Around 20 residents of Chennai have joined the protests of Parandur villagers affected by the second airport project, saying that the project can impact the downstream areas of the Adyar River and make them more disaster-prone.
These residents, including retired justice D Hariparanthaman, musician T M Krishna, environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman, and disability rights activist Deepak Nathan have written an open letter to the Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority (TNSDMA) asking the state government to drop the project.
Residents of 13 villages in Parandur in Kancheepuram district have been protesting for more than 100 days as the new greenfield airport project seeks to make the land acquisition of 4,791.29 acres, of which 2,605 acres are wetlands so their homes and agricultural lands will be razed down.
On Tuesday, three ministers held discussions with members from the affected villages in the secretariat to convince them about the government’s plans. This is the second such meeting.
On August 26, the Tamil Nadu government announced that they will provide 3.5 times the compensation for their land based on market value, alternative land to move and a government job for one member of each of the families who are affected. But, the villagers continue to be against the new greenfield airport.
“Their protests are as much about our food security as it is about the city’s flood security,” the letter from the Chennai residents dated December 19 read.
“We are residents of areas in the Adyar basin and concerned citizens from other parts of Chennai. All of us were severely affected – either directly or indirectly — during the 2015 Chennai floods, and many of us were involved in rescue and rehabilitation efforts,” they said.
“As important as it is to protect wetlands and commons, this proposal’s implications for the city of Chennai should disturb planners. Increasing the built-up area and impermeable land cover over an 18 sq km site (4500 acres) in a river basin that is already under severe hydrological stress is a recipe for disaster.”
They pointed out that during the disastrous December 2015 floods, among other factors, the macro drains were overwhelmed by excessive run-off from their catchments.
“The lands that will be urbanised for the airport are on River Adyar’s 500 sq km southwestern catchment,” they said, explaining that the run-off generated will be lesser in open and vegetated lands.
“This is the same catchment that drains into the Adyar through Manimangalam, Perungalathur, Tambaram, Mudichur and Varadarajapuram – all areas that were badly affected in the 2015 floods. It is noteworthy that these are all areas that are upgradient and unaffected by discharges from Chembarambakkam. Rather, they supplement Chembarambakkam’s discharge into the Adyar.”
One of the primary causes of the 2015 floods was found to be the uncontrolled release of excess water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir.
A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the Chennai floods said that the release from the reservoir was only 800 cumecs, whereas “the flood flow from the parallel catchment (uncontrolled by the (Chembarambakkam) reservoir and flowing from Manimangalam, Perungalathur and Tambaram) may have contributed and the flood at its peak when it entered Chennai has been estimated to be about 1,34,195 cusecs, whereas the flood-carrying capacity of the Adyar river is only about 72,000 cusecs”.
“In other words, the southwestern catchment, which includes the Parandur airport site, alone contributed 3000 m3/ to the Adyar,” their open letter said.
“Adyar’s flood-carrying capacity is a hard hydrological ceiling that the city has to reckon with. While the carrying capacity and network of micro drains can be increased, not much can be done to enhance the capacity of natural drains, especially ones like the Adyar and Coum, whose floodplains have been heavily urbanised. The conventional engineering response to such development would be to provide an efficient stormwater micro-drain network and rainwater harvesting structures on site. Micro-drains are only as effective as the capacity of major drains, Adyar in this case, to receive their discharge. And a project that proposes to pave over landscape-size rainwater harvesting structures like eris and wetlands cannot be compensated for by puny human-made rainwater harvesting structures.”
They pointed out how building the international airport for ₹20,000 crore with a capacity to handle 100 million passengers a year would naturally lead to further urbanisation and construction of transportation networks, logistics facilities, and real estate development.
“The TNSDMA must not just pick up the pieces after a disaster but also ensure that the state does not make itself more vulnerable to disasters. In the present case, TNSDMA has been noticeably absent,” their letter said.
“We urge the State Disaster Management Authority to carry out its investigations to verify the basis of our concerns and weigh in with the Government of Tamil Nadu to influence the course of events so that farmers in Parandur and residents in Chennai are not put to hardship.”