The encroachment of water bodies and violation of environmental laws are leading to the loss of mangrove creeks and pollution in the backwaters and rivers in Chennai, state capital of Tamil Nadu. As a result, the fishing community adjoining the Kosasthalaiyar river in Ennore continues to lose their livelihood due to the encroachment and pollution.
The alleged offender is the state run Tamil Nadu Electricity Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO).
The construction of a new bridge to the ash pond on an alternate route through water bodies from the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) and the new conveyor corridor from the Kamarajar port to the Ennore Special Economic Zone (SEZ) have come under the scanner for violations.
The fishermen of the locality held protests on Monday against the violations along with the ‘Save Ennore Creek’ movement and environmental activists. They have demanded for the Tamil Nadu government to remove illegal constructions and restore the livelihood of the fishing community.
‘WATER BODY FILLED WITH DEBRIS’
The NCTPS run by the TANGEDCO is constructing a new bridge to mount the fly ash pipeline from the thermal plant to the ash pond. Environmental activists allege that the organisation is dumping debris in the Kosasthalaiyar river to cover the pillars of the bridge constructed for carrying ash from the stage-3 unit of the NCPTS.
"Construction and demolition debris is being dumped in the river for the construction work to progress", said Nityanand Jayaraman, writer and environmental activist based in Chennai.
Image: Demolition debris dumped into the river
The TANGEDCO is also being accused of not obtaining permission to construct the bridge for the fly ash pipeline. “The project does not have permission under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification or the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) notification. It does not have the consent as mandated in the Air and Water Act”, Nityanand claimed.
The construction of such a bridge and encroachment of the water bodies will end up harming and blocking the tidal wave flow, affecting the ecology, activists say.
However, the Chairman and Managing director of TANGEDCO assured the removal of the debris from the river, the Save Ennore creek campaign alleged no action has been taken so far.
CONVEYOR CORRIDOR DAMAGING CREEKS
Another violation is allegedly taking place in the Ennore SEZ, where a 2,650 MW coal power project work is in progress. The bridge to carry coal from the Kamarajar port to the SEZ is being constructed on a deviated route.
Nityanand questioned the change of route because the permission for construction was obtained in 2014 avoiding the water bodies. “The construction is progressing in a different route running through water bodies. This would end up damaging the mangrove creeks, which are vital for the region during floods,” he said.
Image: Map showing the original and altered route of the bridge under construction.
Though the minister for electricity claimed that the construction is as per approved the plan and legal, the GPS mapping by the Save Ennore Creek campaign of the location has found that the route has indeed been altered.
“More than 15 acres of wetlands have already been lost including 1.1 acres of prime fishing habitat in Kosasthalaiyar river. The alignment will claim additional 2.4 acres of river if continued including mangrove if continued”, Nityanand claimed in a tweet.
FISHERFOLK HOLD PROTEST
The fisherfolk gathered at the protest site condemning the violation of rules and threat to water bodies and mangrove creeks. More than 200 men and women travelled in their fishing boats to Konamudukku creek, where the alleged illegal construction by the TANGEDCO is in process.
“The construction of the bridge is carried out by filling the river. Our livelihood is getting affected by such actions since the river and backwaters are polluted. The iron pipelines rust over time and the poisonous water damages the water bodies,” Kumaresan, a fisherman said.
The fishing community urged the government to dredge the water bodies filled with ash and debris to ensure their livelihood is saved from further deterioration. The water bodies in the region are vital for the water security and flood management of all of Chennai.
The fishing community depending largely on the fish catch from the Kosasthalaiyar river and the backwater region suffers the most from the pollution of the water bodies. They say the leakages from the pipelines carrying water mixed with ash from the unit to the ash pond and the failure of removing the bottom fly ash have led to the contamination affecting the fish species as well.
“More than 100 acres of river has been choked with ash from leakages of pipelines. The prawns in the regions seem to have undergone serious mutations and the fishermen call them ‘ash prawns’ which are inedible”, said Nityanand.
Image: White prawn and Ash prawn (right)
The direct discharge of water mixed with ash to the Kosasthalaiyar river is the major factor contributing to the pollution. TANGEDCO obtained permission for the stage 3 unit of the NCTPS by assuring the Union ministry on collection and sale of dry ash and bottom ash to cement and brick manufacturing companies.
Image: Ash mixed water discharged directly to the Kosasthalaiyar river
“Instead of complying to the condition of 100% reusage of the filtered water from ash ponds, the ash mixed water has been discharged into the river directly for the past 20 years. Electricity is a necessity, but what about water?”, quipped Nityanand.
ENCROACHMENTS HAVE INCREASED SINCE 2017
T M Krishna, noted carnatic musician and activist, visited the region and found the encroachments being increased despite the protests and objections form the civil society and the fishing community.
“I visited this place four years back for a song titled ‘Porambokke’ (encroachment) to create awareness on the necessity to save the mangrove and the plight of the Ennore people. The encroachments have only increased since then,” he said in a video after visiting the site along with Prof Janakarajan, retired professor of Madras Institute of Developmental Studies (MIDS) and G Sundarajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of Nature).
“The government must ensure the illegal construction is stopped and the ecology of the river is ensured. The languishing fishing community must be compensated adequately”, Nityanand demanded.