Why are Ennore residents protesting against Adani’s Kattupalli Port expansion project?

The project could impact the livelihood of around 50,000 villagers and cause widespread environmental degradation, say activists

By Shobana Rupakumar
Published: Thursday 11 March 2021

A proposed expansion of the Kattupalli Port by Adani Ports in the ecologically sensitive coastal area between Pulicat lake and Chennai have sparked protests in the area. Protestors from nearby villages demonstrated February 10, 2021 at Ennore in northern Chennai, where the expansion is proposed.

In 2018, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones Ltd bought 330 acres of the Kattupalli port from Larsen and Toubro. The Adani Group company soon initiated the Kattupalli Port expansion project.

At a cost of Rs 53,031 crore, the corporate giants want to expand the port to 6,111 acres from 330 acre, with 2,000 acre of sea converted to land.

Local fishers, workers in ancillary businesses and environmental activists have been protesting since 2018 against this project, which violates several environmental rules and regulations in the high-erosion area near Ennore. It poses a great threat to their livelihood and the biodiversity of the region, they said.

Danger to avian and marine biodiversity

The Environment Impact Assessment by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 2018 confirms that the extension of the port will erode the northern part of the coast at an alarming rate of 16 metres per year. At present, the erosion rate is 8.6 m / year.

Beaches eroding at a rate of 1m / year are considered ‘high-eroding’ by the Union government.

Moreover, the proposed site of construction is just 2.1 km away from Pulicat Wildlife Sanctuary and as per the law, a port cannot be built within 10 kilometre of a sanctuary. The construction will take around 20 years and will impact several bird species. This will eventually destroy avian and marine biodiversity of the area.

Livelihoods impacted

The proposed mega port will also change the lives of the people of Ennore. There are nearly 80 fishing community villages in and around the seashore.

The president of Ennore’s Lighthouse village association, C Paranthaman, said:

“We all depend on fishing and related work. The shore is already eroding and has almost reached the villages. The seashore has come 40 m closer, which was once 100 m from the villages because of the existing Kamarajar port. We already have ports and don't need a new one within Chennai.”

The proposed mega port at Kattupalli wants to convert the Ennore Pulicat backwaters into an industrial area, said environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman. This will impact the livelihood of nearly 50,000 fishers and fishing vendors.

It would also hit a major source of drinking water in a place which has been reeling under water crisis over the last few years. The megaport would replace the Minjur Desalination Plant located at Kattupalli. Chennai gets a fourth of its daily water supply from the plant and Kosasthalaiyar-Araniyar basin.

Although the plant will be moved to another site, this disturbance in water supply will result in further water scarcity in the city, the residents fear.

Supporting road project & further environmental degradation

This project is also paving the way for the Salem-Chennai eight-lane expressway proposed by the state government in 2019, said Jayaraman. He added:

“The existing roads are not being fully utilised because there is not enough traffic. The new roads will require increased traffic. And how will it be created? By creating the need of exports and imports. This is where the need of port comes in.”

A public hearing of the project was supposed to be held on January 22, 2021. However, the hearing was called off last minute citing violation of COVID-19 protocol.

"They may conduct a public hearing only after elections. Some indirect approaches have been happening such as convincing people for their land. However, the people are united in this issue very strongly,” says the Chennai Climate Action Group volunteer Vishvaja Sampath. The group has been actively involved in creating awareness regarding the issue.

Meanwhile, the Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the Left parties have also extended their support to the people. "Yes, many political parties are also extending their support for us. We are continuously giving petitions to the concerned authorities,” said Paranthaman.

The Adani Group is also asking individuals to give up their lands to be later used for the project. So, they are promising permanent jobs in return, said Sampath.

“They could only create 1,500 jobs which also would be up for grabs only after completion of the port, that is, 20 years from now,” she added.

The villagers have a much more sustainable life now, said the activist. “They earn Rs 200 to 500 a day from fishing and ancillary work. They don't want to work under anyone."

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