Thousands of fishermen who rely on the Ennore creek for livelihood are being exposed to health hazards
Looking at his hand, you would think he is around 80 years old, but Veeramani, a fisherman from Sivampadal in Ennore, is not even 40 yet. Swollen and marked with lines, his hands, like the lives of many here, bear the brunt of accelerated industrialisation.
The creek, a vital source of livelihood for the fisher folk in around six villages, a big source of era meen as it has always been. But today when he digs into the waters he only finds fly ash from the nearby power plants. For the families across the villages in the area, the growth has meant loss of health, apart from livelihood. Skin infections and respiratory problems are rampant among the young and the old.
Factories pollute the creek
A Venkatesh, the president of the Fishermen’s Cooperative of Mugathwarakuppam village, says that as part of their work, they have to get into the river for studying the catch. “The water here has been polluted considerably by other factories nearby and the fly ash from the nearby power plants (NTECL Vallur Thermal Power Station and North Chennai Thermal Power Plant) has only worsened it for us. We can work just three days a week. We see a clear change in the water due to ash, chemicals, etc. Our era meen is now infamous for the pollution and there is barely any business. There are more than 12,000 dwellers and this has been their primary occupation for many generations now,” he says.
Women and kids worst affected
Women and children have been the worst affected. A discussion by The Coastal Resource Centre found out that women have had gynaecological issues and some of them suffer from acne and skin infections. Children develop nasal block very often after playing outdoors. P Vanam, head of Women’s Society in Mugathwarakuppam, says, “At least 10 of them have had a hysterectomy done.” A recent sample air pollution study by the centre also revealed that the particulate matter (PM) of heavy metals containing nickel, arsenic, manganese and lead were severe health hazards for those residing in the six villages.
Lack of healthcare facilities
“The lack of healthcare facilities makes it worse,” points out Pooja Kumar, coordinator, The Coastal Resource Centre. She says, “The nearest government hospital is Stanley Medical College and Hospital, or the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. There is just one public health centre for the entire North Chennai area. There is a huge lack of health infrastructure as there aren’t enough facilities for the kind of pollution nor is there any specialised treatment. Given the kind of asthma complaints, the health centre doesn’t have a nebuliser.”
She adds that while fishing in shallow river, one needs to get into the water especially during low tide. “The Ennore creek has been reduced to one foot in many places and the river has been silted with fly ash from the power plants nearby replacing mud sediments in riverbed. As a result, there are a number of skin problems among the dwellers,” she says.
Industrialisation affects livelihood
Interestingly, the Councillor of Ward Number 2 in Ennore, C Selvam, accepts that the power plants and unrestrained industrialisation have changed the situation for worse. “People once used to come from other parts of Chennai for the catch here, but today many fisherfolk are struggling to earn a living. Even 30 years ago, they used to earn Rs 150 a day, but now there is barely any income,” he adds.