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Fishers mull ‘people’s plan’ for Ennore creek restoration

A worker cleans after an oil spill in the Bay of Bengal off the Ennore Creek area in the aftermath of Cyclone Michaung, near Chennai on Tuesday, December 12, 2023.

Posted on January 8, 2024

Ennore creek has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in December 2023 and the bad news seems far from over. Oil spill clean-up is not yet complete and needs to be more comprehensive as more affected mangroves and river bed sediments remain untouched. Before the Ennore fisherfolk could catch their breath after the clean-up of visible oil spill, the region was choked by ammonia gas leak. What is happening now are “loud” disasters. Ennore’s normal is a little less loud but a consistent compound disaster.

Healthy Ennore creek faced “existential disappearance” before we realised the threat induced by climate change. A river missing on the official records is not a river legally. It’s like the opposite of Vadivel comedy “kenatha kanom’’. The actor would have a document to show the existence of a well, but no well would actually exist. Ennore creek and backwaters lost about 5,000 acres of the waterbody on official critical coastal planning document, Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP). This was prepared illegally by the state in 1997 to foster petrochemical industries against the original map in 1996 which showed the full extent of the creek.

By the time fisherfolk knew of the existential disappearance of the river on paper in 2017, fossil fuel-based industrial infrastructure, including coal storage terminals, oil terminals, ash pipelines and several bridges, had encroached the river amid their objections. Fisherfolk have partially won the battle of bringing back the river on the current approved CZMP and are still fighting to bring back legal protection to the whole backwaters.

Kosasthalaiyar drains into sea, via Ennore creek, and is a tidally influenced waterbody that serves double the flood carrying capacity of Chennai’s other two rivers – Adyar and Cooum. Encroachments on Kosasthalaiyar are exposing Chennai to repeated flood risk while also depriving life of the river. Any foreign material such as construction debris/sand dumped in backwaters to construct industrial infrastructures destroys fishing grounds, mangrove ecosystem, aggravates infestation of invasive mussels (kaaka azhi), deviates tidal flow which is vital for fishing and safe movement of boats. It contaminates the river reducing the health of micro and macro life forms, alters the natural profile of the waterbody making it all difficult for fishers, flora and fauna dependent on the river for life.

Contamination by fly ash from thermal power plants, continuous industrial effluent discharge from Manali and, at times, huge discharge such as the recent oil spill, continuous domestic sewage on a daily basis pose a risk to the health of the river and residents.

A river has life and value, this we learn from fishers. Life of a river doesn’t just mean fishing livelihood, but a lot more including socio-cultural inter-relationships. Their plural knowledge of the river is the exciting science we learnt and are still learning. A common man’s perspective of a river as a mere drain to empty water to sea will change when the person picks up lessons from fisherfolk.

The NGT in 2022 recognised fisherfolk’s claims of contamination of river by ash and ordered the state government to prepare a remediation plan for restoration. Any such plan will work only when fisherfolk’s knowledge is heard and incorporated. One of the ‘kaka azhi’ infested site’s restoration plan is currently being guided by fishers. The good news is that fishers are going to launch a “people’s plan” that will guide Ennore creek’s restoration. This, when implemented with their guidance, will bring good. Invitation to the launch event will be published soon.

5,000 acres lost
Ennore creek and backwaters lost about 5,000 acres on official coastal planning document. This was prepared illegally by the state in 1997 to foster petrochemical industries against original map in 1996.


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