Citizens, Activists Request CM Stalin to Keep Promise, Scrap Kattupalli Port Expansion Project

In early August, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had scheduled the public hearing for the project on September 5. It currently stands postponed.

Kochi: Citizens and activists took to X (formerly Twitter) on August 18 to draw attention to the concerns they have been raising about the proposed expansion of the Adani-run Kattupalli Port in Tiruvallur district, just north of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

Using the hashtag #StopAdaniSaveChennai, several users requested TN chief minister M.K. Stalin to keep his election promise and scrap the controversial project.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had recently announced that the public hearing for the proposed project would be conducted on September 5, and later postponed it.

Environmentalists have been repeatedly raising concerns regarding the problems that the expansion of the existing Kattupalli Port will cause.

It will claim around 2,000 acres of the Pulicat Lake, endangering the biodiverse estuarine system that several fisher communities rely on for their livelihoods. The natural flood control system along the coast here will be under threat, as will groundwater resources and agricultural security, experts said.

‘Scrap Kattupalli Port expansion project’

In a ‘tweetstorm’ on August 18, citizens and activists took to X to raise concerns regarding the lack of action by chief minister Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government currently in power in Tamil Nadu. They asked why the Kattupalli Port expansion project had not been cancelled yet by the state government.

According to media reports, chief minister Stalin had announced that the project would be shelved if the DMK came to power. In 2021, local fisher communities had even expressed their relief at this move promised by the DMK.

However, Stalin became CM in May 2021 and the Kattupalli project has still not been cancelled, even though the state has all the power to do so, activists said.

In 2021, member of parliament and DMK leader K. Kanimozhi had said that the expansion plan submitted by Adani Ports had “major issues” that the government needs to take into account, per reports.

In a tweet on August 18, activist and writer Nityanand Jayaraman said that erosion triggered by the Adani Kattupalli Port has drastically altered the shoreline and hurt fishers. The proposed expansion “will redraw Tamil Nadu’s map”, he said.

He requested that Stalin fulfil the DMK’s election promise to scrap the port expansion project.

“Dear @CMOTamilnadu – you promised to scrap the Adani port in your manifesto and save Pulicat lagoon and Kosasthalayar river – Chennai’s main river – from decimation. You promised to protect the lakhs of fisherfolk living here. Will you keep your promise?” tweeted M. Yuvan, an environmental activist who has been observing and quantifying bird diversity in Pulicat Lake.

Activists including T.M. Krishna and Dia Mirza also took to the ‘tweetstorm’.

Incidentally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had also claimed that it would scrap the project permanently if it came into power.

In a resolution recently adopted at the party’s state council meeting in August, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) also demanded that the Kattupalli Port expansion project be scrapped, as it was opposed by various parties – including the CPM and DMK – and environmentalists from the beginning.

This is not the first time that citizens are reminding Stalin to keep his promise of scrapping the Kattupalli expansion project: in 2022, four panchayats in the area said they would adopt resolutions opposing the port expansion project and requested Stalin to keep his promise.

The controversial Kattupalli expansion project

However, instead of news about scrapping the project, citizens woke to the announcement of a public hearing for the project in early August by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). The TNPCB announced that the public hearing would be held on September 5.

In a public hearing, project proponents will present the project and its potential impacts to the members of local communities and stakeholders and collect their feedback.

However, on August 10, the Tiruvallur district collector postponed it, because the district administration had received requests that public hearings be conducted at more than one location so that people can express their views about the project.

This is not the first time that the project’s public hearing has been postponed. Strong opposition from environmental groups, citizens and opposition parties over the expansion of Kattupalli Port had prompted the then-district collector to postpone the last public hearing for the project in January 2021.

Also Read: How an Adani Joint Venture Tried to Use Semantics to Circumvent Green Laws – at Cost of Fishers

Environmentalists, activists and local fisher communities have several reasons to resist the Kattupalli Port expansion proposal, something they’ve been doing since 2018.

The Kattupalli Port – located in the village of Kattupalli near Ennore, north of Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai – began operations in 2013.

In 2018, a subsidiary of the Adani Group acquired the Kattupalli Port from Larsen and Toubro Limited. A month later, the Group proposed a huge expansion plan for the port. Currently, the proposal is to expand the port to increase its cargo handling capacity from 24.65 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) to 320 MTPA.

This will mean that more area will come under the Port: from 330 acres currently, to 6,111 acres, per the revised master plan. Of this, 2,000 acres will be created by dumping dredged sand into the sea, wrote activist and writer Nityanand Jayaraman, for The Wire in January 2021.

The expansion will cost Rs 53,400 crore.

In January 2022, ten retired civil servants wrote to Stalin and the-then finance minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan to cancel the Kattupalli port expansion project on the grounds that it would be a financial loss for the state. Tamil Nadu “will be saddled with a white elephant”, they wrote, per The Hindu.

Impacts on people, environment

One of the major concerns regarding the port expansion is the environmental degradation that the dredging for the project will cause in Pulicat Lake; the industrial pollution once it becomes operational is also a problem, experts have said.

Pulicat Lake. Photo: India Water Portal/Flickr. CC BY-NC SA 2.0.

Pulicat is India’s second-largest brackish water body and supports a huge diversity of birds, fish and other invertebrates. Several local fisher communities depend on the fishing resources that the Lake provides for their daily survival and livelihoods.

Kattupalli Island, a thin strip of land parallel to the coastline, functions as a barrier between Pulicat Lake and the Bay of Bengal. The barrier island is already facing erosion due to the Kattupalli port which is in operation. An expansion project here would cause further erosion of the island, experts have said.

If the island disappears, there will be no barrier between Pulicat Lake and the Bay of Bengal, which will result in the death of the brackish water lake. This also means that the ocean will now be closer to Chennai city and the coast nearby, making the area more vulnerable to cyclones, sea level rise and storm surges, said Jayaraman.

With the loss of the island, the loss of freshwater reserves immediately below it – that serve as a border security force to prevent saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers on the mainland – is also a huge concern, Jayaraman told The Wire.

“Groundwater will become unusable and that will be a disaster of unimaginable magnitude because Tamil Nadu depends entirely on ground water,” he told The Wire.

He also said that we only celebrate infrastructure that is contracted with large amounts of money and tend to ignore the silent and invisible natural infrastructure of Tamil Nadu such as the Kattupalli Island and the functions it provides.

“The entire Tiruvallur district’s groundwater security hinges on what we do, what we’ve done and what we’re doing in the Ennore-Pulicat wetland and Kattupalli area,” he said.

Agricultural security will also be at risk due to the project, because some of the most important agricultural areas in Tamil Nadu include Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram, Nagapattinam and Chengalpattu districts, which are along the coast, Jayaraman added.

The protest by people against the port expansion is not a protest against development, commented Jayaraman.

“People are not opposed to infrastructure but are protecting the infrastructure that really matters to Chennai,” he said. “The infrastructure that the government is proposing here is different … infrastructure for the big, the elite, for commerce…it is not the infrastructure for survival. Nobody will oppose a road to the market, or a basic hospital.”

These are the more urgent infrastructure needs in the area than a port expansion that will be detrimental to people and the environment, he added.