Oil spills call for legal, technical fix

  • The recent oil spill off the Chennai coast has exposed the lack of preparedness and accountability on the part of Indian agencies.
  • In fact, the slow and ineffective response also reveals a lack of appreciation of the environmental and public health fallout of accidents/incidents of this nature and of organisational preparedness.

Government Intervention:

  • It is important to note that since the mid-1990s, India has a National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan.
  • The plan is clear in setting out the responsibilities of the Coast Guard, state and central governments and local authorities.
  • The Coast Guard is the nodal agency for the security of territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone, including of the coastal environment.
  • It not enough to have a contingency plan, the Coast Guard needs to have the competence to respond to devastating emergencies such as oil spills.

The Way Forward:

  • The focus needs to be on monitoring movement, augmenting information collection, proper training and ensuring that the Coast Guard is well-equipped to handle such situations.
  • To this end, the Coast Guard must be supported through appropriate statutory backing and proper funding.
  • The Coast Guard is the nodal agency for the security of territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone, including of the coastal environment.
  • Parliament must pass the amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act to ensure compliance to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001.