CHENNAI: In yet another alleged attempt to reclaim part of the ecologically-sensitive Ennore Creek, the High Tide Line (HTL) has been mysteriously redrawn by the Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS) to clear the decks for Kamarajar Port Limited’s proposed Free Trade Warehouse Zone.
The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 defines the “HTL as the line on the land up to which the highest water line reaches during the spring tide”. The HTL/LTL has to be identified based on coastal geomorphologic signatures in the field/satellite imageries/aerial photographs following the guidelines given by Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
But, curiously, IRS has prepared two different HTL maps for two different clients. IRS’ map for Kamarajar Port makes it appear as if the HTL has receded, freeing up about 250 metres of the canal area as real estate in the survey No 354/1. The 2015 North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) map shows two canals, measuring 400 metres and 190 metres running through the area demarcated for the construction of a ‘Free Trade Warehouse Zone’ (FTWZ). However, the 2017 Kamarajar Port map presents the two canals as measuring just 160 metres and 113 metres, respectively.
Prone to flooding
As per the detailed infrastructure utility planning report and revised revenue model prepared by Mahindra Consulting Engineers, for KPL for setting up FTWZ — a copy of which is available with Express — it is pointed out that the land use pattern of the proposed site for the development of FTWZ comes under salt land and land use needs to be changed for any development. During peak monsoon and high tide period, the site will be flooded due to overflow from the backwater, which is located 100 metres away from the project and there are some existing aqua culture ponds, and a manmade channel available within the site boundary. Under site constraints, it is clearly noted the manmade channel has to be filled with suitable earth above high tide level/highest flood level.
Environmentalists and local fishing community in Ennore allege that Kamarajar Port’s expansion project, if approved, will worsen the flooding situation in North Chennai. Pooja Kumar of Save Ennore Campaign claims that till today, the original Government of India-approved 1996 CRZ map for Ennore Creek is kept out of bounds from public scrutiny. The Tiruvallur district possesses a map in which 6,400-acre Ennore creek is marked as “Petrochemical Industrial park”, which is a big fraud.
“The original map, which we accessed by us shows the 6,469 acres of Ennore Creek to be a tidal water body and protected as ‘No Development Zone’ under CRZ 1. This includes the 40 hectares of area where the Kamarajar Port is proposing to build FTWZ. The project is coming-up for discussion at Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF&CC on November 29-30,” she said.
Change happened recently
The Petrochemical Industrial park for which the entire creek was earlier marked in the CRZ map, was proposed in 1997. But the project never realised. The Union environment ministry had then allowed the Tamil Nadu government to re-draw the backwater limits based on survey by the Chief Hydrographer of the Centre. The ministry, however, denied the State government’s request to remove salt pans from the purview of CRZ and insisted that salt pans influenced by tidal action would be protected under the CRZ Notification.
A draft Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) was prepared by IRS in 2013, in which the HTL is same as presented in the NCTPS map. So, the alteration of the HTL has been made only when Kamarajar Port proposed to built FTWZ in the area. This leads to suspicion, said Nithyanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist.
We did no favours: IRS
Denying charges of liberal tampering of HTL to benefit Kamarajar Port, IRS Director S Ramakrishnan told Express that the old HTL demarcation was done in 2008 as part of a wider survey for the 110 km stretch from Pulicat to Palar River. So, between 2008 and 2017, there would have been physical and geomorphological changes.
In the first place, the canal which is being referred to is not a defined channel. Since, it’s a low-lying area, there are chances of water stagnation during monsoon. But during the dry season, the area will be bone dry.
During site-specific survey for Kamarajar Port, the HTL was redrawn to represent ground conditions considering the guidelines provided in CRZ Notification, 2011 i.e. the extent of HTL in creek/inland water bodies shall be defined by salinity value of 5 ppm during the driest part of year. The same is represented in satellite imagery.
“There is also a possibility that in 2008, our team during field inspection made a liberal estimation. When a project proponent, especially a Central government undertaking, comes to us and says we have overdrawn HTL, we correct it to ensure there are no unnecessary hurdles for the development project,” he said.
He also claimed that IRS has brought in additional land of 87.6 acres under CRZ area compared to the approved map of 1996. Only 1.5 acres is shortened during site specific survey carried out for Kamarajar Port. Many small drainage channels which were not represented in approved map were demarcated during field survey by IRS.
“We are not denying the fact that the HTL has been altered, but doesn’t mean we have favoured Kamarajar Port. Anyone is free to challenge our work legally or scientifically,” he said.
Port on a clash course
Many feel increased construction activities in the creek area will worsen flooding in North Chennai
2015 North Chennai Thermal Power Station map showed two canals measuring 400 metres and 190 metres running through the area demarcated for FTWZ. But the 2017 map of the Kamarajar port presents the two canals as measuring just 160 metres and 113 metres, respectively
The proposed site is a low lying area and will be flooded during monsoon. This has been reported in the DPR by Mahendra Consulting Services
The area falls under No Development Zone as per the original approved 1996 CZMP
If the Kamarajar Port’s proposed FTWZ is approved, it would alter the natural flood drainage pattern of North Chennai
The original 1996 map is hidden and not available in public domain
A case has been filed in National Green Tribunal challenging the fraudulent map being used by Tiruvallur authorities to issue approvals