news Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 05:30
  A visit to Puducherry, is must-see spot for tourists visiting south India. But while it is famous for its beachfront properties and the scenic 1.2 km stretch of the Promenade, the former French colonial town doesn’t really have a prominent beach of its own. What it does have, though, is a black sea wall hugging the coastline. It may not be well-known that Puducherry once had its own lovely little beach instead of the now familiar “ugly sea walls” lining its coast. According to a startling 14-minute documentary called “India’s Disappearing Beaches - A Wake Up Call” by wildlife and conservation filmmaker Shekar Dattatri as reported earlier Puducherry’s fading beaches are representative of the effect of human intervention along India’s coastline. “It’s a direct consequence of our reckless tinkering with our coastline,” says Dattatri in the documentary, which was released last month. Until 1986, Puducherry had access to its own beach until a harbour was constructed south of the town, according to the film. (Picture by K Ramnath Chandrasekar) So where do vanishing beaches go? Sand is always in motion, constantly being shifted north and south on the eastern coast because of a naturally occurring phenomenon – the Long Shore Drift – which moves sand either north or south depending on the direction of the waves. Hence, shifting sand is always replenished. In 1986, a harbour was built at Puducherry. Within four years of its construction the coastal town found its beach had vanished. To protect against erosion, boulders were offloaded and an “ugly sea wall” was built to hold the coastline. The perpetrators of banished beaches in Puducherry’s case are breakwaters. These structures are constructed to protect boats in the harbour from the direct force of waves. However, they also obstructed the free flow of sand drift. Thus, while the southern portion got its fair share of sand, the coast to the north of the harbour was “starved” of sand. The Long Shore Drift ate up the sand from Puducherry beach, it was not replenished due to the breakwaters. What’s interesting is that Puducherry did made an attempt a few years later and also got back its beaches for a brief time when it built a sand by-pass system which is an artificial re-creation of the effects of the naturally occurring Long Shore Drift, moving sand from south to north. However, the process was abruptly stopped without a reason, says the documentary. Since then, the film says, a 10-km stretch has been completely lost, and a 30-km stretch north of Puducherry has been badly affected. To mitigate the erosion caused by the breakwaters, groynes were built to arrest soil erosion and create small beaches. But as more and more groynes were built, their creation in turn caused erosion in nearby places - thus creating a ripple effect. Not just Puducherry getting affected But it’s not just Puducherry that’s suffering. Sea-walls built along Puducherry’s coastline have made their effect felt on neighbouring Tamil Nadu where many coastal villages have been affected. Located on the Tamil Nadu-Puducherry border, the coastal TN village of Kottakuppam bore the brunt of Puducherry’s erosion control mechanisms – groynes and sea walls. But the Tamil Nadu government too constructed sea walls in Kottakuppam and neighbouring villages, which could extend erosion further north. If this cascading effect continues, it won’t be long before Andhra Pradesh also gets affected, and then the rest of India’s coastline, the documentary says. The documentary was made in public interest for the Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN) which has been studying coastal erosion for years now. Production was completed between January and March 2015.   According to PondyCAN, 40 percent of India’s beaches are being eroded due to poorly constructed coastal projects like ports and power plants. Although meant to safeguard beaches from soil erosion, sea walls and groynes actually do the exact opposite. They  accelerate erosion. They transfer erosion to the next stretch of coast, says the documentary. The impact of this latest documentary has been encouraging. PondyCAN president Probir Bannerjee says that the organisation is in talks for designing a beach restoration project for Puducherry with the help of the government. “Work for this will start by the end of this year or next year to restore the beach,” he says. The NGO has been responsible for creating awareness and also played a part in a policy decision by the Puducherry government to stop constructing sea walls and groynes in 2009. “What we hope to convey (by these efforts) is that you can do restoration and get back a beach,” he says, emphasising the need for awareness, as unsuspecting coastal-based families wrongly believe that sea walls arrest soil erosion. A hard-hitting documentary, it has already been translated in Tamil. “We are planning to translate the documentary in other coastal languages as well to create more awareness,” says Bannerjee.  Watch this thought-provoking documentary (Image courtesy :, PondyCAN)