Setback to ECR storm water drain project in Chennai as German government freezes funding
CHENNAI: The controversial storm water drain project along East Coast Road has suffered another setback with the German Development Ministry ordering a fresh independent assessment over the applicability of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules and the project's alleged impact on turtle nesting grounds.
It is under this ministry that the German Development Bank (KfW), which is funding the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) storm water drain project, operates. The German ministry has also taken a decision not to make any further payments until clarification is received.
This was communicated by Norbert Barthle, MdB (Member of the German Bundestag), Parliamentary State Secretary to Michel Brandt, Member of German Parliament in an official correspondence, a copy of which is available with The New Indian Express.
"As part of the project preparation, the project proponent (GCC) prepared an extensive study, which also included an environmental and social impact assessment. The study concluded that no additional environmental clearance is required because stormwater management projects are exempt by law and the project is not located in a permit-required zone under the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification," said Barthle.
"These findings were confirmed in 2017 by an independent consultant prior to the signing of the financing agreements and were supplemented by another study. This also determined that natural habitats would not be directly affected by the project measures. Nevertheless, in order to clarify possible impacts on adjacent natural habitats, it was agreed with the project executing agency that a further independent expert opinion will be prepared, no construction work will be carried out near the beach and no payments will be made until this has been clarified," he added.
Last month, Michel Brandt along with four other German MPs wrote to KfW expressing concern over the alleged illegalities, irregularities and environmental impact of the ECR stormwater drain project being hurriedly carried out by the Greater Chennai Corporation.
On December 23, the Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority (TNSCZMA) issued a "stop work" order to the Chennai Corporation commissioner after the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal, where a case is pending against the project, sought appropriate action against the authorities engaged in the project, if CRZ norms were found to be violated.
The stop work order, a copy of which is available with The New Indian Express, says all construction activities of storm water drain along the stretch of Sholinganallur, Uthandi and Palavakkam villages were to be stopped until further orders. "It is informed that any construction/development activity in the CRZ area without prior approval from the concerned authorities will attract the penal provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986," said the order issued by KV Giridhar, member secretary of TNSCZMA and Director of Environment.
Despite the stop work order, the contractors engaged by the corporation continued with the civil works until January 3. During the hearing convened by the NGT appointed joint committee, the corporation officials claimed that it did not receive any stop work order and even claimed that the project does not attract CRZ Notification.
"However, after the NGT committee showed the stop work order, a copy of which was marked to the corporation commissioner in the same mail, the civic body gave an undertaking to comply with the TNSCZMA order. But the work continued till January 3," said V Suresh, counsel for several resident welfare associations that challenged the project in the NGT.
When contacted, senior corporation officials confirmed to Express that work has been stopped currently, but refused to comment any further. The primary allegation is the corporation was executing the storm water drain project without obtaining prior CRZ clearance, besides the fact that Uthandi was a very unique natural formation of a contiguous fresh water aquifer near the sea.
As per the Second Master Plan 2026 of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the areas of Kottivakkam, Palavakkam, Neelankarai, Okkiyam Thuraipakkam, Injambakkam, Karapakkam, Sholinganallur and Uthandi fall within the region classified as Aquifer Recharge Zone‟.
Since the localities between Kottivakkam and Uthandi are within the CRZ and mapped as Aquifer Recharge Zone, there are several restrictions imposed on activities permissible there, in addition to limits on concretisation of space.
As per the limited project details, which are currently in the public domain, there will be drains connecting to “outfalls”. These outfalls are going to end on the beaches from Kottivakkam to Uthandi at 27 locations. The beaches from Kottivakkam to UThandi, as per the Government’s own GO and Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) are where the endangered Olive Ridley turtles come to nest and lay their eggs. Therefore, these beaches are declared as “turtle nesting sites” which makes them CRZ (IA) areas which are protected under the CRZ Notification.
"Construction of storm water drains is permissible under the CRZ Notification as long as no component of the project falls in areas classified as CRZ 1A (Ecologically Sensitive). Projects such as
concrete stormwater drains are not permissible within CRZ 1A areas. The storm water drain outfalls for this project are located near the water line in areas designated as CRZ 1A – turtle nesting area," says Suresh.