CHENNAI: One of the last available fish breeding grounds that provide livelihood to fishermen in at least six villages near the Kosasthalaiyar river is allegedly facing a grave threat. A thermal power station is setting up a second ash pond in the locality.
As the light-coloured soil in a few available patches of mangroves is turning an awkward shade of grey, environmental experts and villagers in the area fear that the upcoming ash pond will destroy the tidal area that serves as a breeding ground for fishermen’s catch.
K Saravanan, a fisherman, who is also part of the Coastal Resource Centre, (CRC) says that construction of the pond will also cause heavy flooding of nearby hamlets. “About 140 acres of the Ennore creek with rich mangrove patches are being used for illegal expansion of the Vallur power plant’s flyash pond,” he alleged.
Fishermen from hamlets including Mugadhwarakuppam, Kattukuppam, Sivanpadai Veedhi and Ennore Kuppam were up in arms against the National Thermal Power Corporation, managing body of the power station, building the ash pond. They sailed their boats to the proposed ash pond from Kattukuppam, raising slogans. “The Kuruvimedu Kaalvai is an important area for fish breeding. This is one of a few areas of the creek still intact. The construction will pose a grave threat to that too,” said A Selvaraj, an old fisherman from Kattukuppam.
“The NTECL’s construction falls foul of the flyash and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification,” alleged environmental activist Nitayanand Jayaraman. The Vallur thermal power station, established by the mega power project policy, became operational in 2009. The bottom ash generated by the power station is being dumped into a roughly 400-acre ash pond adjacent to Kuruvimedu village.
Officials from the company told Express that the old ash pond was filling fast and that it would not be able to accommodate more than another year’s ash. “It’s high time a new ash pond was built to sustain the functioning of the power station.”
However Jayaraman charged that the power station also dumped fly ash into the pond violating the Flyash Notification 1999 (amended in 2016), thereby polluting the landscape severely. The notification mandated all power stations to achieve 100 per cent utilisation of flyash by the end of 2017. “They are already in violation of law and are not able to achieve the required standard. To overcome the outcome of their violation, they are now setting up another ash pond to take in more ash they will generate in the future,” he alleged.
Pooja Kumar from the CRC said that the upcoming ash pond would also violate the CRZ Notification 2011. The mangrove patches larger than 0.25 acre will automatically enjoy the protection of ‘no development zone’.
“The proposed ash pond will obliterate 34 acres of mangroves within the 140-acre tidal creek,” she said, adding the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had prevented the NTECL from expanding its ash pond citing the presence of mangroves.
A senior official from the power company argued that the proposed ash pond would not violate the CRZ notification. Citing a report submitted by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, the official said, “The environmental impact of the thermal power plants on mangroves is negligible as these mangrove plants get regular tidal flushing.”
But, locals and fishermen argue that their catch has reduced both in quantity and quality due to the pollutants released by the power stations around the creek. “If the power companies are not able to meet the government’s environmental standards in the existing situation, with further expansion, the entire creek will be filled with fly ash and other pollutants,” Jayaraman said.