Simmering storm within me - 5 - It cannot be denied ‘there is no Hindu extremism’ anymore!
KamalhassanPhotos: K. Balaji
Once it was told, ‘North waxes while South wanes. But now North Chennai is waning. This will lead to submergence of whole of North Chennai. Yes, the affairs of Ennore can exemplify the fact. More than half of the job has already been done to convert Ennore into Mannore, completely filling it up with mud. What scares us is that the conversion of coastal land into a desert has been readily carried out by the governments.
My friend, social activist and musician, TM Krishna has been striving to take Karnatic music that is celebrated only by the elites to the Kuppams. By virtue of it, he has joined hands with the environmentalist, Nithyanad Jeyaraman, creating a vibrant awareness campaign, which is timely. As a part of the campaign, I have recently watched the documentary song ‘Puramboku’ produced and released by them. Then only I realized the impact on Ennore.
Until I watched the documentary song I know only that there are many factories in Ennore. Further I accept without any pretension that it’s almost 20 years since I visited that part of Chennai. But the plight imposed on the people and the people of Ennore is so grievous that one part of Chennai is going to face the danger of completely submerged. Dismayed by this crisis, I twittered about the plight of Kosasthalai River and against the unwarranted encroachment by the government. Impelled to experience the pain personally, I started to Ennore along with Nithyanad Jeyaraman early in the morning recently.
Nithyanad Jeyaraman, needs no introduction by me as he has already reached the people by virtue of his environmental endeavors. However, it is my duty to mention about his credentials. He is an environmental activist, having studied in the US. He had worked with international media personalities and used to travel across continents to participate in many environmental gatherings. During 1990s, there were shrimp farms perilously mushrooming in the fertile agriculture lands along the mouth of Cauvery Delta, causing worst environmental degradation. Though he went only to gather news about its impact, finally realized that it is not enough to simply write about it and so he got himself into the field as an environmental activist.
He roams across the borders of Indian states, participating in the protests against the Narmada Dam, toxic dumping at Kodaikanal by Unilever, Bhopal tragedy and so on. He joined hands with the people of oorur Kuppam, against raising of Beach Road in Besant Nagar. Now he stands with the fishermen of Ennore creek, writing and acting against the project.
Let me now move on to my visit to Ennore. During my travel to North Chennai from Alwarpet, Nithyanad elaborated the details about Ennore.
“Ennore is situated North of Chennai. There are two rivers, Kosasthalai and Arani, running towards the Bay of Bengal. The estuarine part where the rivers confluence with the ocean is called Ennore Creek. This spreads over 6500 acres, running for 16 kg. Hydrologically, this area remains highly sensitive. This creek serves as a barrier stopping flood water entering into the villages at flood times, especially during Tsunami, barricading its impact on the coast. And such an ecologically significant part of the coastal area has been encroached. It is unfortunate to know that it is carried out not by the realtors or politicians but by the government companies.
All those public sector organizations, Kamarajar port, Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, Vallur and Thermal power station of North Chennai have been polluting the ecosystem of this creek by way of encroachments and also letting out hazardous effluents including fly ash waste indiscriminately. The whole ecosystem has been severely threatened”. He further explained about the degradation with the help of a map of the area.
“The Tamilnadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority has blundered a great deal with regard to this project. The Authority has betrayed you, you and us. There is a well defined Coastal Regulation Zone prescribed to protect the land of 500 meters from high tide of the coast including the canals and creeks of the zone up to 100 meters. Based on the extent of sensitivity the coastal ecosystem is classified as CRZ 1, CRZ 2, CRZ 3 and CRZ 4. The Ennore creek falls under CRZ 1, meaning it is highly sensitive.
We have been protesting against the encroachments at Ennore in support of the fishermen of the area. As a part of the protest, Jesu Rathinam, an environmentalist, was able to get the CRZ-1 map of Ennore creek in 2009 through Right to Information Act, after toiling for almost three years. It was drawn in 1996 and approved by the Central Government.
By the same Right to Information Act, I have also gained a copy of the area of Ennore in 2017. We were shocked at the glimpse of the map of Ennore. We could not locate the 16- km long ‘Ennore Creek’ in the map at all. With deceitful deletion of the creek from the map the Tamilnadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority has approved to commission Kamarajar port in the same place.
Already, Kamarajar port has encroached about 1090 acres of land and it is given further extension for 1000 acres. Actually what they have encroached is the entire area of Ennore creek, spread over 6500 acres. They have been encroaching all along the canal of Ennore. They have dumped wastes in the creek, driving away the tribes of the land. How is it possible to have the same map having two different versions, where there was a creek in 2009 which disappeared in 2017? Odd enough, the Tamilnadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority said that the area was measured and mapped by a Hydrographer in 1997 and the currently available version is new, approved by the Central Government.
I questioned them further through Right to Information Act, on what basis the map was redrafted and the details of the Hydrographer who has researched the area before finalizing the map. The responses was, ‘The Central government did not send any Hydrograper and also did not approve of any new map of the area’. Therefore, evidently they lied to us stating that the map was redrawn in 1997.
The car was approaching the place as we could feel the unique smell of the coast trickling through the closed glass doors. The river, Kosasthalai, has virtually slimmed to a mere canal, with many mounds of fly ash being cleared by Proclain and loaded onto lorries, dark and dusty smoke billowing from the thermal power stations and, hazardous effluent pipelines crisscrossing the area, all these unsightly degradations have been changing the entire coastal ecosystem into a desert. Looking at the Kosasthalai River from its bank we could realize how it is being degraded by fly ash dumps, exactly the way Cooum River was killed as a waste dumped gutter.
Nithyanand deplored that the six-hourly ecological replenishment on either side of the estuary, from the river to the ocean and back, has lost its cyclic motion due to the industrial effluents and wastes dumped along the river.
Kosasthalai River was used for trading between Andhra and Chennai via Pulicat. It was used to trade rice from the other side in exchange of salt. It is unsightly to witness the unfortunate state of the river being ruined to shallow potholes of water stagnation, here and there, limping despondently to reach the ocean. It was once a rich source of fish. Once deep and profusely flowing, the river is now made shallow due to indiscriminate dumping of fly ash wastes. This makes the fishermen use high powered engines for fishing, necessitating them to carry the boats across the river to reach adequate depth to drive them.
While traveling in the car it was obviously visible to us to witness the effluent pipelines draining ash wastes directly in to the river. When we traced back the pipelines to their origin we reached Cheppakkam, where the fly ash wastes are stored. From a distance it looked like a placid lake, wide spread without waves. It was deplorably puzzling to measure how long it would take for them to remove those dumps of fly ash and the means of removing that enormous amount of ash. Further, the fly ash wastes being dumped here are slowly driven away by the waves, mixing along with Kosathalai River, making it further shallow, day by day.
There is a half submerged building amidst the fly ash dumps. Pointing it to us, an elder of the village, told us that it was once served as a salt warehouse. That is where we used to store the salts generated from the saltpans. We could realize the way of their lost life that flourished well with saltpans and green fields, completely ignored by the governments currently. While climbing down the fly ash mounds, those who still live in the village of Cheppakkam, other than those migrated, surrounded us, with tears and lamentations.
‘It floods at once there is slight downpour. Day and night there are mosquitoes all around. Drinking water tastes so saline as if salt is dissolved directly into it. Look at our limbs with salt crystals accumulated all over’. They showed their hands and legs. By then what an old lady depicted made us in tears. ‘There were saltpans surrounding us, in the past. But the drinking water was not saline. But now there are no saltpans but the water we drink and food we eat are tainted with salt and fly ash’. About three fourth of the residents have already vacated the place voluntarily, unable to bear witness to the utter degradation of their villages and not having any clue to revive their flourishing past. And whoever scarcely remaining in the area have been driven out of it by the government agencies.
“Ecologically these types of estuaries are significant nurturing biodiversity as fresh and sea waters come together. The estuaries play a key role in divesting floods into the ocean and also accommodating harsh waves from the sea. As the waters of river and ocean come together the salinity is brought down suitably so that new ecological zones are being created and sustained. This area also encourages breeding of many aquatic organisms. And if this fragile area is degraded, it will affect all members of the ecosystem, including birds, marine organisms, and eventually human beings’. Thus highlighting the grave conditions of the place, Nithyanand Jeyaraman also explained us about the ‘huge walls’ raised in Ennore.
“Athipattu Puthunagar is a village, part of Ponneri, Thiruvallur district. When North Chennai and Vallur Thermal Power Stations were commissioned, those who lived in those locations were shifted to that village. In 2015, when most of the places of Chennai were submerged due to floods, the Ennore estuary was the one that protected most parts of North Chennai from the floods. But Athipattu Puthunagar is now waterlogged up to knee level because of the encroachments. The water logged here should drain into the natural flood plains reaching the creek. There are two holes made nearby the Athipattu Puthunagar Railway station to facilitate draining. But considering the volume of the water logging and the spread of the flood plain available, one will naturally wonder how the huge burden of flooding will drain into the river. Additionally, there are blocks obstructing the way of the flood plains. Eventually it floods the whole area affecting the people.
In order to avoid water entering in to their premises, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharath Petroleum have built huge walls around the companies. Any one will be shocked to see those walls. Flood waters will not enter into their premise but will easily enter into the dwellings of hutments around the companies”.
Some may question intriguingly ‘why on earth one should live near water bodies?’ The only answer is that they are the children of the land. In 1990, when North Chennai Thermal Power Station was commissioned, those who lived in the place were displaced by the government to the current place. The place where they once had saltpans, did fishing and boating is now occupied by those government agencies. We cannot look at this problem only as an encroachment to the natural flood plains and water bodies but as a great fall of a generation. As there are no saltpans and watershed plains to sustain their livelihood, those children of the land were made to work for daily wages, having been thrown out of their ecologically sustainable living.
We don’t deny the importance of ports and thermal power stations. But the question is, are the goods handled by the ports and the power generated by the thermal stations not meant for serving our people? If that is so, how the government agencies can encroach the ecologically fragile creek? The fly ash being dumped in the Ennore creek should be stopped and further pollution of the Kosasthalai river should also be avoided so as to keep the water bodies fully protected is our only demand.
The river drains 1,25,000 cubic feet per second. Its drainage rate is more than the Adyar and Cooum rivers together. In 2015, we were unable even to manage the flooding by Adyar. If it happens in Ennore, it is possible to have the important places of Chennai become ‘Water cemetery’. It is not important that we are well now, today, this moment. It needs to continue, tomorrow, the next day, next month, next year and next century. We must ensure that our future generations should also live well. The governments should take required measures at the earliest.
Tightly slapped were the words of Nithyanand, while leaving the place. He said, ‘The flood plain will remain dry during non rainy seasons. The mere meaning of yeri (lake) is to remain yearning for the rains. But it should be not thought that the area can be laid into plots for real estate business when it is dry. Water holds rich memories. It will be come back to the same place where it once got dried up. When it returns it will not consider even if you hold valid approvals of encroachment. It is because of the fact that these licenses and laws are meant only for the human beings and it will not be applicable for the nature’.
If it is true that you serve for the well being of the people, you should at least lend ears to the words of these environmental activists. Don’t try to sacrifice us to satiate your greedy-guts!
Towards your river banks!
Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala
Question: I am happy to know you are involved in many beneficial interventions at many fronts. You too are aware of the history of many movements in Tamil Nadu towards social reformations and changes.
The self respect movement by Periyar has its impact beyond Tamil Nadu. Many communities await the encouragement and influence from Tamil Nadu. In recent times, we could witness the ugly forces of racial discriminations and backwardness trying to have a hold in Tamil Nadu. The Hindutva forces are gradually trying to intrude and weaken the Dravidian traditions. What is your opinion about it as a social activist?
“You pretty well know my efforts and intention. The Dravidian tradition in Tamil Nadu is not a recent one. It continues to remain for many thousands of years. Shri Ramanujar’s social revolution, 1000 years ago is an indication. It can also be treated as an important moment. Old publications of ‘Naalayiram Dhivya Prabhandham’ used to mention about ‘Dravida vedha sagaram’. This could have been secretly deleted from those texts when the Dravidian movements were growing vibrant. As mentioned by you, it was due to the direct impact of the movement by Periyar that gained him a title ‘Warrior of Voikkam’, at the beginning of his endeavors. It is popular both in Tamilnadu and Kerala.
Worldwide some are attracted towards fascism both in the past and now which is an indication that they grow in prosperity, trying to show impulsively bold. There is no chance of it gaining victory, if it tries to turn the whole world to its side. It is a kind of latest vogue, will not last long, like the new hairstyle. That’s my belief. The old generation that is despondent to witness the society becoming equitable (especially those of higher castes), desperately tries to impose its conservative and casteist perspectives and controls with a sweet spread of honey on it among the younger generation. They are trying to impose their conservatism in every ways and means, through culture, festivals, worships, music and art. Of course, there are reactions against it from the right wings of other religious groups, trying to respond with their reasoning. It is not only in Tamilnadu but is happening all over the country and I look at it as degeneration.
I am not an atheist but trying to be rational. The term atheist is created by the theists. I don’t like them naming me. Those who are trying to debate the difference between atheism and rationalism are merely paralytic, unable to understand both the aspects. Those who try to review both the aspects and striving to go closer to the truth are the rationalists. Their numbers will grow naturally.
Both science and wisdom along with the intent of humankind towards progress will surely increase their numbers despite the opponents. This universal truth not allowed to remain passive, the youth of Tamil Nadu is trying to protect its sovereignty. The old will disappear while the new ones emerge. Those conservationists are trying to mask and make us forget the aspects of the old that need to be appreciated and encouraged. For generations they are tirelessly trying to make history out of mythology and now trying to commercialize petroleum by exploiting earth gases and thereby destroying agriculture.
Many festivals happening peacefully in the past have now turned out to be a commotion, evolving commercially beyond religious faith and devotions. This has been witnessed by the Tamils for long. When a generation is growing without being aware of caste differences the old generation is trying to impose casteist discriminations using modern means. Reflective of this approach is that there are efforts blatantly visible on the internet classifying cinema artists based on their castes.
In those days, the right wing Hindus made other religious groups get into violence only by their arguments without letting themselves involved in the violence. But as this old strategy is failing now-a-days, they have tried to do it by force, abandoning their strategies. They too get into violence. They cannot challenge us ‘to find out a Hindu extremist’. To such an extent there prevails extremism among their groups. This tendency of extremism is not a sign of victory or progress to those who claim themselves to be Hindus. Having lost their faith in truth, they believe in force instead to succeed, which makes them barbaric. Change is the only thing that keeps changing. However we try to push it back the gravitational force of the earth will move it forward. The day is not far away when the Tamil society once again will serve as an exemplary model in creating social reformations. At present, Kerala remains as the model and my congratulations to it.