The Ecological Crisis Of Chennai’s Ennore Creek : Its Curious Disappearance
Jal Satyagraha Movement
The fisherfolk from 16 villages standing in waist deep Ennore creek’s waters next to the North Chennai Thermal Power Station came together last week to protest against the encroachments on the creek. Hundreds of residents demanded the withdrawal of alleged fraudulent maps denying the existence of the Ennore Creek. The community has been fighting a lonely battle against the Tamil Nadu government accusing it of illegally turning wetlands into industrial real estate corridors. The fisherfolk rated this as India’s biggest water scam and said that they wouldn’t let down their protests until the map is withdrawn.
Lifeline Of Chennai – Ennore Creek
The Ennore creek is a backwater located about 20 kilometers north of Chennai city. According to the Environment ministry, the zone covers an area of 6,469 acres of the creek identified as a tidal waterbody protected as a No-Development zone under CRZ-I regulations. The Ennore Creek, along with the Buckingham Canal and the rest of the Pulicat water system has vast importance for the local fisher folks. This ecologically sensitive ecosystem was home to large swamps of mangroves and it also helps in mitigating floods at times of strong rainfall, high tides, and cyclones. As a natural floodplain, it helped in draining of flood water to some extent into the Bay of Bengal during 2015 Chennai floods.
Violations and Impact
The Creek began to disappear in the early 1980s. Things accelerated in the 2000s when, contrary to the laws passed to protect coastal zones, large portions of the wetlands were given over to three thermal power plants namely – North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS), Ennore Thermal Power Plant, and the Vallur Thermal Power Plant.
In the report submitted by the three-member expert committee, constituted by National Green Tribunal (NGT), it is revealed that illegal fly ash deposits and rivers of fly ash have eaten an area of over 300 hectares across the creek killing the wetlands and dispossessing those who live in the vicinity of the creek. VThe violation also includes a road laid by adjoining Ennore and Kattupalli Port across the Buckingham Canal near the creek to transport materials.
NCTPS is guilty of constant fly ash spills and grossly under-reporting the quantum of fly ash it generates. As per it, the total estimated quantum of settled fly ash in the ash ponds inside the complex amounted to 2,18,257 cubic metres. However, this is only less than 2% of the total fly ash volume actually spilt. More than 98% of fly ash has to be accounted for and recovered from the site.
Restoration Of Ennore Creek
The large amounts of fly ash produced by these power plants can be utilized by cement industries for the manufacture of the cement as mandated by the government. The flyash deposited on the nearby Buckingham Canal and Kosasthalaiyar river basins should be removed immediately to avoid it running dry. Dredging the Ennore creek mouth which is about 100 metres wide is a solution to allow flood water from the Kosasthalaiyar to drain into the sea and alleviate flooding. An immediate and independent investigation needs to be carried out, to make sure that the existing industrial facilities operate under compliance of existing law. Violators must be penalised. There should be a blanket ban on expansion of industries in this belt.
To not only stop any further damage to the water systems in Ennore but also to reclaim its function as a bio diverse waterbody, which sustained the local population for ages, immediate corrective action must be taken to nurse and restore the creek back to its old state of health.
It is of highest importance to maintain the needs of the river and its population, ensure flood mitigation, and enable aquatic mitigation to recover. Obstructions and barriers that hinder the river in its natural flow must be removed and the waterways need to be deepened back to its original depth.
It is for the government and its authorities to enforce existing law, hold violators accountable, preserve the Ennore creek ecosystem, secure the livelihoods of its people in the communities around it for years to come and see to that Chennai doesn’t flood again.