Residents of a fishing village along the Pulicat Lake alighting from their passengers boats.
Residents of a fishing village along the Pulicat Lake alighting from their passengers boats.

Kattupalli Port expansion: ‘Envisaged’ sea reclamation of 440 hectares threat to Pulicat Lake in Chennai?

Chennai coast will undergo a permanent change when proposed Kattupalli Port expansion plan begins to take shape.

CHENNAI: Chennai coast will undergo a permanent change when proposed Kattupalli Port expansion plan begins to take shape. Imagine the combined size of 825 football fields, that is kind of sea reclamation envisaged by Marine Infrastructure Developer Private Limited (MIDPL), which operates Kattupalli Port now acquired by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited. The pre-feasibility report (PFR) submitted to Union environment ministry reveals that Kattupalli Port expansion will be carried out in a total area of 2120.28 hectares, which includes sea reclamation to an extent of 440.8 hectares along with hundreds of hectares of abandoned salt pans.

Sources told Express that MIDPL's Revised Master Plan for Kattupalli port proposal was taken-up during 32nd meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee (Infra-2) of environment ministry on July 4 for recommending Terms of Reference (ToR) to conduct Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies.

The expansion attracts both EIA Notification, 2006 as well as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 and MIDPL has appointed L&T Infrastructure Engineering Limited as environmental consultant for conducting EIA study. Baseline studies have already been initiated for the period January to September, 2018.

Though the proposed expansion substantially enhances the total cargo handling capacity of Kattupalli port to about 259 MMTPA (million metric tonnes per annum), including Multi-Purpose Liquid/Gas/Cryogenic cargoes, the kind of environmental damage it would cause would be unimaginable. Environmentalists and coastal engineers fear that the immediate threat would be to ecologically sensitive and country's second largest brackish water lake - Pulicat - which is about 10 km north of Kattupalli port.

 Former IAS officer MG Devasahayam described the expansion plan as 'disastrous', asking how a major port could be built at Kattupalli, when the area was already riddled with problems. “There are various scientific studies that established the fact that North Ennore coast is experiencing increased wave action and the naturally formed protection barriers, the "Ennore Shoals" are disturbed post construction of Ennore port. Now, another major port further north is senseless and will kill Pulicat Lake,” he said.

‘Minor’ Kattupalli itself an aberration

 In 2012, the Indian Space Research Organization's Space Application Centre (SAC) predicted in its report, Coastal Zones of India, that 10 lakh people and 144 sq km of land in Chennai are in danger of submergence by 2050 due to sea level rise. SAC's report says that Chennai stands to lose 3 sq km of critical industrial infrastructure, mostly in Ennore. Rise in sea level is caused by climate change as well as by man-made interventions such as ports and harbours.

M Raman, first Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Ennore Port, has echoed the environmental concerns and said when environment clearance was granted for Ennore Port, one of the conditions was that there should not be any development towards the northern side. The current 'minor' Kattupalli port itself is an aberration as in 2004, Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Project Directorate of Ministry of Earth Sciences prepared a shoreline management plan for Ennore, which says that any development further north will pose an inevitable threat to Pulicat Lake.
 MIDL in talks to acquire land

The land ownership details in the PFR and Form 1 submitted by Kattupalli Port-operator Marine Infrastructure Developer Private Limited (MIDPL),  a copy of which is with Express, reveal that the Port expansion will be carried out in 2120.28 hectares, which includes 136.28 hectares of existing area, 761.8 hectares of government land, 781.4 hectares of private and proposed sea reclamation of 440.8 hectares. MIDPL, acquired by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited, is already in discussion with concerned state authorities for acquisition of said land for using it for development of port backup infrastructure facilities as per Revised Master Plan.  Apart from port backup area, external road, rail and utility corridor is also proposed in an area of around 30 hectares to provide connectivity. The proposed development will consist of material handling area, cargo storage/backup area, operational and utility area, internal connectivity, drainage, greenbelt and buildings etc. Total proposed quantity of capital dredging is 40 Mm3 and the dredged material will be used for reclamation and level-raising. Considering the facilities essential for envisaged operations total reclamation/level raising will be carried out in the commencement of Revised Master Plan itself, the PFR says.

This apart, two new Breakwaters of a total 9.35 km length is proposed, of which new Northern Breakwaters will be about 6.2km and 1.3km and new Southern Breakwater will be about 1.85km.
 Not just Pulicat

Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said it is not just Pulicat Lake that will be hit. "If the salt pans, which fall under CRZ-1, are built upon people will be left defenseless when disasters like flash floods or tsunami strike. Salt pans are buffer and act as natural barriers. There is a very narrow sand bar that divides Bay of Bengal and Pulicat lake near the lighthouse and the stretch is fast eroding due to Kattupalli port. With the proposed expansion, the lake will merge with the sea which will severely dent fisheries and overall ecosystem."

Adani rubbishes claims

R Natarajan, Head, Corporate Affairs (South), Adani Ports, however, rubbished claims that proposed Kattupalli port expansion would affect Pulicat lake. "Pulicat lake is about 15km from the port. The expansion will have no bearing on the lake. While conducting EIA studies, which will take about a year, all environmental norms will be kept in mind. As per CRZ Notification, 2011 certain port-related activities are allowed in CRZ areas and the master plan has been prepared accordingly otherwise the proposal would not go through the clearance process," he said. With regard to sea reclamation, Natarajan said as of now there was no reclamation being done. It is only envisaged. A detailed study has to be conducted, he said.

The New Indian Express