Save Pulicat Bird Sanctuary: Civil society groups appeal to TN government agencies

Voluntary organisations have urged the government to settle the claims of local communities, without reducing Pulicat Sanctuary's borders.

A collective of 34 civil society organisations and more than 200 individuals from Tamil Nadu and across the country have written to the Thiruvallur District Collector, Additional Chief Secretary of Environment, Climate Change and Forests, Chief Wildlife Warden, and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Cell to protect the Pulicat Bird Sanctuary for ecological and social reasons and settle the rights of people without reducing the sanctuary’s boundary.

The voluntary groups have urged the government to initiate the settlement of claims of local communities residing in the 13 revenue villages within the Pulicat Birds Sanctuary boundary limits.

Excerpts from the letter:

We, as a collective of 34 organisations and 207 individuals, draw attention to the re-notification dated February 29, 2024 to initiate the process of settlement of claims for local communities residing in the 13 revenue villages within Pulicat Birds Sanctuary boundary limits as per Section 21 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

We welcome the settlement of claims to encourage the ease of traditional livelihoods, necessary infrastructure facilities such as roads, schools, and health facilities in the area, and to make final notification for the Sanctuary as per the Act.

The livelihoods of several communities around the Pulicat lake depend on the health of the region’s mangroves and lake. Pic: P. Jeganathan/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY:SA 4.0)

Pulicat is the second-largest brackish lagoon and second-largest bird sanctuary in India. The lake and the surrounding wetland, shelter and provide critical nesting grounds for over 200 species of birds, of which 58 are migratory and many are endangered species. The Pulicat region hosts about 15,000 Greater Flamingos year round, one of the largest flamingo populations in India.

India, currently a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), has declared its commitment to migratory wildlife across the world. Pulicat is recognised as a site of importance for the Central Asian Flyway for birds under CMS and is also recognised as an Important Coastal and Marine Area by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2015.

In the 75th Standing Committee meeting of the National Wildlife Board, the Standing Committee was informed by Dr Sukumar in his email dated 05.11.2023 that “Pulicat Lake is a unique coastal wetland on the east coast with large numbers of bird species and importance for coastal fisheries. He suggested that a major Industrial Park can potentially make a large impact on the fauna of this wetland.”

The recent death of around 3,000 Northern pintails, migratory ducks and plovers was reported by a Tamil daily. Government officials have taken samples and found that deaths are due to mindless human activities such as the discharge of sewage and industry effluents.

The birds are dependent on the ecology and health of rivers and channels flowing into Pulicat Lake. Among the rivers, Kosasthalaiyar is highly polluted, mainly by oil spills and other discharge from adjoining industries. The pressure of industrialisation around the Arani River will lead to similar pollution threatening Pulicat Lake.

The continuous nature of the water body from Ennore Creek to Pulicat Lake demands that we focus our attention on protecting the entire river ecosystem feeding into Pulicat from degradation and pollution. Pulicat will not survive any dilution of protection available to it including allowing industrial activities or a free rein to urbanisation. Reduction in the Pulicat Bird Sanctuary boundary would facilitate industrial proposals such as the Adani group’s MIDPL at Kattupalli port, which would eradicate the Pulicat Lake, its delicate ecology, biodiversity, and its existence as a bird sanctuary.

Read more: Community efforts to save Pulicat lake provide hope in the face of megaport threat

The decision on the settlement of claims should consider the history of degradation of Pulicat Sanctuary and the upcoming pressure of industrialisation, part of which is listed below:

  • The major reasons for the changes in the configuration of the lake are the rapid population growth, siltation, and industrial growth in the area (Source: Pulicat Lake: A Fragile Ecosystem Under Threat, 2016, R. Saraswathy, Pitchai Kasinatha Pandian)
  • Pollution from human activities is increasing. The level of heavy metals is concerning, given that the rivers and waterways draining into Pulicat have been affected by industrialisation (Source: Status and critical knowledge gaps for integrated lagoon management – Pulicat lagoon, India, 2015, Edwin Jeba Kumar & Usha Natesan)
  • Proposals for additional industries are being approved when the NGT, SZ, Chennai has directed that the cumulative impact of existing industries should first be assessed through experts from various fields such as wildlife, environmental engineering, hydrology, and sociology
  • Proposals have been submitted for red category (highly polluting) industries.
  • There is illegal construction in the sanctuary area.
  • There have been proposals in the past to reduce the ESZ to 0.5 km and 0 km.
  • The development of ports in Ennore has resulted in an infestation of the harmful and invasive Charru mussel, which is threatening the Pulicat Lake ecosystem, its biodiversity, migratory birds and fishers’ livelihoods.

Wildlife Conservation Strategy 2002 states that settlement of claims should not reduce the areas that are crucial and integral parts of the wildlife habitat. It also highlights the generation of employment for people as a crucial factor for maintaining symbiosis between the forests, wildlife, and the people. We entreat you to consider the following factors:

  • The unique hydrology of Pulicat Lake, which is contiguous with Ennore Creek as declared under the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment 2010
  • The vulnerability of Pulicat Lake to shoreline dynamics including any threat to the strip of land separating the sea from the lake
  • The fact that more mangrove trees are present in the 13 notified villages rather than in the lake area
    The significance of the lake to over one lakh people, who depend on the lake for livelihood and cultural identity
  • The importance of the lake to wildlife and the role it plays as a nesting and breeding ground for several species of the Central Asian Flyway for birds.

Additionally and importantly, please do consider that Pulicat plays a critical role as a climate buffer for Chennai city:

  • The lagoon-wetland complex acts as a massive floodwater catchment when cyclones hit the coast.
  • The Pulicat barrier island and associated sand systems act as critical cyclonic buffers.
  • The wetlands barricade the city against tidal and storm surges
  • Chennai draws between 75 and 100 million litres of fresh water every day from the well fields of its river basins.

Twelve villages in Andhra Pradesh that fall within the Sanctuary limits have been given full rights to fishing, grazing, and various other livelihood necessities, without denotification of parts of the Sanctuary. In the same way, we request you to settle the rights of the people in the 13 revenue villages in Thiruvallur district, Tamil Nadu, without reducing the Sanctuary boundary as per sub-sec 2(c) of Section 23 of the Wild Life Protection (Act), 1972.

The people of 13 villages rest their hopes of a dignified life and right to livelihood on you.

Read more: Can a price tag on the wetlands of Chennai spur restoration efforts?

The 34 organisations include:

  S.No  Name of OrganisationPlace of the Organisation
1Chennai Climate Action GroupChennai
2Spark Social Welfare AssociationAdyar, Chennai
3National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (NPSSFW)All-India
4Centre for Wildlife StudiesBangalore
5FICUS (Foundation for Intersectional Climate and Urban Sciences)Chennai
6Centre for Social work and researchChennai
7Social Watch-Tamil NaduChennai
8Poovulagin NanbargalChennai
9Aroha Montessori Center for Co-LearningChennai
10Eco Society IndiaChennai
12Social Harmony FederationChennai
13Ennore Makkal Nala Sevai MaiyamChennai
14Dorai FoundationChennai
15Sai CentreChennai
16Sri Sarvamangala Nagar Residents Association (Secretary)Chitlapakkam
17Singaravelar padipagamEnnore
18Campaign to Defend Nature and PeopleIndia
19Eco Volunteers IndiaIndia
20Let India BreatheIndia
21J&K Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare ConferenceJammu and Kashmir
22Bargi Bandh Visthapit Evam Parbhavit Sangh, Madhya PradeshJabalpur
23Blue Wings FoundationNellore
25People’s AllianceUttar Pradesh
26VAN Gujjar Tribal Yuva SangathanUttarakhand
27MNREGA Mazdoor Union मनरेगा मजदरू   यfू नयनVaranasi
28Vyasai ThozhargalVyasarpadi
29ICAN MaharashtraWardha, Maharashtra
30Indian Community Activists Network (ICAN)All-India
31Vidiyal KalamEnnore
32Kumari Kadalosai Maakkal IyakkamTamil Nadu
34YWCA OF MadrasChennai

[This is based on a Press Release from the named collective of groups putting forth their demands and has been published with minimal edits.]

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