Disaster on Chennai’s coast as oil spill cripples livelihood, marine life

Activists warn of physical and chemical effects following the oil spill.

As one approaches Bharathiyar Nagar in Ennore, the smell of oil – pungent, distinctive and overwhelming – fills the air. By the shore, the environmental disaster that has unfolded is there for all to see. Where the waters of Bay of Bengal once lapped the shore, a film of black sludge gleams in the sunlight. The dense sludge floating on the sea surface spreads with the tide, smearing everything it touches black.

Three days after the MT BW Maple, carrying liquefied petroleum gas, and MT Dawn Kanchipuram, an oil tanker collided near the Kamarajar Port in Ennore, officials are still struggling to contain the oil spill. A dozen fishermen together with the Indian Coast Guard are the clean-up crew. Armed with only buckets, they scoop the sludge into buckets, a slow and tedious task, even as the oil spill has drifted towards the south – to the Marina Beach and to Elliot’s Beach.

 

Nityanand Jayaraman, environmental activist says, “The impact on the environment, health and the livelihood are closely connected. It should have been contained almost immediately. Otherwise it becomes impossible to contain the spill as the slick moves to the shore and to deeper sea.” Adding to the problem, he notes, is that authorities are unaware about just how much has spilt.

The fishing villages near the port were among the first to experience the damage. When the ships collided at 4am on Saturday, Nirmal, a fisherman who was out at sea, felt the oil fall on him. “I came back home and tried removing all the oil but it wasn’t washing off. Later, I came to know that two ships had collided and the oil had leaked from one of the ships,” he narrates.

The villagers of three fishing villages – Kasi Koil Kuppam, Kasivisalatchi Kuppam and KVK Kuppam – situated about 300 metres from the sea are distressed over the environmental catastrophe that has taken place at their shores. Fishermen complain of not being able to go out to sea, and many found their nets damaged, coated in the greasy oil, while their boats returned to shore with the film of black sludge on their surface.

“All the spilled oil has reached the shallow waters due to the water currents. We cannot fish here now as the fish will not remain in the same area after the oil spill. Many of the fish have also died. We won’t be able to fish for the next three months,” points out SA Vignesh, Meenavar Makkal Munnani Katchi, head of the North Chennai region.

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Fact Finding Mission to Enquire into Alleged Police Excesses on 23rd January 2017 in Nadukuppam Village, Marina Beach

நாங்க காலம்காலமா இந்த குப்பத்திலே இருக்கோம். நாங்க இன்னிக்கி திடீர்ன்னு பயங்கரவாதிகளா ஆயிட்டோமா? அடிபட்டு, ரத்தம் சிந்த ஓடிவந்த கொழந்தைங்க, அவங்க பயங்கரவாதிங்களா? அவங்களும் எங்கள மாதிரி தமிழங்கதானே? எங்க கொழந்தைங்க மாதிரிதானே? தமிழனுக்குத் தமிழன்தானே ஆதரவு தரனும்? அவங்கள காப்பாத்துறது எங்க கடமை இல்லையா? அதுக்கா எங்கள இப்படி அடிச்சு நோறுக்குனாங்க?”

– Woman resident, Nadukuppam. As told to Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi.

An all-women fact-finding team consisting of Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, former chair State Commission on Women, Prof. Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, Adv. Poongkhulali Balasubramanian, and Chandrika Radhakrishnan from Thozilalar Koodam visited Nadukuppam between 2 and 5 p.m. on 24 January to file the following fact-finding report. Considering the urgency of the situation and the threat of destruction of valuable evidence at Nadukuppam, the Fact finding team has decided to release this report immediately.

The Fact-finding team was overwhelmed by the consistency in the testimonies of hundreds of people who came forward to speak – sometimes all at once – about the goings on of 23 January, 2017. What is clear is that after their initial hot pursuit of bleeding and terrified youngsters from the beach, the police returned at least two more times armed with stones, bottles, petrol bombs, rubber bullets, tear gas and incendiary material. It is established quite clearly that:

a) The police had badly beaten the young men and women who came running into the village in the early hours with injuries, clothes in a disarray and in a state of incoherent terror.

b) The police repeatedly referred to the youngsters as “theeviravadhigal” (terrorists) to justify their violent behaviour. By accusing the villagers of harbouring terrorists, they justified their violence and destruction of property.

c) Policewomen were as abusive – physically and verbally – as the policemen. They have used sexist, demeaning words, entered homes, destroyed furniture, dragged innocent men, women and children out on the street and beaten them up in public view.

d) Policewomen set fire to the fishmarket using some inflammable powder like substance. Several other vehicles and hand carts and shops were also systematically targetted. Some police women also looted the fish, especially the high-priced fish.

e) Policemen later came and tried to pressurise residents to sign a testimony declaring that the protestors had indulged in arson and violence, and promised them compensation in return. The residents refused.

f) Just as the fisherfolk were recovering from Vardah, the police have destroyed the single most important livelihood asset of more than 250 women in Nadukuppam. This will have a devastating impact on the domestic economies of the families, and the schooling and future of their children at a time when exams are around the corner.

g) The mental trauma – anger and helplessness mixed with a sense of betrayal – can have lasting effects on the minds of the women and children who were witness to and victims of police atrocities.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

a) Convene a high-level independent probe to verify the findings of this report and the allegations of the residents of Nadukuppam.

b) Immediately offer an ex-gratia compensation to all households in Nadukuppam with an extra amount to the fisherwomen who have lost their assets in the arson attack on the fishmarket.

c) Enquire into the complicity of higher officials in the police department, and take appropriate action.

d) Do a detailed valuation of the lost property, damaged assets in terms of livelihood assets, household goods, houses, furniture and vehicles, and arrange for compensation by the Chennai City Police.

e) Conduct a thorough investigation and pin penal liability on police personnel that participated in the attacks of 23 January, and their seniors who ordered the attack. Depute an independent forensic expert of high repute and expertise to look into the huge volume of electronic evidence regarding the incident and also survey the entire area.

f) The State and National Commission on Women should take particular note of this attack, and commission an enquiry for necessary corrective action.

g) Police should publish their standard operating procedure for crowd control and evicting protestors, and compliance to the SOP should be verified for this specific instance.

h) Selection of police personnel and police officers should include thorough pyschological screening to ensure that the personnel possess the sensitivity to handle situations like these that require a high degree of restraint and respect for human dignity.

i) A permanent judicial ombudsman be constituted to adjudicate on police measures that affect civil rights in order to increase transparency and accountability of senior police officers.

Members of the Fact Finding Team:

  1. Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, former Vice Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, chairperson, State Women’s Commission.
  2. Dr. Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, Assoc. Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies.
  3. Poongkhulali Balasubramanian, Advocate, Madras High Court
  4. Chandrika Ramanujam, Thozilalar Koodam and TN Labour Blog

Photographs: Amirtharaj Stephen, Praveen and Steve Rodriquez

Read the full report on the fact finding enquiring into police excesses in Nadukuppam Village, Marina here

VICTORY | Fishers Rejoice As Kamarajar Port Bids to Repair Damage to Creek |

The Story of Ennore

PRESS RELEASE

01.12.16. CHENNAI

Notching yet another victory against illegal industrial encroachments in Ennore Creek, the region’s fisherfolk welcomed Kamarajar Port Ltd’s (KPL) Rs. 1.36 crore tender for removal of dredged sand that was dumped on salt pans to convert the wetlands into real estate. Saltpans are protected wetlands under Coastal Regulation Zone Notification and the National Wetland Rules, 2010. KPL is in possession of 637.7 acres of saltpan lands that was transferred from the Central Salt Department in March 2015.

Highlighting the illegallity of KPL’s dumping, the Ennore Anaithu Meenava Grama Koottamaippu (Ennore All Fisher Village Coalition) and Chennai-based Coastal Resource Centre, haltedclipping the activity last August 2015. In October 2016, KPL once again resumed its dumping only to be stopped by the Thiruvallur sub-collector, who was inspecting the removal of such encroachments along with fisher representatives and city-based environmentalists.

For the first time in the 25 years…

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150-m beach vanishes after erosion preventive work

CHENNAI: They were meant to help save the coast from sea erosion. But in just six months, about 150 metres of sandy beach along Kovalam has been eaten by the sea, allegedly due to unscientific laying of  groynes by the State Fisheries Department.

The department has dumped large boulders to create eight groynes dotting the Kovalam coast, ranging from five to 200 metres in length, apparently for the benefit of fishing community.
As Express reported in April, the work was undertaken without obtaining the mandatory environmental clearance.

The Kovalam-Muthukadu coast which witnessed unprecedented sea erosion after the construction of groyne field  | Express

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