The fishing communities of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore don’t talk much about the 2004 tsunami anymore. They now have a new problem on their hands: development projects like power plants, an oil refinery, ports and chemical plants that could hit their livelihood and also make their villages vulnerable to natural disasters.
“Our village is trapped between the sea and the boundary wall of the power plant that is coming up in our village. We now have only one exit route from the village. How will we evacuate quickly when a disaster strikes?” asked Parasuraman, a resident of Kuttyandiyar village in Nagapattinam’s Tharangambadi taluka.
District collector T Munuswamy, however, says the government secured a promise from the Chettinad Power Corporation, which is building the plant, to construct a road through the facility for the villagers.
After the 2004 tsunami, members of the community were told they shouldn’t reside within 500 metres of the high-tide line. This rule, villagers and NGOs allege, is being exploited by the government to give land to build power plants and hotels.
According to Jesu Ratnam, director of non-profit organisation SNEHA, the government has cleared the construction of nearly 25 power plants and several ports between Tiruvallur and Tuticorin.
Local residents fear the effluents of these power plants will block their water channels as well as hit the fish catch and the ports, while their subsequent impact (beach erosion) will elbow them out of the shoreline where much of their pre-and-post-fishing activities take place.
“For us, this threat along the coast is even bigger than tsunami. Traditional fishermen like us have no hope for survival now,” said Parasuraman’s neighbour S Sivakumar.
“Instead of allowing these plants to build new captive ports, the government should fully utilise or develop the existing nearby ports like Cuddalore and Karaikal,” said Sudarshan Rodriguez, a senior programme coordinator at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “An eroded or eroding shoreline will make these the coastal villages more vulnerable to natural disasters. This is a well-known and established fact.”