Kamarajar Port Limited has begun removing material it had dumped on CRZ areas of the Ennore Creek this week.However, the removed material is being dumped on salt pans which are also wetlands belonging to the creek.
Following a tender the port had floated in December 2016, work for removal of dumped material on CRZ areas was initialised (see the full tender document here) .The tender document indicated an area close to the Ennore creek, behind a temple located at the banks of the creek for dumping of removed material. The area indicated has been marked as Salt Pans on the survey of India Toposheet. Salt pans are declared wetlands and any kind of reclamation/land filling is prohibited under National Wetland Rules. Parts of these salt pans also fall under CRZ I Areas where reclamation activities are not permitted. Kamarajar Port intends to convert these wetlands into real estate for the development of a Free Trade Warehouse Zone.
Ennore Creek mirrors scenes from the dystopian ‘Mad Max’ – a once-thriving region laid waste.
Today, if you visit Ennore Creek, there is none of that ecological harmony – instead, what you find is devastation. Over the years, the creek and Buckingham Canal had a number of interventions, the largest of which came in 1994, when the North Chennai Thermal Power Station at Ennore was commissioned.
What resulted in development for one part of Chennai led to the decline of communities closest to the site of progress. Several villages along the creek were relocated to its other side to accommodate the plant. At that time, one male member of each displaced family was guaranteed a job in the power station – but the employment lasted a generation, and the waste from the plant disfigured the creek.
With time, as more industries came up in the region, the creek’s natural carrying capacity shrank, raising the risk of floods and cyclones. The discharge from the plant also affected the communities’ health, causing skin allergies, respiratory illnesses and increased chances of cancer and tuberculosis.
Another disaster was the loss of fish because of contamination of the water. “Our wives have to buy fish from other villages and sell that in the market,” said a fisherman. “If people knew which village this fish came from, they will offer a very low price or even refuse to buy it. The water in this part of the creek contaminates the sea life. We can’t use it for our own consumption or rely on it for our livelihood.”
So, while the plant increased opportunities in the cities by providing them electricity, it stripped future generations of the fishing communities of assured livelihoods.
For kilometres around the power plant today, you can see smokestacks, something the plant is synonymous with. Along the creek, what appears to be a grey, sandy beach is really the even spread of fly ash, which has covered the mangrove at the end of the Buckingham Canal.
Despite the intervention of the National Green Tribunal, and protests by the fishing communities and civil society groups, the fly ash beach is expanding further into the mangrove, largely due to the leaks in the plant’s pipeline that pours out like a fountain stream.Read More »
Parshathy J Nath visits the Ennore creek, a waterbody in distress, and listens to the stories of fishermen as they relive the good old day. One part of the Ennore creek, covered with a layer of black mass, lies still like a corpse. Another channel of dark water, the Buckingham Canal, which carries petroleum effluents from Manali, runs a few kilometres from it. I am at Kattukuppam, a fishing hamlet in Ennore, North Chennai, with city-based environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman.
The creek, which drains the Araniyar and Kosasthalaiyar rivers, once ran unperturbed, carrying crystal-clear water. The Buckingham canal, a salt-water navigation system built in the 19th Century, was a treasure trove of fish. This is all just a memory now.
I look around to see the origin of this injustice — fly ash from a power plant in Vallur and a thermal power station have destroyed the river, its fish, and the livelihood and childhood memories of the fishermen.
Like everyone else in the city, I learned of the state of Ennore and its associated wetlands, thanks to the viral ‘Chennai Poromboke Paadal’ video featuring T.M. Krishna.
“Ennore is now a river in distress, begging to be saved. For years, nobody has paid any attention to it,” says Jayaraman, who has been tirelessly working with his eco-warriors for the last four years to save the area from encroachment by the Kamarajar Port that opened in 2001. He takes me around Mugatwarakuppam, Kattukuppam and Sivanpadai, the three fishing villages dependant on the river.
The smell of fish welcomes me into this village. Women squat on the ground with the early-morning catch, primarily prawns. There was a time when fishermen used to boast about Ennore fish and crab. Now, they hesitate to call guests over for a meal, because most of the fish are poisoned by the effluents. Ennore used to be a weekend getaway with sprawling vegetation during the Raj. “The first signs of pollution began in the 1980s, when industries in Manali released effluents into the Canal. Around the same time, waste from the Northern areas was sent down the Canal towards Ennore, along with downstream products from the sister associates of the Manali petrochemical industry.”
The state of the poromboke lands in Chennai signifies the deteriorating nature of its ecology. Saving them is important not just to preserve a tradition but also to safeguard growing urban spaces.
From its rather benign origins connoting a type of land classification, the term poromboke has transformed into something grotesque over the years. This term had been in use since the Cholas denoting stretches of land reserved for shared communal use which cannot be bought or sold. Tamils, who prided themselves on the richness of their culture assigned a special place for such poromboke lands which helped preserve the region’s ecological balance. Today, poromboke, however, is a mild cuss word for worthlessness and incompetence. How did this metamorphosis happen?
Noted social activist Nityanand Jayaraman traces the origin of the pejoration back to the times of the English East India Company and the British Raj. Poromboke essentially is a conjugation of two Tamil words–Puram meaning outside and pokku which refers to books of accounts. This included rivers and river banks, eris (irrigation tanks), grazing and pasture lands, kazhiveli (marshlands) and salt pans, among others. No single individual or group owned these lands and crops were usually not grown in the common poromboke lands. “As no revenue could be generated from such common lands, the Britishers termed it as wasteland—waste from a revenue point of view,” he says.
With respect diminishing over time, land use was modified to bring poromboke into the revenue fold. Now, Chennai proudly houses education institutions, office and industrial complexes on reclaimed marshlands and creeks. Rivers have turned into garbage dumps, tanks have been filled up to accommodate luxury villas and creeks have been reclaimed to house thermal power complexes. These are all essential buffers which keep the city safe from flooding. And with them gone, the city is all but exposed to the raw fury of nature. “When you consider the massive destruction of common lands, the floods of 2015 can no longer be termed unprecedented. It was very much a premeditated act,” says Nityanand.
The Vettiver Collective, a voluntary space to discuss and act on social and environmental issues, joined hands with noted Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna to highlight the continuing saga of ecological abuse in Ennore. Christened Chennai poromboke padal, the video, shot in and around the Ennore creek and its associated wetlands, questions our (both citizens and administration) understanding and attitude towards poromboke. “Poromboke translates to “commons” in English. But in Tamil, it’s a completely different deal altogether. And, this negativity reflects on how we view poromboke and how we have failed poromboke and the people whose lives are inextricably linked to them,” remarks Krishna.
Here are four prominent poromboke lands which, after having safeguarded Chennai’s ecology for decades, beg for attention now.
1. Ennore creek
One of the northern-most suburbs of Chennai city, Ennore has been termed Chennai’s “worst environmental crime scene”. Ennore’s air and water have been subject to constant pollution ever since the thermal power plants set up shop in the area. Pipes carrying fly ash from power plants dump their toxic contents in the Ennore creek on which the villagers from three neighbouring hamlets depend on for their livelihoods. As if this weren’t travesty enough, nearly 2000 acres of the wetland complex have been earmarked for reclamation under Chennai’s masterplan, converting vast stretches of the creek into prime industrial real estate.
Ennore creek’s disgrace is only the symptom, according to Nityanand. He squarely blames agencies such as the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA) and the Greater Chennai Corporation for inept administration and the many regulatory lapses which undoubtedly have scripted the great tragedy that Ennore is today.Read More »
Carnatic doyen TM Krishna joins forces with environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman to come up with Poromboke, a song that turns a common Tamil slur into a bold environmental and artistic statement
On the banks of Ennore Creek in Chennai, a breeze wafts in as Carnatic classical powerhouse TM Krishna, violinist HN Bhaskar, mridangam player Praveen Sparsh and BS Purushotham on the kanjira, look on with masks strapped to their faces. Just as the drone of the tanpura swirls and merges with their musical mindspaces, Krishna begins to sing Chennai Poromboke Paadal. Poromboke is a colloquial Tamil word and a pejorative intended to demean a person or place but classically, it also refers to the land that belongs to communities. “It’s our marshlands, our wetlands, grazing spaces, our lakes. Unfortunately, the former meaning is what we identify with,” says Krishna, who, in the song, directly links last year’s Chennai floods with poromboke lakes.
As Krishna sings, Poromboke is not for you, not for me/ It is for the community, it is for the earth, industrial smoke blackens the skies, and toxic fly ash flows into the water from thermal power plants. The video, running over nine minutes, is a song that turns a common Tamil slur into a bold environmental, social, political and artistic statement, which takes on the unconcerned government and corporate hunger.Read More »
A popular Indian classical singer stars in a new music video appealing for the protection of common land in Chennai city, amid an increasingly bitter fight over the use of communal lands for industry and development.
‘Chennai Poromboke Paadal’, or Chennai common land song, sung by Carnatic music vocalist T.M. Krishna, is about the destruction of Ennore creek in the southern Indian city.
While the world “poromboke” in Tamil originally meant community land, including water sources and grazing land, it has come to be used as a pejorative term for both people and places.
“Poromboke is in the margins, and people who are dependent on them are also relegated to the margins,” said environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman, who drew attention to the destruction of the creek, which activists say is being polluted by thermal power stations and a port.
“These lands are important to communities dependent on them, and are of great importance to the environment. But the word itself is now a dirty word, and it’s reflected in our devaluing of common lands,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Read More »
Karnatik Music Video Spotlights Ennore as Environmental Crime Scene
Noted writer Perumal Murugan today released an unusual music video titled “Chennai Poromboke Paadal” featuring T.M. Krishna that highlights the Ennore Creek as an environmental crime scene. Shot in and around the Ennore creek, the campaign film. Conceived by city-based environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman focuses on the encroachments by Kamarajar Port and the rampant flyash pollution by TANGEDCO. The video, which was directed by Rathindran Prasad of Kodaikanal Won’t fame, is unique in many ways. The song, written by up-and-coming singer, songwriter Kaber Vasuki, was originally sung as a Tamil rock song and later rendered to Karnatik by R.K. Shriramkumar. […]
To view the full Press Release in English : Click Here
While sundry development and infrastructure projects beautify the Chennai coastline, fishermen are left to fend for themselves.
Going by the statistics from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, India’s coastline is densely populated with 573 fishing villages along 13 coastal districts. The story is slightly different around the urban and peri-urban coastline, thanks to the ongoing gentrification of the urban coastline in most parts of India. Traditional fishing hamlets are slowly giving way to plush beachfront properties. Spaces frequented by fishers are often viewed as “eyesores” on pristine beach stretches. More often than not, the rights and livelihoods of fishing communities are often relegated to obscurity in comparison to coastal infrastructure and real estate development.
Recreation appropriating livelihoods
Chennai’s famed Elliot’s beach in Besant Nagar was once a thriving site for fish landing and sorting. Overtime, hygiene concerns of the walkers and joggers took precedence over the livelihood concerns of local fishers and now fishing activities are restricted between the broken bridge across the Adyar estuary and Urur Kuppam, north of Elliot’s Beach. This story is being repeated in the adjacent neighbourhood of Tiruvanmiyur. Recreation is slowly taking precedence over livelihoods. Tiruvanmiyur Kuppam, which was originally a fishing hamlet, has been transformed into one of the many upscale neighbourhoods along the east coast. Fishermen are no longer allowed to dry their catch along the shore as members of the East Coast Beach Walkers Association find it repulsive. Demands have been put forward by the association to ensure the beach stretch up to Kottivakkam Kuppam is freed of fish hauling and drying.
The men and women are not only losing their livelihood, but also their health.
Sitting along one of the several canals in Ennore, Saroja and Rajeshwari – both prawn catchers from Athipattu village – have called it a day at 8am. The tide was too high and the sludge (flyash mixed with water) from North Chennai Thermal Power Plant nearby made the creek too slushy for them to walk through. Old and fragile, they did not want to risk being washed away. On working days, they arm themselves with a woven basket that they hold between their teeth to bag prawns they catch by crawling in Ennore’s backwaters. Unable to afford nets, they use their hands to catch prawns. “When it is not high tide, the water is too low. With all the ash being dumped, we get stuck in it and there is barely any prawn to catch,” says Saroja, 60, but looking well over her age. “We stand in the shallow waters for eight hours a day but there is not much to catch,” she adds. On a typical day, they make Rs. 200.
Across the road from where the women were sitting run leaky pipes carrying sludge. The pressure inside gets the sludge to shoot up like a fountain, colouring cement roads yellow. The spectacle is common, villagers say. “These plants dump the ash without thinking about our sustenance or livelihood. Just ten years back, we could catch crabs, prawns and even fish in these canals. Now we are reduced to only prawns,” says Rajeshwari.
Ennore, in the northern outskirts of Chennai, has four villages and four coal-fired thermal power plants, apart from numerous fertilizer units. Apart from the hot water that is used by thermal power plants as coolants, flyash is mixed with water and the sludge is carelessly strewn in to the creeks. Fertilizer and petroleum-based industries add to the pollution by dumping oil waste.