A massive resort with individual villas and at least two residential townships are coming-up on the beach front of the Pulicat Lake and it is dangerously close to the lagoon in the ecologically sensitive area. None of the government departments and agencies, which are responsible for protecting the fragile ecosystem, are aware of the projects even as private builders are widely marketing the projects.
When Express visited the spot, the construction is almost half-way. “We have grand plans of converting this place into tourist hotspot. Many NRIs are showing interest since Pulicat is very close to Chennai and offers a perfect gateway for recreation with pristine beach and historic Lake. Our project is likely to be completed by December 2018. Row of customised villas are planned. A furnished villa with built-up area of 740 sq.ft is billed at `30 lakh,” an employee of an upcoming resort at Vairavan Kuppam, told when reporter posed as a buyer.
In the field visits by Express, it was found that the constructions are coming up in at least three places close to the lake. At Vairavan Kuppam in survey number 16 and 24, a massive resort with fully-furnished villas is being constructed in an area of 12 acres. Already, three villas are nearing finishing stage and another six villas are under construction.
Besides, a restaurant has been built and local sources claimed that a businessman from Sri Lanka has ordered for construction of 40 sea-facing villas. Though the name board for the under construction resort reads “Blueish Beach J.D. Avenue”, the project is being promoted online with a different name “DJ Fun Land” promising to offer amenities like swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, yoga, aerobics and meditation room and cricket with 24/7 CCTV surveillance.
The project is being promoted by Chennai-based real estate firm Akshaya Constructions, whose office is in Chrompet.
At two other places, Sattan Kuppam (survey numbers 182 and 146) and Karungali Village (survey Number 152), residential layouts with compound walls and pucca roads have come up. At least 400 plots are up for sale.
Activists fear that the huge constructions close to the Pulicat Lagoon could endanger the coastal wetland, which is rich in biodiversity. Besides, the project could be violating coastal laws since the area falls in the first category of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ-1).
The sandy coast of Pulicat, which is about 60km north of Chennai, is full of sand dunes that act as natural barrier against coastal storms and beach erosion. The entire coastal stretch from Pulicat lighthouse to Karungali river mouth, is CRZ-1 (sensitive areas) area as per Tamil Nadu Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) 1996, which is approved by Government of India.
It is a no-development zone, where construction of permanent structures are strictly prohibited. The area also falls in the 100m buffer area of the Pulicat Lake, a notified wetland under the Ramsar Convention and notified national park.
But when contacted by Express, Chellappa Desikan, a promoter of Akshaya Constructions, said that the land of the project comes only under category CRZ-3 (which has much relaxed norms for development) and was originally allotted to traditional fishermen by Special Tahasildar. “I have the papers to prove it.” He said the company had got approval of the Lighthouse panchayat. However, when asked if he got permission from forest and fisheries departments, he said, “We have submitted proposal and are awaiting clearance.” He said no permission was sought from neither DTCP nor TNSCZMA.
Enquires with top officials of Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority (TNSCZMA) and Forest Department reveal that none of these projects have any statutory clearances, like CRZ clearance from TNSCZMA and No Objection Certificate (NOC) from forest department.
H Malleshappa, director of Department of Environment and member secretary of TNSCZMA, told the Express that his office didn’t get any proposal for construction. He expressed ignorance of the illegal constructions and promised to initiate action. “Resort and villas cannot be constructed in ecologically sensitive area like Pulicat.”
Likewise, Forest department officials have also confirmed that no NOC was issued for these projects. The department has marked 15,367ha of the Lake area as ‘Protected Area’ of TN.
Pooja Kumar of Coastal Resource Centre said even if the project falls in CRZ-3 area, prior CRZ clearance is mandatory. “Since all fishermen villages are marked as CRZ-3, a fraction of resort area might be falling under CRZ-3 and rest is all CRZ-1,” she said. K Muthu, District Revenue Offfier and in-charge collector of the Tiruvallur district, claimed he was not aware of such constructions. “I will send revenue divisional officer to inquire into the matter. Yes, the Pulicat coast is a CRZ area,” he said.
Noted ecologist PJ Sanjeeva Raj, who worked on conservation of the lake for 55 years, said the fragile ecosystem of the lake is already facing the problem of rapid siltation, which has shrunk the waterspread area and depth. K Saravanan, fishermen leader and activist said: “I complained to environment deptt a year ago but no action has been taken.”
When consulted, officials at Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS), who marked High Tide Line (HTL) and Low Tide Line (LTL), confirmed the projects are coming in CRZ-1 area and illegal.
NIOT denied because eco-fragillity
Few years back, National Institute of Ocean Technology proposed to set-up a ballast water treatment and testing facility in Sattan Kuppam to prevent attack of invasive species in Indian waters. But they were denied land as the area was very fragile and disaster prone. Finally, the project has gone to Andhra Pradesh (Nellore).
Bad biz decision
Why conserving Pulicat Lake is critical
- It is a natural coastal wetland of about 46,000 ha, the second largest lagoon in India.
- It was formed over 6,650 years ago, during the Holocene geological period.
- Coastal wetlands are buffers against the fury of cyclonic storms, storm surges and tsunamis.
- Supports livelihood of about 44,000 fisher folk in 52 fishing villages.
Originally Published In The New Indian Express