10 corporations in India with an annual revenue exceeding INR 320 billion. In 2004, it bought Daewoo’s truck manufacturing unit, now known as Tata Daewoo Commercial Vehicle, in South Korea. It also, acquired a 21% stake in Hispano Carrocera SA, giving it controlling rights in the company. Tata Motors launched the Tata Nano, noted for its Rs 100,000 price-tag, in January 2008.

In March 2008, it finalised a deal with Ford Motor Company to acquire their British Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) business, which also includes the Rover, Daimler and Lanchester brand names.

Tata’s launch of the low-cost Nano caused led to concerns over the pollution which would ensue from mass motorisation of India. To counter this Tata announced plans to produce an electric version of the Nano, named the E-Nano – whether that will come to market remains to be seen as the rumours about its production all seem to come from a single article in last year’s Auto Bild magazine.

More environmental controversy has arisen recently because Tata Group has decided to build what would be one of India’s largest ports at Dhamra less than 15 km from the turtle mass nesting beaches at Gahirmatha, and five kilometers from the Bhitarkanika National Park, India’s second largest mangrove forest and home to the saltwater crocodile.

Greenpeace India has been spearheading attempts to stop the development of the port and Greenpeace include a comprehensive backgrounder to the story of the port’s development to-date which includes what would appear to be a dirty tricks campaign by Tata against Greenpeace.

Greenpeace aren’t the only ones opposing the port’s development – the Orissa Traditional Fishworker’s Union, who represent the concerns and interests of over 100,000 fishermen, vocally and publicly opposed the construction of the port. The project has also invited criticism from over 200 national and international scientists, including over 30 experts of the IUCN’s marine turtle specialist group. And Global Response also has a campaign to stop the port construction.

The Greenpeace campaign with their Cheap car, Priceless turtle line is very effective though a little mis-directed seeing as it is parent company Tata Group, not Tata Motors which is involved in the project to develop the port.

Greenpeace has had a lot of success with online campaigns like this – witness the recent success of their campaign to get electronics giant Philips to take responsibility for the cost of recycling its own products.

It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out – will Tata simply ignore the opposition and steam ahead with their plans to build the giant port or will they take account of the environmental concerns and at the very least halt the construction to allow an independent Environment Impact Analysis take place. Frankly, I’m not hugely optimistic for the turtles.