This huge marshland stores water up to 35 feet deep and the surplus of few rivers and 33 lakes drain into this land. It is an important water source for Chennai.
Carbon dating has proved the ancient nature of Pallikaranai as it has been in existence for more than 3,000 years. It used to guard Chennai from drought with its huge capacity to hold rain water and sea water that enters the city.
As per the 1965 land survey, Pallikaranai spreads across 5,500 hectares but has shrunk to 600 hectares in 2013. Today, only 300 hectares of the land exist, that too as small mounds of islands struggling to breathe through the concrete structures that have occupied the area.
Marshlands are nature’s gift! They act as a bridge between the land and the sea. They are also secret reservoirs of water! They act as shock absorbers during floods, preventing disaster. They prevent soil erosion, reduce the effects of storms, floods and global warming. Six per cent of the total land mass in the world are marshlands.
They are found in 112 countries. Pitchavaram (near Chidambaram), Muthupettai (near Kodiyakarai), Pazhaverkadu and Pallikaranai (near Chennai) are marshlands in Tamil Nadu. Destroying marshlands is detrimental not only to humanity but to the whole bio-diversity.
Significant to environment
Around 160 different birds including common sandpipers, ruffs, wood sandpipers, yellow wagtail, garganey, northern shoveler, pelicans, flamingos, cranes from Indian and other foreign countries visit this place during season.
Pallikaranai has been protecting the biodiversity with several fish varieties including cat and carrot fish which breed here. Rare plant species, grass, insects, dragon flies and butterflies also live in this place.
Modern day disasters
Now, it has turned into a dumping ground for wastes and houses concrete structures. During summer the land dries up and cracks are visible, seemai karuvelam (Prosopis Juliflora) trees grow in abundance and have been a big obstacle for the birds and it has been reflecting in declining number of birds visiting this place.
The land and water get spoiled affecting the flora and fauna and the water table of the surrounding areas is also fast depleting. Because of these encroachments birds and aquatic organisms stray into human living spaces and get killed.
Encroachments on wet lands must be removed
J Chezhian (Environmental field worker)
This place has been handed over to the Forest department, but encroachments continue unabated. The huge mounds of garbage and stink prevent people from coming here to see birds. It is disheartening to see aquatic organisms clinging on to the compound walls of the residential complexes on encroached lands, due to lack of water. At least the remaining portion of this marshland has to be protected and encroachments have to be removed without any compromise
Shanmuganandam (Writer on environment)
Pallikaranai is an important water catchment area for Chennai with rich bio-diversity. But it has fallen prey to the city's expansion. This has to be stopped with an iron hand and encroachments removed. Encroachments along the approach channels have to be evacuated. Only then Chennai’s water table will rise
- 100 acres of more than 1,000 residential quarters of several central government offices including National Institute of Ocean Technology
- 110 acres of open garbage dumping yard
- Railway stations and rail tracks
- Bus stands and black topped roads
- Hundreds of IT companies, colleges and hospitals
- Supreme Court has suggested that every High Court should register cases suo motu to protect marshlands
- How 90% of the Pallikaranai marshlands was encroached came to light only when Madras High Court asked senior advocate P S Rajan to submit a report on encroachments in 2017
- Centre's expert committee on protecting traditional waterbodies, under the Jalsakthi Abhiyan scheme, has inspected Pallaikaranai
- During severe water shortage in Chennai, water from here is drawn and supplied through lorries
- During rainy season, water level rises up to the first floor of the residential quarters
- Encroaching Pallikaranai marshlands, several private companies have obtained loans from banks for construction. Only recently state government has enacted a law to stop bank loans for any construction on marshlands
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