Soon after Chennai floods turned into a deluge in December 2015, resulting in death and destruction, the city’s civil society mobilised into a ‘Citizens Platform’ and went through several brain-storming sessions. Participants, numbering over a thousand, were either victims of the deluge or had plunged in to rescue and relief work, when the state apparatus stood still.
They represented diverse sections of society from various parts of Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts.
Out of this intense interaction, a consensus evolved that the deluge was caused by a combination of factors, the most important being the large-scale destruction of nature’s right of way and storage by heavily emasculating waterways, water bodies, marshes and mudflats.
Based on people’s inputs, ‘Citizens Platform’ placed its demands before the government in April 2016. Prominent among these were:
1. Frame a visionary, regenerative water security policy and implement the same by prioritising the retrieval, rehabilitation, protection and maintenance of all water resources, associated common lands and water management structures.
2. Identify the large-scale encroachments by permanent structures constructed in marshes, mudflats, water-bodies, watercourses, their catchments, floodplains or associated common lands and other prohibited areas and have them removed.
3. Clear all obstructions such as accumulated construction debris or garbage and weeds from all types of waterbodies, waterways, stormwater drains and desilt them.
4. Undertake a review of large-scale projects under construction or proposed to be sited in inter-tidal zones, sand dunes, mudflats or other coastal common lands, to prevent adverse environmental impacts, including the threat to water security.
It is not known whether these have been acted upon. But what is known is that Government of Tamil Nadu has recommended to Union Ministry of Environment & Forests the Kamarajar Port Ltd’s proposal to convert portions of Ennore Creek into an industrial real estate and the same is pending with the Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee. A proposal by NTPC Tamil Nadu Energy Company Limited, Vallur, to further expand its coal ash dump by reclaiming the Creek is currently pending with the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. Both these are public sector units, the former owned by the Government of India, and the latter a joint venture between TANGEDCO and NTPC Ltd. These vast areas are mostly marshes and mudflats which are critical in flood control.
As is known, Ennore Creek absorbs floodwaters from Kosasthalaiyar and protects inland
areas from flooding by draining it through the creek. This river is much larger than Adyar and Cooum. With a catchment of 3800 square kilometres which is four times the combined drainage areas of Adyar and Cooum, this river empties into the sea through one mouth—the Ennore estuary at Mugatwarakuppam.
The existing encroachments have drastically reduced the backwater area of Kosasthalaiyar, in addition to blocking east flowing waters. This has resulted in many villages on the embankments of this river as well as areas on either side of t he Puzhal lake’s surplus channel getting badly flooded in 2015. The CPCL petroleum refinery was shut down due to flooding, as floodwaters from Manali could not drain through the swollen Kosasthalaiyar.
Nearly one million people were affected by this flood.
The Corporation of Chennai has proposed to spend hundreds of crores to build stormwater drains in the Kosasthalai river sub-basin.
This will be wasted if the mega drain (namely Ennore Creek) to which all stormwater is directed, is clogged and encroached. This will happen and there will be deluge in North Chennai if Ennore Creek shrinks any further, with buildings and ash-ponds. Will the state government realise this and rescind this action before it is too late? Let us keep our fingers crossed.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and an expert on urban planning