Did TN coastal management body conspire to divert land from Ennore creek to Kamarajar Port?

RTI queries have revealed that the coastal management body had used a fraudulent Coastal Regulation Zone map to facilitate KPL’s proposal

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A conspiracy is underfoot to divert land from the Ennore Creek for the expansion of the Kamarajar Port, environment activists have alleged.

On June 22 the  Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority (TNSCZMA) had cleared Kamarajar Port Ltd’s (KPL) proposal for diverting 1,000 acres of land to construct car parking terminals, warehouse zones and a coal yard within the Creek. This was done despite opposition from environmental groups, which highlighted the dangers of flooding due to encroachments on the Creek.

Now, RTI queries have revealed that the coastal management body had used a fraudulent Coastal Regulation Zone map to facilitate KPL’s proposal to divert the land from Ennore Creek. The discrepancy in the maps was revealed after receiving two RTI replies given by the Department of Environment.

The original 1996 map, obtained under RTI by Jesu Rathinam of Coastal Action Network, showed the 6,500 acre Ennore Creek as CRZ 1 – a protected tidal waterbody. The authority had allegedly failed to use the 1996 Government of India-approved CRZ map for evaluating proposals in Ennore Creek, had instead furnished a CRZ map said to be revised and approved by Government of India in 1997.

However, the latter map denied the existence of the Creek.

According to Jesu Rathinam, in the first RTI reply, a map provided by the Department of Environment showed 6,469 acres of the Creek to be a tidal waterbody protected as a No Development Zone under CRZ-I regulations.

Environmentalists fear that using the falsified map that denies the existence of the Creek could lead to the development of real estate on the creek.

“The map obtained by CAN covers a stretch of 16 km and is consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Plan that identifies Sheet 2, Tiruvallur district, showing a coastal stretch of 16 km. But the map given to the 2017 RTI covers only 13 km, and makes it look like there is no creek in the map area,” environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said at a press conference.

While the coastal management body has defended the use of the ‘new’ map, referring to a letter in 1997 where the Government of India had permitted Government of Tamil Nadu to revise the boundaries of Ennore Creek based on a survey by the Naval Hydrographer, the RTI response has refuted this claim.

In response to an RTI query by CRC about the basis of revisions made to the 1996 map by CRC, the Department of Environment, in a letter, said that in 1997 the Department of Environment had not approached the Chief Hydrographer to demarcate the backwater areas and subsequent to that no modification had been made.

“This is a high-level fraud with clear intent to violate both the environmental laws and the Right to Information Act. More dangerously, the illegal approvals given for encroachments within the Creek by the SCZMA put nearly 1 million people at risk due to disastrous flooding,” said Nityanand Jayaraman of Save Ennore Creek campaign. The campaign will pursue criminal prosecution of the officials involved in the fraud.

The matter has been brought to the notice of Environment Secretary, the Chief Secretary and the State Disaster Management Authority. “We would like to believe that these senior administrators would not knowingly violate the law or put communities at risk. But for us to continue believing so, the government must withdraw the approval given to KPL, act against all existing encroachments and declare Ennore Creek off-limits for industrial installations,” said Pooja Kumar of Coastal Resource Centre.

Already 1,090 acres of the 6,500-acre creek has been encroached upon. An additional 300 acres has been degraded by fly ash discharged from North Chennai Thermal Power Station.

“The existing encroachments caused serious flooding in Manali, Ernavur, RK Nagar, Athipattu and Ponneri during the 2015 floods. Since the floods, KPL has encroached on an additional 400 acres of the Creek. If the rains are heavy this monsoon, the flooding in North Chennai, Manali and Ponneri will be disastrous”, a press release issued by the environmental groups stated.

Alleging that similar fraud has been committed throughout Tamil Nadu’s coast, Jesu Rathinam of Coastal Action Network said, “This fraud by SCZMA calls for a thorough and independent enquiry into the violations of CRZ Notification using the 1996 map as the baseline.”

The Coastal Action Network (CAN), the Coastal Resource Centre, the Save Ennore Creek Campaign and Ennore fisherfolk groups want an independent investigation into the functioning of the State Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Environment and Forests Department.

This article was originally published in The News Minute on 25/07/2017. It can be accessed here.

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