CHENNAI: The sprawling mudflats and isolated mangroves of the Ennore Creek ecosystem are shaping up to be the potential site of a battle between eco-activists and the Kamarajar Port Trust. Several of Chennai’s environmentalists have come out strongly against the ongoing reclamation of portions of area by the port. Activists allege that the reclamation of land along the Buckingham Canal and the Kosathalaiyar River is illegal, destructive of the Creek’s ecology, and being done without requisite clearances from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
Five sites along the aforementioned area have been identified by the port authorities for dumping dredged sand from inside the port. According to them, the dumped sand is being used to reclaim low-lying land between the two water bodies for use of the port, including storage areas, warehouses, parking spaces, etc. However, this dumping has been termed by eco-activists illegal. According to K Saravanan of the Coastal Resource Centre, all the areas being reclaimed come under the classification of Coastal Resource Zone and are part of waterbodies that cannot be developed upon.
“These are actual mangroves, mudflats and other areas that come under waterbodies, according to the Coastal Zone Management Plan,” he points out. Noted environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman also says that the port has initiated reclamation and is dumping without clearance from the MoEF&CC.
“They had applied for approval of their latest Masterplan for port development only in October. But they have initiated dumping and reclamation without the approval. The purpose is to make this illegal reclamation a fait accompli,” he says.
The port, however, rubbishes the allegations.
Chairman and Managing Director M A Bhaskarachar says that the five areas identified by environmentalists are not water bodies and permits for their reclamation were acquired earlier. “These areas do not come under the Masterplan proposal that we have sent for approval to the MoEF&CC. These are lands that we purchased from the Salt Department for almost `500 crore.”
“We have acquired permits for the dumping and reclamation of these areas. Moreover, we have used Anna University experts to check and these come outside the 50 m limit of the high tide line,” he claims. “In fact, the Centre has actually asked us to reclaim more lands,” he says.
For Saravanan, this does not seem likely or even if true, not relevant. “All these areas are part of the Final Master Plan they have submitted to the MoEF&CC. And anyway, these are all waterbodies and you cannot reclaim protected water bodies,” he points out. “These areas become inundated when water rises, and are mudflats, mangroves etc. Also, the law says that you cannot build anything without environmental clearance within 500 m of the high tide line of the sea. All these come under this,” he adds.
The issue is also complicated by CMDA Master Plan – 2026 for the same area, which shows it as a land area classified as CRZ-II and a Special and Hazardous Industrial Zone. Environmentalists’ allegations that these areas form an integral part of the ecology of Ennore Creek are backed by accounts of fishermen. The site that has witnessed the most dumping and reclamation, right opposite the North Chennai Thermal Power Station Gate, is cited as a prime area where prawn spawn.
“This is where we see extensive prawn spawning when it is filled with water. If these are filled up and built upon, the birth rate will go down. We are already seeing this from the progressively reducing size of our catches,” says P Meghanand, a fisherman from one of the local hamlets. Three hamlets with more than a 1,000 families, fish in the area.