A news item a couple of weeks ago reported on the High Court ordering the stoppage of work on the mouth of the Adyar river. The activity, ostensibly of cleaning the mouth and removing blockages was it transpired, at the behest of private parties who had a vested interest in ensuring that the river changed its course. There was much jubilation on the court order. But this is merely the beginning and a closer investigation reveals a far deeper malaise – consistent violation of regulations that protect waterbodies and their environs.

The Coastal Regulation Zones Rules of 2011 govern all construction and development activities close to the sea coast. And yet the Government is planning a three-lane bridge over the Adyar river close to the point where it meets the sea. It transpires that the authorities are yet to even apply for CRZ clearance but have decided to proceed with the construction on the grounds that it is only the modification of an existing structure for which no permission is needed. The structure referred to no doubt is the now defunct Elphinstone Bridge. If the authorities look a little further East, nearer the coast, they will see the broken bridge, a long-standing testimony to what Nature’s fury can wreak to structures on our coastline.

And yet, the work on the new bridge is to proceed with no reflection or thought. Sand bags have been placed across the river’s mouth preliminary to the construction and this along with the sand bars that reportedly give the river its name have caused the water to stagnate. A foul stench emanates from the water and mosquitoes have also begun to breed. In response to complaints, the PWD has been desilting the mouth but the root cause of the problem lies with the CMDA and a fairly inactive Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority (TNSCZMA) which has chosen to turn a blind eye to most of the work going on near the river and the sea. Another instance of the TNSCZMA’a inaction is a temporary road near the Srinivasapuram beach which was later paved and made permanent. This has become a convenient thoroughfare for lorries that carry away sand illegally mined from the area. Repeated complaints have brought a standard reply that the road was a temporary one and so did not require CRZ clearance! But that it is already a permanent structure is clear for all to see.

CRZ rules are also violated by private parties who have been reclaiming land all across the Northern bank of the Adyar. This has become a new residential area of sorts and further reclamation is going on. Similarly, there has been continuous reclassification of areas that are on the southern fringes of the city. Places like Kottivakkam were once classified under CRZ as areas for rural development. These have now been changed in status to ‘urban shorelines’ where multi-storeyed construction can be allowed. How this has been made possible is not clear to anyone.

Environment activists have been crying foul, claiming that all these projects are playing havoc with the aquatic life of the area besides exposing people to threats such as the tsunami. Several applications have been filed under the Right to Information Act and all of these have see the papers moving from Department to Department with none wanting to own responsibility. It is clear that this game of passing the buck will continue for long and builders will make merry till Nature takes matters in hand and teaches a firm lesson that we are unlikely to forget in a hurry.