CHENNAI: Have you ever heard of ‘Sambal Era’ or Ash Prawns? You should visit Kosasthalaiyar river flowing underneath North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) ash pipeline bridge in Ennore. K Veeramani, a fisherman from Sivanpadaiveedhi Kuppam, says the prawns that are caught in the waterbody have changed their colour off-late and are no longer edible!
“Sambal Era don’t have a market. The toxic ash that is spewed regularly from the existing old rusted ash pipelines has totally changed the texture of the species. It looks diseased and no one consumes it. We have lost our livelihood,” said Veeramani to Express showing the ash prawns freshly fished out of the backwaters. Express visited the place on Monday and it was visibly evident that Kosasthalaiyar river in this part of Ennore backwaters is heavily contaminated with fly ash slurry reducing its depth and obstructing the waterflow.
In this scenario, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO) is building another ash pipeline from NCTPS Stage-3 to the ash pond. This pipeline also cuts across the Kosasthalaiyar river and tonnes of construction debris are dumped right next to the river for sinking pillars in the waterbody for the pipeline bridge for which there is no Coastal Zone Regulation (CRZ) clearance, which is mandatory.
The environment and CRZ clearance obtained in 2016 by TANGEDCO for NCTPS Stage-3 does not mention anything about the ash pipeline, which is under construction illegally. NCTPS committed before the Union environment ministry that the fly ash and bottom fly would be collected and stored in silos and supplied to cement and brick manufacturers. Besides, it also said 100 per cent dry fly ash collected will be done.
The ministry, while granting the CRZ clearance, imposed specific conditions saying, “Construction activity shall be carried out strictly as per the provisions of CRZ Notification, 2011, and no work other than those permitted shall be carried in CRZ area. No water bodies including the natural drainage system in the area shall be disturbed due to activities associated with the setting-up/operation of the power plant.”The ministry also said in case of any deviation or alteration in the project proposed requires filing of fresh application. The failure to comply with any of the conditions would result in withdrawal of the clearance and attract action under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Meanwhile, in another alleged violation just a few kilometers from pipeline site, TANGEDCO is building a bridge to carry a coal conveyor belt and seawater from Kamarajar Port to its Ennore SEZ power plant smothering the mangroves and filing large tracts of Ennore creek area allegedly with port’s dredge soil, which is again prohibited.RL Srinivasan, president, Cooperative Society Fisheries, Kattukuppam, said two fishermen died in the last one year when their boat capsized in the main channel as the water flow increased unusually.
Professor S Janakarajan, who is an expert on water management and disaster risk reduction; G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal and musician TM Krishna, who lended his voice for ‘Chennai Poromboke Paadal’ in 2017 to raise awareness about the encroachment on Ennore Creek, visited the TANGEDCO’s project sites on Monday and expressed dismay over the scale of fresh encroachments.
Janakarajan told Express what is currently happening is not development, but a massacre of a critical ecosystem which can not be created again even if the government is ready to spend thousands of crores. “The plundering of Ennore Creek, adjacent salt pans and marshlands will be detrimental for the whole of North Chennai in terms of water security and flood management.”TM Krishna questions will the government or the authorities conceive such projects in South Chennai? “Why should only North Chennai people bear the brunt of such polluting and ill-conceived projects? This is nothing but regional bias.”
TANGEDCO refutes allegations
Rajesh Lakhoni, chairman-cum-managing director, told Express that no construction works were carried out without proper permissions. Both the projects have prior CRZ clearance. “The issue of construction debris dumped near Kosasthalaiyar river in the ash pipeline construction site will be removed immediately,” he said. The Chief Engineer of ash pipeline argued that though the NCTPS Stage-3 CRZ clearance does not make a direct reference to construction of ash pipeline, it did say, “ash pond water will be collected, treated and reused for slurry making”.
"Since it is only for contingency purposes, the clearance did not talk about the pipeline project in detail. Compared to the existing pipeline, this will be small and only 216 meters of Kosasthalaiyar river and 40 meters of Buckingham Canal passes through the CRZ area in the total 6 km pipeline," the official said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Engineer of Ennore SEZ project claimed that there was no violation of environmental norms. He said: "We got CRZ clearance. We are doing works along the backwater of the river and have built a temporary road dumping sand dredged from the river itself, not the dredged soil from Kamarajar port, to undertake works. After the work, we will restore the place to its original condition. We will not block the flow of water. We are following the PWD norms,” the official said, adding that they had deposited Rs 10 lakhs with PWD if the contractor failed to remove the temporary structures on the backwater.
Govt forms inter-departmental committee to investigate violations
The State government has formed an inter-departmental committee to investigate the alleged violations committed by TANGEDCO in Ennore Creek.
Sources told Express the committee will be meeting next week to holistically address the issue and resolve the environmental concerns.
Tiruvallur district collector Alby John visited the construction sites last week and tooks stock of the matter after representatives from Save Ennore Campaign went and met him.
K Phanindra Reddy, Commissioner of Revenue Administration, Disaster Management and Mitigation, told Express, "We have already flagged the issue of fly ash and leaking pipelines to TANGEDCO."
N Subbaiyan, director of Disaster Management, said, if any of the new construction projects are hampering the flow of water bodies, it will be immediately looked into and the corrective measures will be taken. "An inspection team will be sent. These are matters of concern with the monsoon fast approaching."