Ennore is an “environmental crime scene” as the dumping and encroachment of fly ash continues
The fresh, shiny and almost transparent shrimp caught at Ennore were once a delicacy for seafood lovers in the city. But that’s just the stuff of memories now. Instead of the succulent shrimps of yesteryear, we only find black and fatty shrimps which no longer feed as much on worms as on fly ash deposited by the thermal power stations of the Ennore waters.
“Shrimp caught in the Palaverkadu and Kosasthalaiyar rivers have been in huge demand, both locally and internationally. Ash-colored shrimp (Sambal era in Tamil) now make up the majority of the catch and as we know that fly ash pollution is what feeds them, we have stopped buying them, ”says V Devanayaki, former advisor to the Kattukuppam village in Ennore.
The Union’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) published a draft notification on 3 December 2020 regarding the use of fly ash by coal and lignite power plants. The last amendment, which should be notified soon, introduces for the first time a system of sanctions in the event of non-compliance. Several notifications from the ministry mandate the use of fly ash in the brick and cement industries. Yet Ennore thermal power plants have always opted for the ease of dumping it into the river bed.
Fly ash pollution has been a serious threat to the environment and ecology in this part of Chennai for many years now. A resident of Kattukuppam village for 41 years, Devanayaki has witnessed the slow and steady destruction of Ennore Creek. Over 1,000 acres of the river’s backwaters are heavily contaminated with fly ash from TANGEDCO pipeline leaks. And that doesn’t seem likely to be resolved in the near future.
The problem is now compounded by TANGEDCO’s construction activities. “Now a bridge to support a pipeline to transport coal ash from Phase III of the North Chennai Thermal Power Plant to the leaking ash dyke at Seppakkam is being built, dumping construction debris and fuel. sand on the river bed and streams, “said a statement from the Coastal Resource Center. The press release points out that TANGEDCO has not obtained the environmental clearance or consent to operate required for the project, either under the Air (Pollution Prevention and Control) Act, 1981 or the Water Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution), 1974.
Another press release from the ‘Save Ennore Creek’ campaign from July 14 read: “After using an alignment that avoids water bodies to gain approval, TANGEDCO illegally altered the alignment without notifying the Ministry of L ‘Union environment, and went ahead with a completely different alignment that works mainly on water bodies.
Generated by the combustion of coal in thermal power plants, fly ash causes air and water pollution. It is mandatory to use fly ash in the construction of roads or bridge dikes within 300 km of thermal power plants, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Fly ash can also be used in brick making, reducing fly ash pollution and preserving the soil. The MoEFCC, in its recent draft notification (December 2020), extended the timeframe for 100% use of fly ash from three to five years.
Read more: How industrialization sounded the death knell for Ennore’s ecology
Urgent action needed
At the request of local fishermen, a three-member team consisting of Professor S Janakarajan, G. Sundarrajan from Poovulagin Nanbargal and musician TM Krishna recently assessed the violations at Ennore Creek. The inspection team observed that Ennore’s backwaters look like an environmental crime scene and that the TNPCB is clearly absent from the action.
The degradation of Ennore Creek has direct implications for Chennai. “The incessant encroachments on the Kosasthalaiyar and Arinyar rivers have reduced their water retention capacities. The fact that these rivers were flooded in 2015 reflects the damage already done, ”says G Sundarrajan from Poovulagin Nanbargal.
Ennore is the victim of incessant and unplanned development. Many court orders and many government promises later, she is still waiting for a government capable of righting the wrong. “The Ennore estuary must be declared a protected area. As the thermal power plants here age and are about to shut down, we ask the government not to build new ones here at least. TANGEDCO should take responsibility and clean up the creek through bioremediation, ”Sundarrajan said.
“An independent audit carried out at Ennore’s thermal power stations revealed that the power stations are not efficient. These plants have passed their lifespan. The state government should take an immediate decision regarding the situation in Ennore, ”a senior TNPCB official said on condition of anonymity.
A government inter-ministerial committee with fisheries, TANGEDCO and the water resources department should be set up as a priority to restore the cove and save the livelihoods of local fishermen.
A cycle of impunity
Over the past 25 years, numerous orders from the Madras High Court and the South Bank of the Green National Court have been issued to remove fly ash from Ennore’s waters. In 1996, the Madras High Court ordered TANGEDCO to stop dumping ashes into the stream. All these directives were flouted and in 2017, the NGT strongly attacked TANGEDCO for not having respected its orders. They had a week to clear out the fly ash and were warned of the shutdown if it failed, but it’s clear nothing happened.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also formed an expert committee to conduct a detailed investigation into environmental crime in Ennore. As part of the investigation, renowned soil biologist and environmentalist Sultan Ahmed Ismail conducted a very first official study in Ennore which revealed alarming facts. “The test results showed that all the fish samples contained high concentrations of heavy metals, which can be dangerous and kill people in the long term when consumed,” the study said.
“The life-giving waters, the mangroves, the shrimp and crab house, the flamingos and pelicans dining hall, these are all poramboke. To desecrate these places of life in the name of development is an unforgivable crime. Unfortunately, between an insensitive government and an inept and corrupt TNPCB, TANGEDCO continued to dig, build and dump on the Ennore wetlands, ”wrote Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist on Facebook.
In a joint statement, the Save Ennore Creek Campaign and area fishermen said, “TANGEDCO’s daring to deceive the Minister and TNPCB’s futility as a regulator highlight the lack of a state of right in Tamil Nadu. This is a test case so that the new government can follow its discourse on the establishment of its own administration. In view of the encouraging steps taken by the government in appointing effective senior managers in the field of environment and forests, we hope that the government will ensure that the law prevails in this case.
When we called Thiruvottiyur MP KP Sankar for comment on the upcoming roadmap, he said: “The de-siltation of fly ash from Ennore water bodies is a priority. The DMK government aims to finish it before the start of local elections. By the way, elections for local bodies in Chennai have been going on since 2016, when the term of the last elected council expired. The latest reports suggest that Chief Minister MK Stalin has asked the municipal administration department to hold elections to urban local bodies by the end of the year.