Setting aside the usual revelry that’s synonymous with Madras Week, here’s a look at some of the city’s landmarks that are in desperate need of attention, finds Kannalmozhi Kabilan
The bridge to nowhere located off the bustling beach of Besant Nagar has long since been accepted as a social landmark of the city. What once connected the Foreshore Estate beach with the Besant Nagar beach in the 1960s now offers a quiet escape from the crowds of these popular throngs. “It’s a recreational spot where the majestic Adyar river joins the Bay of Bengal. But, it has become unsafe for the public to be here. There are no street lights or security cameras. While policemen and women do patrol the area, it’s restricted to limited hours. The road that leads to Broken Bridge ends there; so, even if you want to get out of the place, you’ll have to take the same road. Hence, it’s not advisable for anyone to go there by themselves, especially for women,” explains Nanditha Ram Satagopan, a member of Madras Naturalists Society and Young Naturalists Network. But, there’s plenty of potential here, she says. Adyar estuary area is a hotspot of biodiversity. “During the migratory bird season, more than 200 species have been recorded there. The Theosophical Society is also located right there. If we were to promote that place for what it is, it would be a great place for eco-tourism,” she suggests, adding that it would help preserve the bridge.
Playgrounds in the city
That the city’s playgrounds have been shrinking is no news. Several NGOs, researchers and the media have registered this trend since 2011. Yet, ten years down the line, not much has changed in this aspect. Even as the city has fared better in terms of public parks, the space to play remains evasive and slipping out of reach. “Typically, the playgrounds are just open grounds and whatever equipment is installed would be pretty old and in bad shape. But just having that open space itself, I don’t think we have enough. Basically, these are dispensable areas,” points out Sumana of Civic Action Group. This calls for meticulous planning, where one park and one playground is accounted for in each neighbourhood, she suggests. And this cannot be land that is taken away for projects that may come up in future or become room for encroachments, she adds.
Most of Chennai woke up to the woes of North Madras and its forgotten bioreserve that is Ennore Creek when TM Krishna gave us his Poromboke Paadal. The song served to highlight the violations on part of TANGEDCO that led to the destruction of the creek, Ennore river, Kosasthalaiyar river, mangroves that had thrived here, and affected the health and livelihood of people there. This was in 2017. Last month, visiting the place he had shot the song, Krishna pointed out that things have only gotten worse. While the National Green Tribunal and the Madras High Court have held TANGEDCO accountable for many of its offences, its violations only seem to have changed form. After much protest, the people on the ground enjoyed a victory — TANGEDCO was made to dredge up the sand dumped in Kosasthalaiyar backwaters for the conveyer corridor. But, there’s need for more restoration and healthier practices.
City’s last remaining mangroves
“There used to be a lot of mangroves in Adyar, along the river. But, they have reduced drastically over the years. You can see very few patches of it from the Adyar estuary now. There are a few patches left in Ennore Creek,” says Nanditha Ram Satagopan, a member of Madras Naturalists Society and Young Naturalists Network. Pulicat, which derived its name Pazhaverkaadu from the very mangroves it housed, has very small patches left behind now, she adds. The very places that still bear the last of our mangroves are those under severe threat of environmental degradation, thanks to the number of government and private projects and policies that have aided its destruction. And it’s time we act on making it better at the earliest, she suggests. “Right now, these areas are categorised under CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) II. But, according to law, any place that has a decent concentration of mangrove forests needs to have the highest protection, which is CRZ IA. If we can come together to push for these changes, we can definitely make a difference. Public involvement can really help in the conservation of these forests,” she explains. It’s important to listen to the artisanal fisherfolk who have generations of knowledge of these places and their ecosystem, she adds.
Anna Centenary Library
Founded by the late M Karunanidhi during his term as chief minister in 2010, Anna Centenary Library was set to be one of international repute with all facilities under one roof. But, it’s far from where it started out and certainly far from where it wanted to go. It holds six lakh books now; but, it had planned for a repository of 12 lakh. Soon after inception, it was a partner of the World Digital Library project of UNESCO; it lost that accreditation within a year. Though it has 1,200 members, they cannot borrow the books or make use of the e-library when not on the premises. The arrival of the new government, which had set up the library in the first place, has given hope. School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi announced in May that they would restore the library to its original state, along with other DMK government projects that need revival.
Kodungaiyur dump yard
The beauty of this dump yard that serves as a waste receptacle of half of the 12 corporation zones of the city is that it is and has always been illegal. While the amount of damage it has caused over the years has been quite prominently documented, it’s had little effect on Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board or Chennai Corporation finding an effective solution for solid waste management. A study by the Vettiver Collective reported that the dump yard was 300 feet high, spanning across 345 acres. According to them, 2500 tonnes of unsegregated waste is dumped in the yard every day. The place now has a fire season in the peak summer months. An air sample taken during a fire in 2012 revealed the presence of 19 chemicals, three of which were carcinogens (1-3 Butadiene, Benzene and Chloromethane).
“There were a lot of health issues among the people we surveyed there,” says Gabriel Raj, former researcher with the Civic Action Group. Around 30.8 per cent of participants were found to have respiratory issues. Symptoms that affected skeletal and muscular system, eye infections, headaches, sleeplessness, and skin infections were other problems reported in the survey. In 2017, the corporation floated the Waste to Energy plant proposal at Kodungaiyur, with the introduction of incinerators. This was largely opposed, given that it would only become an air pollution problem instead of a waste management issue. “We (CAG) advocated for decentralised waste management where waste is segregated at source and handled in the same neighbourhoods,” says Gabriel. While the corporation has been looking to implement source segregation across the city, it is yet to find uniform enforcement. And the Kodungaiyur dump gets more waste every day.
In Part II of Landmarks in Need series, we’ll look at some other places of repute that could do with a little more attention.