Pallikaranai: The Bitter Story of Negligence

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The Pallikaranai wet swamp is the only remaining wetland ecosystem of the expanding metropolis of Chennai, located in the southern part of the city and yet it also happens to be the most neglected in terms of environmental conservation. It has also been categorized as one of the three most important natural freshwater ecosystems of south India, the other three being, Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

It has a geographical area of 80 square kilometres and contains several rare and endangered species of plant, bird and animal life. It is also a significant breeding ground of thousands of migratory birds from in and around the country. But according to recent reports, the marshlands have undergone intense degradation due to the garbage dump yard set up by the Corporation of Chennai not far from the wetlands. Huge mounds of garbage have been accumulated over the years which has become a dominant part of the local landscape of Pallikaranai instead of the beautiful marshlands situated right behind it. Local residents have complained again and again about not only the overpowering stench that emanates from the surroundings but also about the fact that the dump yard is the cause for many species of bird and plant life to be put in mortal danger.

IMAG0205A local resident, Mr. Mainak Banerjee, who lives in Pallikaranai says, “The government has been notified by local residents, environmental organizations and students again and again, and even after the massive fire in 2011 to either try and conserve the marshland or remove the dump yard to some other place but not much has been done in its support.” Sewage from the dump yard as well as non-biodegradable garbage finds its way into that freshwater swamp which will not only harm the natural aquifers of the wetland but also endanger the life of plant, bird and animal species in the marsh.

According to the Conservancy Inspector of the Corporation dump yard, Mr. Senthil, nothing has been done by the government to clear out or dispose of garbage. Only the rag pickers are allowed to come and take away garbage from the non-biodegradable heap which helps in some way whatsoever. But there is no proper way of garbage disposal in the area. He also feels that the marshlands have been deeply affected because of the dump yard beside it and the fire in the marshlands might have been caused by some kind of explosive in the waste that is dumped in the yard.

The wetland ecosystem is extremely sensitive in nature and requires a certain kind of management process due to which many NGOs like Care Earth and others have now taken up the issue of conserving the wetlands through various community-driven programmes and by making people aware of the importance of the Pallikaranai wetland ecosystem. They hope that the government will fulfil its promise of completing the Reserve Forest Plan that it took up for the conservation of the marshlands.

Edward Elliot Beach: A Taste of Heritage & History

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The Edward Elliot Beach, named after the Governor of Madras, was one of the first places of interest that I visited when I arrived in Chennai a few days back. Just like every place has its own story to tell, this beach had its own as well and one most important than the others. They say that the sea gives as much as it takes away.

This holds true for Danish sailor Karl Schmidt, a local hero of the city who gave his own life in a successful attempt to save a drowning girl around eighty three years ago on December 30, 1930. The Governor of the then Madras Presidency erected the K A J Schmidt Memorial in his name to honour his gallant act. A message etched on the memorial reads,

“To commemorate the gallantry of K A J Schmidt who drowned near this spot on December 30, 1930, while helping to save the lives of others.”

One can’t miss the stark white structure against the blue sky which is a famous landmark not only of the Bessie Beach, as the Elliot Beach is also popularly called, but of Chennai itself. Taking the help of my friend Zahaan Khan, a student of the Asian College of Journalism, who has spent all his life in Chennai, I eagerly delved into the story of the memorial which is much loved and abused at the same time by local residents and regular visitors of the beach.

According to my friend, this structure which was recently declared a heritage site by the government, is built of bricks without a basic stone foundation. This has led to dereliction in various ways over the years. Zahaan says, “The memorial is an integral part of the beach and it is difficult to imagine the same without it. It has often been a meeting site for friends and I have a lot of good memories that I share with mine. It also adds heritage value to our beloved beach.”

But he is concerned about the fact that the memorial has not been given its due respect by locals who drink and litter the area around it. He feels that its legacy and importance as a heritage site shall be lost if the government does not do anything to restore it.

“Even though efforts have been made by local residents, who appealed to the Corporation of Chennai for the restoration of the memorial on the 82nd death anniversary of Karl Schmidt last year, even now a lot has to be done in order to restore the memorial to its former glory and save it from being lost in time”, quips Zahaan.

Image source: http://www.thereddotman.com