CHENNAI: In what might be a major error, the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) has allegedly left out large tracts of ecologically sensitive and tide-influenced wetlands in the state from within the boundary of the new High Tide Line (HTL). Activists fear this would allow widespread exploitation of the coastal area.
The NCSCM has marked the HTL along the entire Tamil Nadu coast using high-resolution aerial images from 2011-12. The data sets have been given to the Department of Environment, Tamil Nadu, which has examined them and contracted NCSCM to prepare the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP).
The 31st meeting of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA), on May 24 last year, had also concluded that the demarcation of the HTL by NCSCM was complete and quality checked.
However, the NCSCM HTL maps, accessed through RTI by the Coastal Resources Centre, show gross discrepancies and are different from what the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) had created earlier.
Activists argue that HTL identified by IRS was closer to ground realities. But it has been ignored by NCSCM.
For instance, in Karungali in Thiruvallur district and Yedaiyanthittu Kazhuveli in Kanchipuram/Villupuram districts, the HTL has been moved several feet into the water body, reducing the area deemed protected by the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. Thus, nearly 888 acres of developable real estate was created in the two locations.
The areas left out were salt pans, claims Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resources Centre. Another example is the Adyar River in Chennai. The CRZ limits of Adyar Creek stops at the Foreshore Estate bridge, though IRS records tidal influence further downstream.
NCSCM maps do not account for the Tholkappia Poonga ecological park, which was created in 2008 after the IRS had collected their data. This clearly shows that the HTL demarcation has not been subjected to ground-vetting.
Same is the case in Athipattu village on Ennore Creek, where the NCSCM obliterates all evidence of the alleged CRZ violation by Hindustan Petroleum (HP). The mangrove-fringed creek, that has now apparently been concretised by HP, does not have an HTL which erases all evidence of water spread areas, thereby legitimising the latter’s presence.
Express contacted IRS and NCSCM officials who stood by their respective HTLs. IRS director SS Ramakrishnan said that when the last meeting for HTL validation of Tamil Nadu was held on March 22, 2016, he raised objections over the exclusion of a few pockets.
“We were of the impression that IRS maps would be considered while finalising the uniform HTL. But looking at some of the maps, it looks like IRS data sets were not taken into account. We stand by the HTL prepared by us which was based on the collection of ground-truth data. We walked the entire state coast with GPS gadgets, measured the high tide, took water samples during the dry season to mark the HTL in tide-influenced water bodies. It took us about two years to complete the exercise, which cost Rs 2.5 crore,” he said.
Another member of the Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority (TNSCZMA), who attended the meeting, said there were a few discrepancies in the NCSCM HTL. The authority even indicated to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) that the IRS HTL be used while preparing the CZMP.
NCSCM director R Ramesh was not available for comment as he is abroad. However, senior NCSCM officials presented minutes of the March 22 meeting and said deviations of HTL from the IRS version were observed in 255 locations and corrected. A total of 19 locations were subjected to further scrutiny. The NCSCM HTL was accepted in 15 locations and the IRS HTL in four locations.
“We have used very high resolution (9 cm) aerial photographs of the Survey of India, which are the best in the world. It is a transparent process. The MoEF&CC authorised the NCSCM to prepare a uniform HTL for the entire country. Our HTL has been 100% quality checked by the Union Environment Ministry and the Tamil Nadu Department of Environment.
Also, the NSCSM is open to making corrections if there is a mistake. People can raise objections, if any, during the public hearing,” the NCSCM officials said.
In reply to a query on what the need was for preparing a fresh HTL when the IRS, another authorised agency, had done so, NCSCM officials said it was decided by the Centre and the National Coastal Zone Management Authority.
Commenting on the issue, environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said NCSCM HTL was erroneous and could not be used for preparing the CZMP.