Environment
Activists say that the last surviving wetland ecosystem of the city being taken over has grave consequences for man and nature, and the city of Chennai.
PTI Photo by R Senthilkumar

In a fight to protect the only freshwater marshland in the city, environmental activists have slammed the Thoraipakkam-Pallavaram Radial Road expansion that is likely to swallow up 40 acres of marshland.

The Tamil Nadu Highways Department has undertaken to expand the Radial Road from Pallavaram to Keelkattalai at the cost of Rs 35 crore. The World Bank-funded project hopes to develop the infrastructure along the OMR IT corridor, adding two more lanes to the four-way lane.

Speaking to TNM, S Kumararaja of the Save Pallikaranai Marshland Forum says, “They are taking 40 acres of marshland near Keelkattalai, Pallavaram and Narayanapuram. It's already been marked out. Boundary stones have been placed. Because the expansion is 40 acres, 20 acres on either side will be removed. If the marshland is removed, the volume of water accumulation will be reduced. This means the closing of a water body. Overall, this would come up to 70 acres. This would result in the depletion of groundwater."

South Chennai affected

With the 2015 Chennai floods exposing the vulnerabilities of the south of the city, Kumararaja warns that eating into this wetland could affect urban dwellers in the event of rains. As TNM had pointed out in October last year, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Chennai floods noted in its report on August 12, 2016, that the encroachment of lakes and river beds had played a major role in causing the floods.

“The Committee feels that the State Government should check the mafia involved in illegal construction for business and usurping water bodies for their real estate business. The flood channels and riverbed should be cleared as soon as possible by removing illegal/unauthorized constructions,” it said.

Kumararaja says, “South Chennai is a prime flood zone. If water that is supposed to be sitting on 70 acres is gone, it will go and fill up residential areas. If the accumulation in the marshland is removed, the land is being filled with tar and construction sand. If a water body is being filled with sand, where will rainfall go? Low-lying areas in and around Keelkattalai, Velachery, Madipakkam will be affected.  The volume of water will go out of the marshland.”

Unprincipled expansion

City-based nature conservationists have struggled to protect what is left of the marshland today. Pointing to the national and international attention the Pallikaranai marsh has received over the years, Kumararaja says, “The marshland was 5,000 hectares just 30 years ago. Now only 650 hectares remain. Efforts are on to include the Pallikaranai marshland as part of the Ramsar Convention along with 88 marshlands in India. This will be protected under the Forest Act. the Forest Department has previously objected to a compound wall being laid around the marshland. The Department receives international funding under the Climate Change Protocol but this expansion is against the very principles of the protocol. We have raised awareness and fought for survival of the marshland. The government is the only one with the power to stop this expansion.”

Adding that the flora and fauna in the area also stand to be affected, he says, “This is taking away what belongs to the different birds, fish, frogs and squirrels. Migratory birds will also lose out. We are disturbing their patterns. The dust and sand debris will affect their flight path.”

In March this year, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam set aside Rs 165.68 crore as part of the Rs 500 crore ‘Chennai Mega City Development Mission’ budget to restore the marshlands. The project, he announced, would be implemented over five years between 2018- 2019 and 2022- 23. With such a generous budget set aside for conservation, the state would do well to clarify its position on the expansion and its effects.

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