Six villages along the Ennore creek held a public meeting on 26th March to demand an end to the pollution and encroachment of the Creek and other neighbouring water bodies. All the villagers attending the meeting are from traditional fishing communities. The setting up of industries and thermal power plants, starting from the 1960s, has polluted the waters, destroyed the Kosasthalaiyar river, and has severely hampered fishing, in the process destroying the livelihood of fishermen. The fishing communities who were economically self-sufficient, are now dependent on exploitative low-paying factory jobs. The communities have been protesting this industrial pollution for decades now, but without much result. The public hearing was organized by the Ennore Anaithu Minava Gramangal Kootamaippu with technical and legal assistance from The Other Media. The meeting was chaired by retired High Court judge D. Hari Paranthaman.
Ennore, located on the coast, is at the confluence of many water bodies.
On its west is the Ennore creek which connects the Kosasthaliyar river in the south to the Pulicat lake (or Pazhaverkadu Eri) in the north. The meeting of fresh and salt water created a rich fishing ground. As many of the speakers recounted, when the first factory (Ashok Leyland) came to Ennore in the 1970s, nobody went to work there – because they could earn a day’s factory wage by going out fishing for two hours. Women recounted memories of being able to drink the river water.
But now, Ennore is home to factories producing cement and fertilizer, in addition to the Kamarajar Port, whose construction required several water-bodies to be filled. Worst of all, three thermal power plants–Ennore thermal, North Chennai and NTECL–have come up in Ennore (see a map of Ennore below provided to us by The Other Media). The ash and hot water dumped by the thermal power plants have destroyed the water bodies. Chemicals released into the water have also destroyed mangrove forests — which has in turn affected the prawn population, as mangroves act as nurseries for prawns. Not only has the catch of various fish reduced drastically, but studies have also found the presence of heavy metals in the fish from Ennore creek. Villagers complained of high incidence of skin disease because of exposure to the hot water dumped by the thermal power plants.
The construction of Kamarajar port has cut off access to the sea for fishing. One of the speakers from Kaalakuppam village spoke about how the government is trying to clean out fishermen from the coast. While in places like Ennore in North Chennai, the coast is taken over by ports and industries, in South Chennai real estate and parks like VGP are taking over the coastline. Fishermen are being confined into ever smaller areas of the coast. Movements of the fishermen is also regulated on pretexts like dangerous weather. The speaker asked, who knows the sea better than us, why should the government restrict us from going to the sea. Further, he said that the government trains outsiders to take the job of coast guard — these jobs should rightfully be given to fishermen.
Now, people of fishing communities have to seek jobs in factories, where they are disrespected as ‘uneducated’, and hence are only given jobs like toilet cleaning and grass cutting. Many speakers lamented how they have not been given priority in jobs, after their livelihoods were uprooted.
The final speaker of the day was Judge Paranthaman. He compared the fishermen’s issues to the problem of land acquisition facing many communities throughout the country. He talked about how many adivasi communities have fought for their land and forests, on which their livelihoods are based. He said that the primary demand in Ennore should be to save the river and the estuary, not for jobs; because jobs last only one generation, whereas the water resources are the community’s assets for generations to come.
Fisherfolk of Ennore are demanding an end to further expansion of industry in Ennore, and to clean up the Kosasthalaiyar river. Coastal Resource Center, a project run by The Other Media, has taken air and water samples from the vicinity of the power plants. They will soon report their results on the levels of toxic heavy metals in the water and respirable dust in the air.