Time to change course

Chennai city will have no future if plans to fill the Ennore creek go ahead

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Since December 2015, Chennai has limped from one extreme weather-related shock to another — the floods, the failed monsoon of 2016, Cyclone Vardah, and now the water crisis. Chennai’s defining element is water. But the city shows scant regard for this precious but dangerous resource. Located squarely in the intervening floodplains of three rivers on a high-energy coastline, Chennai is a disaster-prone location. Any badly located city can be vulnerable merely by virtue of its location. But only a special kind of city — a city with a death wish — actively makes a bad situation worse.

Nothing speaks more elegantly to Chennai’s death wish than what governments are doing to the wetlands in North Chennai. In June, the State government conceded the Government of India-owned Kamarajar Port Ltd’s (KPL) request to divert 1,000 acres of the hydrologically sensitive Ennore wetlands for industrial installations that are best built on dry land. The proposal is pending Central government clearance. If permitted, KPL’s dream will turn out to be Chennai’s worst nightmare, far worse than the 2015 floods.

The importance of Ennore

Ennore Creek, a sprawling 8,000-acre tidal waterbody, is a place where climate change and disastrous land-use change converge. Two rivers with a total catchment of 5,000 sq km empty into the Ennore Creek.

This wetland’s importance may not be apparent. Much of the creek looks dry year-round, when visible waterspread is only 1,000 acres. But when cyclonic weather pushes the sea surging landwards, or when rainwaters from the two rivers come rushing to meet the sea, the waterspread in the creek swells to its majestic fullness. Come rain or storm surge, the availability of room for the rain or sea water to stay is what keeps the city from going under.

The creek offers another protection too. It buffers the rich aquifers of the Araniyar-Kosasthalaiyar Basin from the sea, and keeps salt water from invading groundwater resources that supply several hundred million litres daily to Chennai even during the worst droughts.

In 1996, the Tamil Nadu government protected a 6,500-acre stretch of the tidal waterbody under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification. But greed prevailed over good sense. More than 1,000 acres of the creek were lost to illegal encroachments that rise like dams across a river.

The offending installations block the path of rainwaters rushing down the Arani river and the mighty Kosasthalaiyar. Areas that never got flooded saw waters enter homes and remain for more than a fortnight in 2015. Tamil Nadu’s lifeline, the Manali petroleum refinery, went under water for days.

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CRZ Regulator Manipulates Documents; Denies Existence of Ennore Creek

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21 July, 2017. Chennai:   Two widely conflicting maps of the Ennore Creek, both of which were presented as Government of India-approved CRZ maps in two separate RTIs, have exposed serious irregularities and possible fraud in the functioning of the Department of Environment. A map provided to Jesu Rathinam of Coastal Action Network under RTI in 2009 by the Department of Environment declared as the map approved in 1996 by Government of India shows 6469 acres of Ennore Creek to be a tidal waterbody protected as No Development Zone under CRZ 1. However, in the version presented as the official map in response to a 2017 RTI – after controversy erupted over diversion of Ennore wetlands – the entire Ennore Creek has disappeared.

“Since both maps have been obtained under RTI, the Department of Environment has falsified information in one of the two cases. That is a punishable offence under the RTI Act,” said Jesu Rathinam. The map obtained by CAN covers a stretch of 16 km and is consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Plan that identifies Sheet 2, Thiruvallur District as covering a coastal stretch of 16 km. The later map given in response to the 2017 RTI, however, covers only 13 kmand makes it seem as if there is no Creek in the map area.

Releasing the documents at a press conference, Coastal Action Network, Coastal Resource Centre, Save Ennore Creek Campaign and Ennore fisherfolk demanded an independent probe into the functioning of the State Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Environment & Forest Department that heads the authority. The Ennore Creek protects Thiruvottiyur, RK Nagar, Madhavaram and Ponneri areas from flooding. “By converting Ennore Creek into real estate, we are condemning the people of North Chennai to a watery grave. The city could not handle the tiny Adyar when it flooded. If we lose the Creek and the mighty Kosasthalaiyar floods during the next rains, nothing can save this city,” warned R.L. Srinivasan, a fisher leader from the Coalition of All Ennore Fishing Villages. The Kosasthalai River can discharge 125,000 cusecs, which is far more than the combined discharge of Adyar and Cooum.

Documents obtained indicate that the map denying the existence of Ennore Creek is the falsified one. The 2017 RTI response includes a 1997 letter from the Ministry of Environment & Forests responding to requests for certain changes proposed to be made by the Government of Tamil Nadu to accommodate the setting up of a petrochemical park in Ennore.

Specifically, the Ministry allowed the Government of Tamil Nadu to re-draw the backwater limits contained in the 1996 approved map based on survey by the Chief Hydrographer to the Government of India. The Ministry, however, denied the Government of Tamil Nadu’s request to remove salt pans from the purview of CRZ and insisted that salt pans influenced by tidal actionwould invoke the protection of the CRZ Notification. The letter does not mention any request made or approval granted to alter the boundaries of the CRZ map.

“We believe the 1996 map – declaring the entire Creek as CRZ 1 — is the correct one as it is consistent with law and reality,” said K. Saravanan of Coastal Resource Centre. “The Naval Hydrographer – a scientific body — could not have ignored the existence of such a large tidal waterbody,” he said.

Two separate complaints have been filed with the Tamil Nadu Information Commission seeking a probe into the matter. The organisations have also approached the State Disaster Management Authority and the Chief Secretary to intervene to avert a disaster.

For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401;

Jesu Rathinam – 9443316738. Blog: storyofennore.wordpress.com

Remove Ennore creek waste: TNPCB to port

CHENNAI: Concerned at the damage being done to the ecologically sensitive Ennore creek, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has ordered Kamarajar Port Ltd to immediately remove the dredged material illegally dumped in a portion of the water body.

The action was based on an inspection conducted by officials of the TNPCB and the Directorate of Environment on a complaint by K Saravanan of the Coastal Resource Centre against the port’s attempts to convert 280 acres of the creek’s tidal wetland into a coal stacking yard.

Welcoming the move to protect the Ennore Creek, volunteers of the centre and Save Ennore Creek Campaign said the management authority should ensure that no one was allowed to convert the ecologically sensitive area in to real estate. The TNPCB should prosecute offenders under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, they urged.

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Where are the commons?

From land to creative spaces, our commons are being fenced by encroachers and even the state

The tension between ownership to tangible and intangible property and the enjoyment of the commons by all is not a new phenomenon. Fences could not have been there when land came into existence. Fences came later, encumbrances came later and so did title deeds and patta. Kuthambai, one of the ancient learned Siddhars, sang songs seemingly simple but layered with philosophical and metaphysical subtexts. One goes like this: “Vetta veli thannil meyyenrirupporkku pattayam edukkadi? (What would the one who has realised Infinite Space do with certificates of ownership?)” He was of course singing about a different space, not about tangible property like land.

Even after man felt that there was need for fences and certificates of ownership, he still recognised that some lands must be kept in common for use by all or for the sake of all. In medieval England they were called commons, a resource to be enjoyed by all. These lands and the non-arable lands were classified in Tamil as “poramboke”. The protest song “Porambokku enakku illai porambokku unakku illai porambokku oorukku porambokku bhoomikku” is about this commons and how the commons are diminishing. The words “mandai veli” and “maattuthaavani” are poignant echoes to a time when cattle had access to grazing grounds. Not now, those areas are covered by concrete structures. If we could divine the thoughts of our cattle, we would know they are wondering why their lives are protected with such violence and vehemence when all they want is grass.

 

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