Swallowing Pallikaranai marsh: Chennaiites are refusing to learn from 2015 floods

More wetlands vanishing. Activists are threatened. Where is this going to?
 Swallowing Pallikaranai marsh: Chennaiites are refusing to learn from 2015 floods
Swallowing Pallikaranai marsh: Chennaiites are refusing to learn from 2015 floods

Come December, if Chennai is to face a heavy downpour, people can expect a repeat of the 2015 episode, and we would have less of a right to complain. Seven months since the disastrous floods, the city is repeating its mistakes with impunity, much to the chagrin of environmental activists.

Chennai-based environmentalist IH Sekar, who has been fighting a legal battle against influential politicians and land sharks for usurping the beach-front in Injambakkam area, says that the government is filling the Pallikaranai marshland in Sholinganallur, to make way for more construction on the marshland.

Construction over waterbodies has proven to be one of the main reasons for the city’s massive flooding in 2015.

Sekar told The News Minute that the government had started filling the marshland on July 1 despite the ongoing case in the court.

“This land belongs to a fishing hamlet. We have tried to put off this encroachment for over three years now. But all of a sudden, we saw earth-movers bringing in debris and beach sand to close this wetland. The work is happening in a fast pace,” he said.

Sekar also alleges that he has received many death threats asking him to withdraw the case.

Public amnesia

Activists claim that the public memory is very short and this ignorance might have a more tragic impact.

“As long as we attach an economic value to a landscape, this is bound to last. It was during the British rule when the marshlands were marked as waste lands because they did not see any economic value out of it,” says environment activist Shwetha Narayan, “We have neither done anything to change that perception nor have we put an effort to understand why they are important. Now, all that we want is turn them into a real estate and make whatever money comes of it.”

The recent reclamation of the Pallikaranai marshland was brought to attention online by Chennai-based environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman through a sarcastic Facebook post “How to kill a Marshland”.

“If you see an earth-mover, then in all likelihood, you are in the vicinity of an ongoing violation,” Nityanand writes.

Velachery, Pallikaranai and Thoraipakkam were among the worst hit areas during the December 2015 floods. Experts claim that this was because they were wetlands converted into real estates and sold to IT companies. “If that is not a grim reminder then who else is to be blamed? Why should we not blame public when the government works on the public’s perception?” Shweta asked. 

Shwetha adds that though experts can come with options to mitigate the problem, it is the government should hold the decisions that might further damage the city.

“Short cuts and engineering solutions to natural problems is not a solution at all. Instead they will only cause collateral damage,” she says.

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