Chennai, March 28: The High Court recently identified 202 pieces of property illegally registered on the Pallikaranai marshland. It has also directed the State Forest Department, the Chennai Metro Development Authority and Chennai Corporation to adjudge the viability of fencing the entire marsh. However, environmental activists remained skeptical.
Arun Krishnamurthy, founder for the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), said that though there were similar orders in the past that were not implemented, this recent ruling is a welcome move in light of the recent incidents in Pallikaranai.
Pallikaranai, which originally had about 50 sq.kms of water spread, has been reduced–over the last 30 years–to five sq.kms due to illegal land filling, encroachments to set up educational institutions, housing complexes and IT firms and setting up garbage and sewage dumps.
“I doubt the court order will ever get implemented. Even if it does, the government won’t do anything to the existing buildings. Only the poor people will be evicted,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist. He further added, “The government is actively parceling out pieces of Pallikaranai for new developments. They are not doing anything to conserve it; on the contrary they are making the marshland disappear.”
Pallavaram-Thuraipakkam Road, which goes straight through the middle of the marshland, paints a distinct picture of the encroachment. On one side of the road, the marshland, horizon-ed and perimeter-ed by tall buildings remained clear of any human touch. There, migratory birds like Little Grebe, Grey Heron and Indian Pond Heron rested in the ankle-deep water. On the other side of the road though, a portion of the marsh had been turned into a garbage dump. There, the remaining area was mostly parched.
In 2015, the government built a storm water drain directly connecting the sea to prevent flooding in the nearby area of Velachery. This depleted the water level in the marsh, where earlier, excess rainwater from tanks used to flow in, said Jayaraman.
“There was previously 50 sq. kilometers of standing water throughout the area, this benefitted the locals immensely,” said Jayaraman. The constant encroaching has affected the benefits of Pallikaranai like regulation of microclimate, recharging of ground water, floodwater mitigation and balancing the biodiversity, he added.
“Large population of the State is unaware of this marshland, probably that’s why the continuous neglect has been going on and we can see the result of it,” said Arun.