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Why are climate activists opposing Adani Group's Kattupalli port project?

The Adani Group has announced plans for the expansion of the Kattupalli Port at Pulicat, located 54 km north of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

By Rajeev Tyagi
New Update
pulicat protest against adanis kutapalli port expansion project

The Adani Group has announced plans for the expansion of the Kattupalli Port at Pulicat, located 54 km north of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The current 330-acre port will be transformed into an impressive 6,111-acre facility. This expansion is a vital component of a master plan developed by Marine Infrastructure Development Private Limited and Special Economic Zone Limited Company, subsidiaries of Adani Ports. The purpose of the Rs 53,400 crore plan is to not only develop the port and its harbor but also to enhance the associated infrastructure and industry in Pulicat.

The residents of Pulicat are vehemently opposing the proposed harbor and port project by the Adani group. They firmly believe that any further expansion of the port not only threatens their livelihoods but also raises concerns about indirect displacement from their own land, turning them into refugees.

kattupalli port map

According to The News Minute, the livelihoods of approximately 1,00,000 people are at risk if the marine ecosystem of Pulicat is impacted. Specifically, this situation will have a severe impact on 300 fisherwomen in the area. Furthermore, it would leave millions at the flood risk.

Arguments against the port

The Adani Group seeks to expand the Kattupalli Port to significantly boost its cargo handling capacity from 24.65 million tonnes per annum to 320 MTPA (million tonnes per annum). This proposed development will outstrip the combined capacity of all ports in Tamil Nadu, which currently stands at 275 MTPA. However, Benisha from the Chennai Climate Action Group, who strongly opposes this project, argues that...

"This project seems redundant considering the data from the shipping ministry indicates that the current ports in Tamil Nadu are operating at only 55% of their capacity as per 2019-20 report. Therefore, it raises the question of necessity to construct a mega port that could potentially have a large ecological impact."

Political protest

Benisha told Ground Report that in 2020, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had planned to hold the first public hearing for the Kattupalli Port Project on January 22, 2021. However, local residents, environmentalists, and political parties strongly opposed it. Even the DMK party, led by MK Stalin, had promised to halt the project if they were elected. That's why our group, along with several other youth organizations, is urging the DMK government to declare an eco-sensitive zone within a 10-kilometer radius of the Pulicat Sanctuary. This would effectively block the project from proceeding any further.

Demand from the state government

On August 18, numerous citizens and activists utilized social media to reiterate to the DMK government in Tamil Nadu their manifesto promise to halt the Kattupalli port expansion project if elected. Environmentalists says that the state government should designates the coast in this area as a high erosion zone and declares a 10 km radius around Pulicat Sanctuary as an eco-sensitive zone.

Breaking the law

We would like to inform you that the proposed project is located merely 2 to 3 kilometers away from Pulicat Sanctuary. It is essential to note that, as per the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the eco-sensitive zone can be designated within a radius of 10 kilometers surrounding any national park or sanctuary. Consequently, no polluting industry is permitted in this specific vicinity. Given that the port industry falls under the highly contaminating red category, it is evident that this project can be deemed unlawful.

On the question of damage to the environment from the Kattupalli and Harbor Project, Benisha says that

"This area is highly ecologically sensitive, with significant environmental implications. The proposed port project poses a considerable threat to the preservation of mangroves, wetlands, Pulicat Lake, Ennore Creek, Kosathalaiyar River, Buckingham Canal, and several endangered animal, fish, and bird species. Moreover, it will also negatively impact the fisheries, upon which the livelihoods of millions of people depend."

Arguments in favor of the port

  • The expansion of the Kattupalli port is driven by the objective of providing Tamil Nadu with a versatile port capable of handling various types of cargo. Over the course of the next two decades, this development is expected to generate indirect employment opportunities for approximately 4,500 individuals.
  • Taking the environmental impact, and soil erosion, stringent control measures will be implemented to effectively prevent coastal erosion. Thereby, safeguarding coastal communities from its detrimental effects. Furthermore, the construction of artificial lakes dedicated to fisheries will be undertaken, ensuring that the livelihoods of fishermen remain unaffected.

Soil erosion and flood risk

Benisha further says that,

"Implementation of this port poses a grave threat to the surrounding area, as it is expected to exacerbate soil erosion along the banks. Consequently, the risk of migration will rise, adversely affecting Sriharikota where ISRO's space centre is situated, as well as Chennai. The consequence of increased flooding in these cities could compel the relocating of the desalination plant, further exacerbating the looming drinking water crisis."

The Institute of Ocean Management at Anna University conducted a study revealing that the banks of Pulicat Lake face a significant risk of erosion. This risk is estimated to be 16 meters per year, a rate that is double the current erosion rate, primarily attributable to the ongoing port construction. Adani Ports proposes to implement erosion control measures in their project, aiming to reduce erosion by up to 8 meters annually. However, a report issued by Anna University cautions that these measures might actually lead to an increase in erosion. Notably, the project is located near important landmarks such as the Wildlife Sanctuary and Lighthouse, situated to the north and encompassing neighboring villages like Kuppam, Gunankuppam, and Arangankuppam.

The primary cause of the 2015 floods in Chennai was the encroachment at the Ennore water outlet. Expansion of the port would further hinder the drainage of rainwater from the city, putting many other cities at risk of flooding.

Desalination line

Also, the problem of drinking water will become more serious because, after the construction of the port, the wetlands responsible for groundwater recharge will be lost. The Minjoor desalination line will also have to be shifted for the project and the timeline for the same has not yet been fixed, indicating disruption of water supply.

The environmental risks associated with the project are alarming, making it astonishing that it has reached the public hearing stage. This has left environmentalists astounded, even as other organizations like the Chennai Climate Action Group raise their voices against it. There is hope that with the support of people nationwide, the government will be compelled to reconsider its stance on the project.

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