The Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar is in the new again, thanks to the Corporation of Chennai’s ongoing ‘beautification’ drive. The latest controversy is over the construction of several concrete structures in the beach as part of this activity. The question is – are such man-made intrusions at all necessary to improve upon nature’s handiwork?
Residents of the Besant Nagar area are up in arms over the construction of a 750 metre long concrete platform which the Corporation claims will be a viewing gallery for people to sit in and enjoy the beach. Environmental activists have cried foul as such structures violate Coastal Regulation Zone rules which prevent permanent constructions near the sea. The gallery also encroaches upon the beach space. Locals argue that those who come to the beach would prefer to sit on the sand and not in special shelters. However, the Corporation is adamant and is going ahead with the construction claiming that it is part of the beach beautification plan. This is not the first time that residents and environmentalists have fought the Corporation’s plans for the beach. The construction of the Governor’s Bungalow which still continues it fits and starts has been a sore point as well.
Elsewhere, on the Marina beachfront, similar activities are going on as well. The beachfront which according to many is already beautiful enough is being worked upon by the Corporation. As a consequence, several stretches of the footpath which only a few years ago was laid with interlocking bricks and which was in a very good condition, have been ripped open and work is going on to lay new pathways. There is also a proposal to landscape the entire area with lawns, artificial mounds, more statuary and lights. This is entirely an unnecessary activity as those who come to the beach do so for enjoying the sea, the waves, the sand and the sun and do not look for ornamental gardens. It is the considered view of beach regulars that the Corporation would be better off spending this money on other areas which are badly in need of basic civic amenities with nothing being done for them.
The civic authorities’ ideas on realigning or changing the face of natural beauty are not new. The continuing feud between the Consumer Action Group and the Corporation over the Adyar Creek is yet another instance of the same. The CAG has continuously opposed any move to build information centres and other structures at the Creek and only this has ensured that the place has not been transformed into a built up area.
In the meanwhile, the threats to open spaces by way of beautification continue in other forms as well. The Madi Poonga on the old city wall was decrepit but still accessible till it was taken over for beautification. Despite being a part of a structure protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, it was transformed into something out of a cinema set and then permanently locked up! Now it appears that the open park opposite Fort St. George will have a similar fate. This space, part of land reclaimed from the sea was originally a tree lined park and later was transformed into a car-parking facility for visitors to Fort St George. The open space was macadamised and left as it is for this. In 2003 there was a proposal to construct a helipad here for the use of the Chief Minister but this was later shelved. Recently this park is witnessing hectic construction activity. Bricks have been stored here and forklifts and other mobile equipment have made it their home. Those who man the security of this place when asked about what was coming up did not have a clear answer. But is it wise to build anything permanent here considering that it faces a heritage precinct?
All photos in this post are by Saravanan