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Vol. XXXII No. 11, September 16-30, 2022

Marina Loop Road: Civic body begins to clear encroachments, leaves fisherfolk dismayed

-- by A Special Correspondent

Extending from the Marina Lighthouse up until Foreshore Estate, the Marina Loop Road is a concrete stretch that skirts the shores of the Marina beach, encompassing several fishing hamlets such as Nochikuppam, Duming Kuppam and Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, to name a few. Take a drive down Marina Loop Road and you will see a row of fish stalls manned by the fisherfolk; you will spy too, the long boats that dot the beach sands next to the undulating waves of the sea ahead, accompanied by rolled-up fishing nets. The cars, bikes and other vehicles that ply the Marina Loop Road must contend with the animated hustle and bustle of the fish market, with sellers hawking fresh catch of all sorts to eager buyers.

It is this very Marina Loop Road that the authorities now seek to clear of encroaching vendors so that the public can use the space to walk, cycle or jog along the beach. 70 fish stalls have already been cleared in the past month. The affected vendors will reportedly be granted stalls at the new Rs. 9.9 crore Nochikuppam fish market under construction. The new fish market, which will reportedly house 336 stalls in total, is expected to be an upgraded facility with toilets, fresh water supply, sewage connections, parking facilities and waste collection. The shift, authorities hope, will not only make the Marina Loop Road more accessible to the public but will also alleviate the increasingly troublesome traffic congestion on Santhome High Road, which houses a handful of city schools.

The move to clear encroaching vendors has been welcomed by residents and activists alike, while it has left the fishing community dismayed at the imminent disruption of their livelihoods. The effort to clear the Marina Loop Road stretch of encroachments is nothing new to them – it was attempted as far back as 1985 as part of a beautification project, drawing violent protests from the fisherfolk that forced the authorities to back away. A similar plan was pushed in 2014 as well, with a view to easing traffic flow. The case was put forth to the National Green Tribunal which greenlit the plan in 2016 under the condition that there would be no change in land use. That has not been adhered to, according to the fishing community. They say that the road has in fact grown wider over time – they fear that they will soon be forced to bring their boats and fishing nets from the beach up to the street in the rainy monsoon months which see the sealine drawing closer to the land. The constant traffic also complicates matters – not only does it disturb the lively fish market, but it also reportedly poses a hazard to the people who live in the area. Most are loathe to leave what they see as their land, one in which they and their ancestors have plied their trade for decades before the Marina Loop Road came into existence as we know it today. According to media reports, they want the authorities to build them a new facility in which to sell fish along the loop road without the need to relocate; this, they feel, can help ease traffic woes without causing them disruption.

With the Madras High Court directing the Corporation to achieve eviction of fish vendors, the authorities have been doing their best to persuade the community to move. However, given that a significant sum of Rs. 100 crores is reported to have been allocated to beautify the beaches of the city, it is hard to imagine that the budget cannot provide for well-planned shops along the Marina Loop Road as demanded by the fishing community – in their defence, the area was their domain well before the road was laid. As for entertaining the public, surely the Marina Beach – famously said to be the second-longest urban beach in the world – has other stretches to convert into walking and jogging tracks; it need not be the Marina Loop Road that services this pleasure. To paraphrase the words of an activist who tweeted about the issue, must we seek beauty and leisure at the expense of a fellow citizen’s livelihood? The answer, we hope, is no.

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