Activists say that state and central public-sector undertakings (PSUs) spread over 1,090 acres have encroached upon the 8,000 acre Ennore Creek, as clearances had been issued following the unapproved map prepared by the Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS), rather than the government of India-approved Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) map, which has been suppressed until now.
The protocol for environmental clearances for larger projects such as power plants and coalyards state that the District Coastal Zone Management Authority (DCZMA) should consult the Coastal Zone Management Plan, approved by the government, to make recommendations to the State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA), which will relay it to the national committee. However, the map being consulted is not the government approved one, said Pooja Kumar, Researcher, Coastal Resource Centre, which procured a copy of the 1996 Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP).
“The CZMP is not being consulted while giving clearances. RTI inquiries show that the Tiruvallur District Coastal Zone Management Authority doesn’t have a copy of the approved CZMP CRZ-1 map. It also shows that CRZ maps prepared and approved by IRS are being used. There is a difference in High Tide Line (HTL) in these maps, where critically protected areas have been opened up for development. This has resulted in large industries coming up inside the Ennore Creek, which is a protected area under the Wetland Rules of 2010. This means that the CRZ procedures are being violated since 1996,” said the researcher.
This has resulted in 1,090 acres of the creek being lost to encroachments, as several thermal power plants, port and petroleum companies have been constructed in the CRZ-protected area. Environmental activists are pressing the government to declare the remaining acres of the Ennore creek as a ‘climate sanctuary’. Justice Hariparanthaman, retired judge, Madras High Court said that industries are needed. “But, ensure that these industries are not constructed in wetlands. Find alternative locations. One of the estuaries draining Chennai, apart from Kovalam, Adyar and Cooum, is Ennore. These encroachments have increased the flood risk during heavy rains and storm surges and aggravated the problem of seawater intrusion, which will affect four RK Nagar, Madhavaram, Tiruvottiyur and Ponneri. We need to stop further industrial expansion in Ennore and save our waterbodies,” said the former judge.
Citing the example of other countries, Prof R Nagendran, Member (Retd), National Green Tribunal, highlighted the need for planned development. “The United States of America has a ‘development atlas’, where types of industries have been identified and clearances issued, based on a plan. What we want is the current CRZ notifications to be followed here. If we do this, we are saving 60 per cent of our wetlands,” he said. Environmentalists, activists, social scientists, musicians and other individuals have written an open letter to the government, pressing for prevention of further encroachment. Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said that the damage done to the creek should be reversed. “The industries are expanding – the Kamarajar Port expansion requires 1,300 acres. The existing power plants have proposed expansion of their ash ponds. This needs to be stopped. We cannot restore the creek to the state it was before 1996. But it is possible to make the creek a capable flood carrier, storm-shock absorber and an effective fresh water barrier against salt water intrusion. There are multiple dividends to be gained by declaring it as a climate sanctuary,” he said, “After the floods and cyclone, there is a lot more receptivity from the officials. These disasters have conveyed the seriousness of the need to protect waterbodies. The intent is there,” added the activist.
From pristine to polluted waterbody
Old timers remember the Ennore creek as a waterbody, teeming with different varieties of fish, prawn and crabs, before the power plants came up and started systematically destroying the creek.
“The water in the creek used to be so clean that we could see our faces reflected on the surface,” recalled 67-year-old Anandan M, member of Kattukuppam Fishermen’s Cooperative Society. “Once the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) came up in 1996, parts of the creek were filled with stones and reclaimed to build bridges for transportation. Then fly ash pipes were laid, but they would leak systematically. This resulted in fly ash mixing with water and creating a sludge, which would end up in the creek. Earlier, the depth of the creek was around 10 feet in certain areas. but now, it is around 1-1.5 feet. We have protested and approached all officials, but nothing has been done to save the livelihood of fishermen. Instead, expansion of the power plants continue,” rued the former employee of an automobile venture.
A Venkatesh, President of Mugathwara Kuppam Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, recalled a time when there were myriad varieties of fish, prawn and crab species in the creek. Fishermen in the locality recall hauling catches worth Rs 3000-5000. The quality of catch used to be high. “The mangroves, where these species’ breed, have been destroyed, resulting in a decline in quantity of catch. The power plants let out hot water into the creek, driving away fish. There is fly ash being let into the waterbody. Today, the population of fish, prawn and crab species have come down drastically. The fishermen’s livelihood has been affected adversely,” said the 36 year-old fisherman.