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Crisis in Ennore-Pulicat: Brought to you by the Adani Group

THE LIVES, THE LAND AND THE GROUP AFTER IT.

17th February, 2021

Written by Anna Abraham

Artwork by Suryansh Srivastava

I have recently caught wind of the news that the word ‘Adani’ has been flagged and content with the words relating to the group is being monitored. Whether it be the paranoia in activist circles or actual fact, for the sake of a quip (and avoiding a potential shadow ban), I will refer to it as ‘The Group That Must Not Be Named’. The rest I hope you can piece together, the founder of said Group already believes there is a ‘campaign of false propaganda’ against it. Cue laugh track. 

I will begin this story as most stories do – with a royal family and their many, many conquests – political and vested.

Once upon a time, there was a king. Born in the 60s, our king descended from a lineage of businesspersons and founded his own empire, The Group That Must Not Be Named. It was not long before his empire started to operate globally. His own wealth increased by about 230 percent when the saffron party won in the country – bringing his net worth close to $30 billion today. Our King has always supported the saffron party, evident when his private jet flew the newly elected Prime Minister to New Delhi after his electoral victory. 

Since then, the Group has won countless bids and leases for projects by the Government of India (GoI). The Group has also committed a series of climate atrocities, not just in the Indian subcontinent but across the world. The Group made headlines when a cricket match between India and Australia was stormed by #StopAdani protesters taking to the field, demanding that the Group’s Carmichael coal project and numerous other disastrous projects be stopped.

 

One of the many projects it plans to initiate is the Kattupalli Megaport project that will sit on the Ennore-Pulicat wetlands of Tamil Nadu. They aren’t joking when they say mega port -- they plan on converting the 300-acre port that exists today into a 6000-acre port space. 2000 acres is to come from dumping dredged sand into the sea, another 2000 acres is to come by converting land reserved for public use, such as water bodies, springs, roads, etc (hint: bad for the environment, not to mention illegal for a place suffering high erosion) and the remainder is private land. 

Now the project our king wants to initiate is illegal on so many counts, it seems almost ridiculous that it has reached the public hearing stage. The Environment Impact Assessment Report they have submitted, a document crucial to getting clearance for the project, suppresses facts and makes false claims.

As per Coastal Regulation Zone Notifications 2011 and 2019, ports are not allowed to be set-up on coasts that experience high erosion rates. The GoI defines a high-eroding zone as one that sees an erosion rate of 1 metre per year. In the EIA report submitted by the Group itself, they have estimated the current erosion rate to be 8.6 metres per year due to the existing Kattupalli and Kamarajar ports. This clearly makes this coast a high erosion zone. In fact, the report also ascertains the erosion to double to 16 metres per year if the Kattupalli Port is expanded. 

The EIA report submitted has also failed to mention that the proposed project falls between 2.1 and 3.4 km in proximity to the Pulicat Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is an eco-sensitive zone, and no major projects are allowed within 10 kilometres of eco-sensitive zones. Omitting this from the EIA report is one of the ways they have falsified information and managed to secure a public hearing (which now stands postponed).

 Adding an extra port to the coast will not increase efficiency – in fact, the new port depends on hampering business for older existing ports. Our king seems to have switched titles – a conquistador now!

These are clear violations (these are just a few on the list), and such falsifications are abhorring. With the draft EIA notification 2020 as released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, such violations will only rise – with post-facto clearances, minimal public consultation and projects (Category B2) being completely exempted from EIA studies.

The Kattupalli megaport project seemingly does not even make business sense. The combined cargo handling capacity of all major ports in Tamil Nadu is around 250 MTPA (million tonnes per annum). In 2019-2020 (a normal financial year pre-COVID), the total cargo handled was close to 114 MTPA. That is less than half of the ports combined capacity used. Adding an extra port to the coast will not increase efficiency – in fact, the success of the new port hinges on hampering business for older existing ports. Our king seems to have switched titles – a conquistador now!

The Group claims that their project will bring employment to the area. The EIA report submitted paints the land as barren and unused – begging to be saved and ‘developed’ by our king. Ah, ‘development’, a favourite word for our crony capitalists (a population that our finance minister has denied helping). But what our cronies conveniently neglect is the cost of what they believe is development.

Every day, scores of fisherfolk (especially women) collect close to 4.5 tonnes of fish. To recapitulate, that number refers to the catch per day. This is by no means a small feat. Fishing for tiger prawn and mud crab is a very profitable exercise for these fisherfolk – a kg of each costing upwards of ₹1000. However, port expansions in the past have destroyed the mangrove cover that housed this variety of aquatic life, making fishing a less lucrative line of work. Mangroves are very useful for multiple reasons. They prevent floods, provide a home for fish, and are also a source of nourishment for aquatic life. Further expansion threatens these important mangroves and the delicate Pulicat lake where many conduct fishing activities. Entire livelihoods can be destroyed by the project.

Recently, the waters have witnessed a depleting fish stock and 10 villages surrounding it have suffered. Those from Kuppam (a Dalit majority village) have taken to sustainable practices to maintain the waters’ richness. However, this will be in vain if the Kattupalli project receives environmental clearance.

Apart from this, expansions in the past have caused many to lose homes and face evictions. 

The construction of the L&T Shipbuilding port, demerged in 2018 to include our king’s port required many evictions to be carried out. Villagers lost their homes and livelihoods. In 2008, they were promised rehabilitation at a new village site and permanent jobs for 140 people. 12 years ahead, promises are yet to be fulfilled. On the 11th of February, more than 400 villagers blocked the entrance to the port, demanding they be given what was promised. They finally dispersed after 12 hours of relentless protesting. Authorities promised that their issues would be heard by company officials in the presence of government authorities.

The same fear lingers in the minds of the locals today, especially with The Group’s poor track record in the past. 

A public hearing was to be held for the project on the 22nd of January, but amidst major protests, it was postponed – although authorities said it was to follow COVID protocol. No date has been set as yet. Activists on the ground consider this a huge victory. 

Even so, the question remains – why is a project with so many illegalities and the potential to cause irreparable environmental damage being set-up? If the port is not even required in a profitable business sense, if it would hurt the existing ports – why is it being given the go-ahead? Is the crony-capitalism not glaring – to please our king and those who share empires with him?