Degradation of Chennai coast: Part I

“Who do we complain to, when the perpetrator is the government”

How unplanned industrial development, initiated by the Government, has wreaked havoc resulting in loss of ecology and livelihood of the fishing communities along the Chennai coast. Pritha Mallick and Sneha find out in this two part series.

Chennai

“If the natural flow of the river is disrupted, how do you expect the ecology of the region to sustain?” says K. Saravanan, a Chennai-based fisher activist who is part of the Save Ennore Creek Campaign.

The Ennore creek region, located in Tiruvallur district, has been the front focus of environment activism in Chennai. Over the past few years, activists like Saravanan who have played a major part in making the public aware of unplanned industrial developments, says that the fight has a long way to go.

Despite environmental protection laws under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 2011 (CRZ I- ecologically sensitive area in the coastal zone management plan by the Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority), Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986; according to the fisherfolk community, pollution in the Ennore creek region has severely affected their livelihood.

“There are 500 families that are dependent on seafood for their survival. Over the years, the quantities of fishes have been severely affected. Fishes like the Kanakalatha (Indian mackerel) that used to come to the creek in summers are not found anymore. Fishes cannot survive in this water anymore because of the hot water released by the Ennore Thermal Power Station,” said Mani* a fisherman from Nettukuppam.


The wetland’s ecological damage has been caused due to dumping of dredges material, leakage of ash slurry, ash pond deposits, encroachments on fish farms and increased siltation. The river flow has also been disrupted due to bridges, discharge of coolant water, petrochemical effluents and domestic sewage.

However, government interventions such as the recent Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) and Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Financial Services Ltd’s Baseline studies conducted by a private consultant agency, Voyants, on February 14, 2019 revealed that majorly polluting metals like mercury, arsenic, lead, etc were reported to be ‘within the standards’ according to Schedule 2 of the Hazardous Wastes Rules, 2008.

Apart from this, instances such as the proposed road expansion of North Chennai Thermal Power Station road as well as Kamarajar Port’s railway line expansion have raised questions about the lack of implementation of the CRZ regulations.

The fisherfolk community and activists have denied the legitimacy of such reports and have claimed that the Consent to Establishment (CTE) given to such initiatives is a glaring example of CRZ violations.
“These reports are made out of a single day field visit. Their data lacks comprehensive studies and only conclude the result they want to project,” says Saravanan.

Complaining against administrative and government authorities are one of the major setbacks to the community as the alleged perpetrators such as the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS), Ennore Thermal Power Station (ETPS), and Tamil Nadu Energy Company Limited (NTECL) are government owned.

“When the perpetrators are government owned companies, who do we complain to,” asks RL Srinivasan, a fisher activist from Kattukuppam.

However activists claim that the ubiquitous nature of such incidents has been taking place over the last 23 years of Tamil Nadu’s industrial quest for development.

According to a RTI filed by the Vettiver Collective, a Chennai based organisation, the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) map of the Tiruvallur district made in 1996 demonstrated a detailed illustration of the 16 Km stretch of the coastal wetland region. However, a similar map made a year later not only eliminated major river areas, but also reduces the stretch into 13 Km in the illustration.

According to the organisation, because of this, the construction of NTECL, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), the coal yard and other such plants were illegally allowed to build on the creek. The lack of implementation and accountability of laws have enhanced the illegal industrial development of ports and coal based thermal plants.

*name changed per request