CHENNAI: If the Union Shipping Ministry has its way, a humungous port will come up adjacent the Pulicat lake, but a section of the fisherfolk there don’t appear to well informed about it.
While green activists see in the project a threat to the livelihood of the fishing community spread over 25 villages, some fishermen don’t even have basic information about the proposed Dugarajapatnam port at Tupilipalem.
“We have no idea about a major port coming up towards the north of the lake. Already there is a private port at Kattupalli, some 4 km south of the estuary here. Why a new one?” wonders S Arogiyaraj from Sandhoshamadha Fishermen Society. According to him, the lake would vanish in a few years if a port comes up in Andhra Pradesh. “We are already witnessing the impact of environmental degradation. Some 10 years ago, the lake had a depth of 15 ft. Today, it has come down to almost 4 ft. You can actually walk across most parts of the lake,” he says.
Who is responsible for the mess? “The nearby Kattupalli port has to share part of the blame,” reason many fisherman.
“There is already a lot of coastal erosion and silting in the lake. Recently, we spent `50,000 per village to dredge the mouth of the lake after the government officials refused to do it for us. Dredging was important as there was a lot of silt in the mouth and the lake. The silt had blocked the flow of water in and out of the lake to the sea,” explains Suman, a fisherman from Lighthouse Kuppam.
“I know a harbour coming up in Andhra Pradesh, but have no idea of its location,” says Pubalan of Pazhaverkadu.
According to activists the site for the port was selected after an expert committee visited three sites in 2012 and chose Tupulipalem. Its recommendation was accepted by the Union cabinet committee on economic affairs.
While Dugarajapatnam site was within 2 km of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the Pulicat lake, Tupilipalem is just outside the 2 km ESZ. Tupilipalem was chosen despite the fact that a 10-km stretch across the Pulicat lake has been demarcated as ESZ, which is a no-go area for development and is mandated by the Supreme Court. To validate the choice of Tupilipalem, in January last, the Union environment ministry issued a draft notification reducing the ESZ to 2 km. Remember, it is just a draft, not the final word. Yet work on the port is on, which is a clear violation of the law.
Conservationists in Andhra Pradesh allege that land acquisition for the project commenced before the recent Lok Sabha elections despite lack of environment clearance.
Another index of the lack of awareness is the comparatively miniscule hits online petitions launched by activists to save Pulicat lake have drawn so far. With the message yet to sink in, activists have a lot of legwork to do. (Concluded)
Marking ensures tussle-FREE FISHING
‘Padu’ is a traditional turn system followed by the fishing community to ensure equal and conflict-free opportunity for fishing. An area in the lake is marked for fishing for a particular village for a day. Other villages fish in that area the following days of a week. “If there are 400 fishermen in my village, they will be divided into two. A batch of 200 will fish for a day followed by other villages in the rest of the week. When our village gets the next chance, the other batch will go to fish,” says fisherman Arogiyaraj.
Offenders to face ‘quarter’ panchayat
If any individual or family commits any offence, they have to provide ‘quarter’ liquor bottles to everybody in the village community. The village heads preside over the panchayat. Locals alleged that many fishermen have committed suicide either due to inability to afford liquor for all or repay the money they borrowed to buy the booze.