Cry for Pallikaranai
Despite years of different agencies pointing out the ecological devastation taking place at the Pallikaranai marsh due to the dumping of garbage into it by the Chennai Corporation, the government has done nothing to stop it. Now, thankfully, a large area of the marshland has been declared as a reserve forest, and is supposed to be protected. Unfortunately, the dumping ground still continues, as does illegal dumping into the marsh. The sewage treatment plant, on the edge of the marsh, was dysfunctional until recently, so that untreated sewage was let into this wetland area that is considered an ecological treasure. Many buildings on the edge of the marsh have also been built in violation of building norms, contributing to the problem. This continuous abuse of our natural heritage could not continue without repercussions. These are now being felt.
According to a recent study, the Pallikaranai marsh and the areas around it are now prone to devastating floods. This study, according to an article in The Hindu, was done jointly by Care Earth, and NGO, Loyola College, and the Department of Physical geography, University of Freiburg, Germany. The analysis of this study clearly showed that the main water body and the marshland are now prone to flood risk due to the man made changes effected in the area. The marshland, not unlike a sponge, is a water retention area during heavy rain during the monsoons. Due to the continuous devastation caused to it, the marshland has not only shrunk drastically, the changes in and around it have cut off the water run off and increased the likelihood of floods in the surrounding areas. This has already been experienced over the last few monsoons with large tracts of land being flooded, as well as some of the key roads in the area.
The study went on to say that both the legal and illegal garbage dumping in the marsh is an increasing hazard. The belief that filling up the upper part of the marshland with garbage would create new land for development is incorrect as this area would produce methane gases for the next twenty years due to the process of decomposition of the garbage. So if the government is reluctant to stop the dumping of garbage due to what it sees as the potential for lucrative land deals and revenues, it is mistaken. Instead, by not stopping the devastation that is taking place, it is allowing incalculable harm to the marsh. For it is an important part of the ecology of this area, acting as a giant water aquifer and safe guard against floods of the Southern parts of the city. This has now been seriously compromised due to the garbage dumping and rampant development along the fringes of the marsh.
Compounding these problems are canals that are dysfunctional, storm water drains that are not cleaned regularly and water bodies that are not maintained. Over and above this, the Northern parts of the marsh have been encroached into by buildings that are in complete violation of the norms laid down by the government. This has resulted in the complete collapse of the natural drainage system in the marsh according to the study. The government has, with much fan fare, just changed the garbage clearing contract from Onyx to Neel Metals, which is the Indian arm of a US solid waste management company. While the new company has just taken over, and is charged with source segregation before the dumping of biological waste, the government proposes to continue dumping hundreds of tons of garbage into the Pallikaranai marshland every day.
What will it take to get them to stop this wanton destruction of our natural heritage and ecological balance? Citizens of the surrounding areas have taken to the streets and blocked the garbage trucks from going down the OMR in the past. There have been studies by an NGO which has highlighted the harm to the atmosphere due to the billowing clouds of smoke and gases that blow across the Southern residential areas like Velachery, Perungudi and Thoraipakkam. The stench that fills these areas on many days has to be experienced to be believed. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has declared a ban on dumping in this area, terming it illegal. The government has overcome this by declaring a certain number of acres as ‘set aside’ as a legal dumping ground. That may be on paper, but it certainly does not prevent the continuing damage to the ecology of the surrounding areas. Will they wait until a devastating flood takes many lives before finally shifting the site of garbage disposal? Or till citizens in the surrounding areas start dying of respiratory tract diseases and their kith and kin sue the government for expenses and compensation? We will have to wait and watch, because if there is one thing we cannot expect, it is proactive action from the government.