Some residents of Besant Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur and Santhome have started a ‘Save the Beach’ pamphlet campaign against the proposed elevated expressway project to connect Lighthouse with East Coast Road. Planned to be built in two phases, the expressway will threaten the livelihood of fisher folk in these areas and also increase traffic considerably in the residential localities, opponents say.
Drawing most of its contents from the feasibility report of the project, available in the public domain, the pamphlet warns fisher folk that the project would result in displacement of coastal communities. These communities would also be deprived of space to park their boats and nets on the seaside, it says.
K. Saravanan, a representative from Uroorkuppam in Besant Nagar, said that so far over 1000 such pamphlets had been distributed among residents of these areas. K. Bharathi, a fisherman from Nochikuppam, said the construction of temporary shelters to shift project displaced persons had already commenced behind the Santhome Church. “Many Slum Board officials have been telling us that those who do not have patta will have to vacate,” he said.
S. Chinnammal, a resident of Thiruvallur Nagar near the Elliot’s Beach, said she had seen project officers marking off areas where the expressway would be built and that it did not touch their homes, which is built on patta land. “We have not been asked to vacate this place,” she said.
The pamphlet draws attention to the threat to the environment from the project. “Fresh sea breeze will get polluted, the Adyar estuary will be threatened and the nesting grounds of olive ridley turtles on the coast will be endangered,” said P. Akila, a Besant Nagar resident who is part of the campaign.
The pamphlet says exit ramps for the expressway are planned at Lighthouse, Pattinapakkam-Foreshore Estate and 5th Avenue in Besant Nagar. “I want the beach to remain untouched by this project,” said Kamala Ravikumar, a resident of Kalakshetra Colony, who shifted from Anna Nagar to Besant Nagar for the love of the beach.
She said the coming up of the expressway was a concern as it would increase traffic in the now peaceful residential areas and also block the view of the beach.
“Instead of creating such expensive infrastructure for car users, the government could think of ways to promote public transport in the city,” she said.
A senior official of the Highways Department said the project was being implemented keeping the larger interest of the public in mind. The project resettlement and rehabilitation policy will address the concerns of the fisherfolk.
As for public transport, the expressway will have arrangements for that as well,” the official said.
(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, dated March 28, 2009)