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Vol. XXXI No. 8, August 1-15, 2021

Trouble in Ennore: Citizen Panel writes to the Madras High Court flagging TANGEDCO operations

by our Special Correspondent

A backwater located in North Chennai, Ennore Creek is an important vein of the city which drains the Araniyar and Kosasthalaiyar rivers as they flow into the Bay of Bengal at Mugathwarakuppam. Once home to a thriving mangrove swamp, the creek is under heavy stress from industrial activity – according to a report published by the Save Ennore Creek campaign, the Ennore wetlands have already lost more than 1500 acres of water to coal yards, petroleum terminals, thermal power plant facilities and ash ponds.

The campaign also states that more than 1,000 acres of the Kosasthalaiyar river are choked with coal ash. In fact, the prawns caught in the region are known locally as sambal (ash) prawns, owing to their dark colour from feeding on the fly ash deposits. These are, in fact, a diseased variety of the vellra or white prawn.

“The problem of fly ash in this place is as old as the power plant,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, a prominent environmental activist from the city. He went on to point out that a case was filed by salt manufacturers in the region in 1996, complaining that coal ash deposits and leaks from the ash pipelines were damaging the salt bank. The Madras High Court had then ordered the North Chennai Thermal Power Plant to stop discharging fly ash even accidentally into the water body and to clean up the damage that had been done so far. “They have been operating in contempt of the High Court Order form 1996-2021,” points out Nityanand, stating that the National Green Tribunal had in fact given the same directive to the company as recently as 2017. “TANGEDCO claims to have spent Rs. 32.5 crores in removing the ash, but it’s still there for all to see,” he says. “What is scarier for Chennai is that the main channel of the Kosasthalaiyar is almost blocked by a new construction where they have dumped dredge sand from the sea into the river. One and a half acres of the river has been encroached upon already. If we have heavy rains this year or in the coming seasons, we will face huge floods in North Chennai and Ponneri,” he finishes, worried.

The construction that Nityanand is referring to is something that Ennore fishers have been raising flags about for the past six months – the building of a bridge to carry coal ash slurry pipelines from the NCTPS (North Chennai Thermal Power Station) Stage III to an ash dyke in Sepakkam village as well as that of a coal conveyor and seawater corridor from Kamarajar Port to the Ennore SEZ project under construction in Voyalur. The fishers, along with the Save Ennore Creek campaign, invited a three-member citizen panel comprising Dr. S. Janakarajan (President, South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies), G. Sundarrajan (Environmentalist, Poovulagin Nanbargal) and T.M. Krishna (Singer & activist) to assess the extent of damage and its implication for the city. The panel presented their findings in a document titled ‘Illegal Immunity – TANGEDCO’s Violations in Ennore Creek,’ reporting that both the constructions are in violation under multiple acts.

Specifically, the report says that the NCTPS ash pipeline bridge is in contravention of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (2006) and Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (2011) as well as the Air Act (1981) and the Water Act (1976) apart from other court orders; further, the project is said to lack an Environmental Clearance, CRZ clearance and Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts. As for the coal seawater conveyor corridor, the report says that it is charting an unapproved course through the river and water bodies, encroaching mangroves and critical fish habitat in violation of much of the same laws mentioned above. “The Konamudakku mangrove patch is reportedly among the last remaining patches of healthy mangroves in the Ennore Region. Fisherfolk educated us that mangroves were a nursery for prawns, fish and crabs,” the document says.

The panel has written to the Chief Justice of Madras High Court, the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary urging them to ensure that TANGEDCO functions lawfully. “We are appealing to the Hon’ble Chief Justice because TANGEDCO has functioned as if it is above the law for all these years, and its pollution in Ennore has hurt the poor, including women fishers who hand-pick prawns from the river, the worst. They need to be compensated for lost livelihoods and health,” they said, warning that TANGEDCO’s exposure to liabilities are likely to place a substantial burden on the exchequer.

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