[For a summary of the report, simply visit here and sign the petition.]
Ten lakh residents of Chennai are at a high risk of being submerged in water as the government of Tamil Nadu has permitted the Kamarajar Port to convert 1,000 acres of Ennore wetlands into an industrial real estate.
This despite the 2015 Chennai Floods following which the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs said in its report, “encroachment of lakes and river beds played a major role in causing massive flood in Chennai.”
Environment and social activist Nityanand Jayaraman wrote in Hindustan Times that in June this year, the government of India-owned Kamarajar Port Ltd (KPL) sought and obtained permission from the State Coastal Zone Management Authority to construct car parking terminals, coal yards and free trade warehouse zones by reclaiming several hundred acres of the Ennore Creek. This in addition to 1,090 acres already illegally diverted to accommodate industrial installations belonging to central Public Sector Units (PSUs) Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum and coal ash dump by NTECL, a centre-state joint venture involving NTPC Ltd and Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO).
Referring to this, a man who is representing the voice of Chennai says in this video, “It is not the real estate mafia that has encroached Ennore, but public sector companies under the Central government.”
KPL’s proposal is pending clearance with the expert appraisal committee of the Union Environment Ministry, while NTECL’s proposal to further expand its coal ash dump within the creek remains pending with the state government pollution control board. If approved, the construction would not only damage the wetland completely but also put at risk 10 lakh residents and critical infrastructure, including a petroleum refinery, to disastrous flooding.
The main threat is from River Kosasthalaiyar which exists to sea through the 8,000 acre backwaters of the Ennore Creek – its catchment is four times that of Adyar (528 km sq) and Cooum drainage (400 km sq) areas combined. Chennai’s survival depends on what how it treats Kosasthalaiyar and Ennore Creek.
Lack of government responsibility
In an article published in BBC after the 2015 Chennai floods, social activist Nityanand Jayaraman had said, “The floods are a wake-up call for India’s teeming cities that were built with the expectation that the environment would adjust itself to accommodate the need for the city to grow.”
Former Chief Minister Jayalalitha iterated that damage during monsoon was “inevitable”, normalising human-made disaster. The fact remains that Chennai floods because exists for excess water are choked with the filling up of lowlands and stormwater drains, etc.
Illegal constructions have spawned across the city, making neighbourhoods unrecognizable. What may have been a tank, lake, canal or river 20 years ago, is today the site of multistory residential and industrial structures. Over 300 water bodies have disappeared from Chennai in the last few years.
The chief secretary, the State Disaster Management Authority, the environment secretary have all been approached to direct KPL to build its facilities on dry land instead of the river, writes Jayaraman. None has acted. Worse, the Environment Secretary to the government of Tamil Nadu actually recommended KPL’s proposal to build inside the Ennore wetlands for clearance.
A petition in The Action Network is urging the government to save Chennai by saving Ennore. It makes the following requests:
Directing Kamarajar Port, NTECL or any other entities to avoid any further encroachment on any portion of the Ennore Creek.
Directing NTECL to restore the areas already encroached for expansion of its ash pond in Vallur, and Kamarajar Port to restore the areas encroached for setting up its coal yard and free trade warehouse zone.
Dredging the Cochrane Canal and the Buckingham Canal to their original depths, and restoring the Paraval or backwaters.
The Logical Indian urges the government of Tamil Nadu and the union environment ministry to not ignore the inevitable threats that come with converting Ennore Creek into an industrial real estate area. Development which comes at the cost of livelihood, 10 lakh in this case, isn’t development at all. In the 2015 floods, more than 400 people died and the KPL project will be a repetition of history.