In general the term ‘kazhuveli’ refers to marsh land meaning grass with moisture. In particular it is a place where the sea water (salt water) and river water (good water) merge with each other. This is a vital resource and it has legal implication too. One’s attention is drawn to the international RAMSAR Convention which tried to protect the marsh land resource in every country. India is one of the signatories to the treaty that was drafted in 1971. Besides this, India brought forth National Wetland Conservation Programme during 1985-86 under which 94 wetlands were identified for special protection. The Tamil Nadu Government introduced a legislation giving special protection only in 2007. In spite of legal enactments and protection to the identified wetlands, all such natural resources have been mercilessly exploited and destroyed during the 20 years gap between Central Govt announcement and TN govt announcement.
Once upon a time, these marsh lands were spread throughout the area from Pallikaranai to Muttukadu. However, over a period of time, these marsh lands have since been exploited and almost completely damaged right from IT companies to ordinary petty shops including houses built in this area. In fact, the factor that was responsible for the complete deluge of Velachery during 2015 floods was due to the fact all the wetlands in the area of Pallikaranai had been cut off mercilessly.
Earlier, Pallikaranai marsh land was occupying a total area of 5000 hectares, receiving the waters from the branches of Adyar and sending it back to the sea after retaining its required portion. The pity is that it is now spread hardly over 500 hectares. In addition to this, this area is the preferred resort of both local and overseas birds from time to time. Before 2007 Tamil Nadu Government had converted this as a protected land. However, right from 1995, Pallikaranai happened to be the place of mass garbage dumping with easy access to all kinds of contaminated waters to be mixed in this protected wetland. Thereafter, the real face of this protected site started becoming a solid example of utter contamination and pollution.
The entire Pallikaranai area is now swamped with high degree of contamination and toxic elements and naturally the so called precious wetland has become as dirty as one could ever imagine. The area which is behind this site is largely under encroachment up to Thoraipakkam, OMR Road. With contamination of all sorts, the entire area has become highly obnoxious to say the least. In effect, this accumulated dirty water gets directed to Buckingham canal. Automatically, this contamination spreads throughout the Buckingham canal and gets stretched to Muttukadu which is very sad.
Adding fuel to fire:-
Besides the above, the point to be noted is that Pallikaranai marsh land is not confined to the locality in and around Velacheri. It covers the opposite side and behind ELCOT also. Behind Elcot the forestry department is located and it is only responsible for the protection of the surrounding wetland. We wanted to see these and went to ELCOT where entry was refused. But somehow we managed entry and got to investigate further. Lot of IT companies have literally encroached upon these marsh lands. Inside Elcot premises also, the wetland areas were deliberately allowed to dry so that buildings could be constructed in future. After reaching the entrance of the forest department, we were stopped by L&T people and we were surprised how they can do this in forest area. It was revealed that with the connivance of the forest department, a separate space had been allotted for L & T workers by the Elcot in the Pallikaranai region.
The extent of damage and contamination:-
Though the areas adjacent to the forest department continued to remain as marsh land , the drainage water had already got mixed in that. When we tried to find out how that had happened we were again stopped by the forest official. But we told them that we have come to take photos of birds. The same official took us around and we saw in the end, waste and drainage from ELCOT being channeled into the marsh land.
For this purpose, an artificial channel has been created on behalf of Elcot in order to enable mixing of IT Companies drainage water with the wetland passage. Because of this dirt and odour, hardly the birds visit this place. While no one bothers about this tragedy, ELCOT officials are taken care of by the IT companies according to the forest official. The forest department has been sending customary notices to little effect. If anyone lodges any complaint, he will be threatened in turn. Further information from the forest department official is that kickbacks are being collected from IT companies and passed on to the officials up to Secretariat. On our way back we noticed a marsh land being evened out
Government’s ultimate responsibility:-
It goes without saying that the remaining Pallikaranai marsh land under the custody of the Government and the forest department may best be protected by checking any kind of further encroachment. It is clearly visible the Government is helping ELCOT to spoil and destroy the remaining marsh land.
(This article originally written by Durai.Nagarajan in Tamil has been reproduced in English by P.S.Ramamurthy)