More than 185 people from 7 countries and 16 cities fasted for a day in Chennai’s Besant Nagar beach to protest against the elevated expressways proposed in Chennai, including the Beach Expressway that is to run through all four of the city’s four famed beaches. The pre-dominantly middle-class gathering, with many first-time activists and a large number of youngsters, said that the hunger strike was organised to show that the fisherfolk were not alone in their fight against the elevated expressway. Last July, more than 3000 fisherfolk voiced their protest against the elevated beach expressway by organising a massive human chain on the beach. The highway will displace more than 10,000 fisherfolk, pave over the nesting grounds of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle, and ruin Chennai’s most treasured public space.
The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991, prohibited the construction of roads on beaches. All three Elevated Highways – the Beach Expressway, the Port-Maduravoyal Expressway and the High Speed Corridor over the Adyar River – would not have been permissible under that notification. So the law was changed by the Ministry of Environment & Forests. CRZ 2011 permits the construction of roads-on-stilts anywhere along India’s coastline.
Roads-on-stilts were included as a permissible activity despite strident opposition to the blanket exemption by fisherfolk and environmentalists. In meetings with representatives of the National Fishworkers Forum, Environment Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh had agreed to delete the reference to roads-on-stilts. Justifying his failure to honour his word, Mr. Ramesh in a letter to the National Fishworkers Forum explained that: “Road on stilts [were] retained keeping in view the congestion of the urban sectors in the populated areas of the coast. The road on stilts is primarily to be laid on the mangrove areas which will not affect the tidal inflow and cause minimum destruction to the mangrove area. The road on stilts cannot be equated with projects like express highway etc.”
At another point within the letter, Ramesh comments that “Such roads will be exceptional where clear demonstrable public interest is there such as for defence, security considerations, emergency evacuation, relieving congestion where there are no alternatives etc.”
However, with these details securely locked away inside Mr. Ramesh’s head, the exemption is likely to be used by the Government to bulldoze coastal areas for road-laying.
Reclaim Our Beaches and Save Chennai Beaches Campaign said they wholeheartedly supported the struggle of Chennai’s fisherfolk, and committed their continued solidarity to the campaign to defeat the elevated expressway.
For more information, contact:
Siddharth Hande (Reclaim Our Beaches):9840295081
Nityanand Jayaraman (Save Chennai Beaches Campaign): 9444082401
H31/39, Ashtalakshmi Gardens, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600090
To view list of online registrants, visit: http://letsrob.org/SaveChennaiBeaches/signup.html
Picture courtesy Moo Buddy via Creative Commons