By Theja Ram
Sulerikattukuppam: The Nemmeli desalination plant located at Sulerikattukuppam, a fishing hamlet about 10 km north of Mahabalipuram is a Sea Water Osmosis Plant owned by Chennai Metroworks Ltd. The construction was executed by VATECH Wabag in collaboration with IDE Technologies, Israel, as per detailed design and and engineering specifications provided by Metallurgical & Engineering Consultants (India) Limited (MECON Ltd), a public sector undertaking.
According to the Environmental Clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the offshore seawater intake structure, i.e.a 1600 mm pipeline should have been laid at a distance of 1000 meters at an approximate water depth of 10 mts and the brine reject outfall, i.e the waste water pipeline ought to be at 600 mts distance from the shore with a depth of around 8 mts, constructed on a rocky bed as 164 million litres of highly saline water is disposed in to the sea everyday.
According to a press note by MECON Ltd, a 1200 mm brine reject pipeline was laid at a distance of 740 mts and a depth of 8 mts on a sandy bed causing the sand to clog the pipeline and eventually being buried, rendering it useless. Two separate pipes that originate from the compound wall of the plant dispose the waste directly onto the beach, which has altered the shoreline. In May 2013, the water from the shore washed away the fishing boats of people dragging along with it, a few houses.
According to the report of the fact-finding commission set up by the Chennai Solidarity Group, the flow of brine rejects on the sand has rendered nthe ground water saline, leaving it useless for consumption.
The Engineer of the plant, Mr Sabrinath said that the plant is planning to construct an air pipeline to draw out the sand from the clogged and buried one just a few months after its construction in 2008. “We haven’t got the clearance from Chennai Metroworks for the necessary funds to construct the pipeline,” he said.
“The reckless disposal of highly saline waste into the water causes the salt to settle on the sea bed which kills aquatic life. Also due to increase in water levels, the shoreline stretched into the land washing away the boats and homes. If the pipelines are not laid out quickly, this might be a perpetual ocurance,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, writer, researcher and environment activist.
In August 2013, the people of the village sat down in a silent protest demanding compensation for their washed-away homes and boats. The police were immediately informed and the men were taken to a nearby kalyanamantapam.
“Usually we keep them in the kalyanamantapam for a day and send them away, but the plant officials filed charges and 45 men were arrested under Section(s) 147, 148, 294b, 324 and 504/part I of the IPC for rioting, armed with a deadly weapon, voluntarily causing hurt by using weapons and intentional insult with intent to provoke or breach of peace. They were put in Puzhal Jail for 21 days after which they were released.
According to P Damodaran, aged 45, who was arrested, “We just sat down in fron of the plant gate and held up placards. It was a silent protest and the charges were irrelevant.”
A week after their release, the villagers held another protest on August 28. On August 29 midnight, around 100 policemen raided every single house in the hamlet. The men, who were informed about the raid left home but the police assaulted the women and took into custody 2 children and 5 elderly members.
“We had to bribe the police officer Rs 5,000 for each person to get them out. We did not want violence, The plant has destroyed our livelihoods and all we want is some compensation to start over. We don’t have our boats to fish and there is no other means of livelihood we know,” said J Palani, a fisherman whose 7 year old boy was kept overnight in the police station.
According to the Mamallapuram Police Inspector, Mr Sarathy, “The plant officials said that they were fishing in a restricted area and disrupted the work of the air pipeline. Hence we had to arrest them. Later when we found out that the construction was still in the planning stage, we let them go. The raid was conducted when we got information of the villagers carrying weapons, which was later discovered to be untrue.”
The discharge of effluents on beach has cut a deep channel on the beach and altered the profile of the beach. This has made landing boats more hazardous, and parking boats even more difficult. The current of the discharged effluents washes away the boats. Rocks dumped at sea by Metrowater are interfering with fishing, and have caused erosion. Discharge of wastewater on the beach has caused severe pollution, and polluted the groundwater. This has affected drinking water supplies for the village. The rocks dumped in sea have created invisible areas of turbulence and the rocks have not been fully removed. Many boulders remain and beside the road, boulders far bigger than those used for the road are dumped along with the ailgnment of the intake pipeline to the anchor pipeline. Boats that go over these rocks are prone to being overturned. Two accidents in the month of July resulted in the injury of one young fisherman, Chittibabu, and death a kattumaram fisherman. The police refused to register a complaint in both cases. According to the villager, Mr. Sarathy taunted them asking if a case has to be filed, the accused would have to be the waves or the rock. He told them that complaints against the Government cannot be entertained.
“There have been two committe reports and a fact finding mission which have given several reccomendations regarding the plant’s waste disposal system. The locals are afraid of interferibng with the plant anymore and without anyone to question, it has continued disposing waste directly into the sea since the past 6 years,” said P Opilli, environment writer.