Pulicat Lake is the located 60 km north of Chennai city and is the second largest brackish – water lake or lagoon in India. The river is about 60 km with width varying from 0.2 km to 17.5 km. Salinity values of the lake vary from zero during the monsoon to about 52 ppm during post and pre–monsoon seasons. It straddles the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states on the Coromandal Coast in South India. The lake encompasses the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. The barrier island of Sriharikota separates the lake from the Bay of Bengal. Three major rivers, which feed the lagoon, are the Arani River at the southern tip, the Kalangi River from the northwest and the Swarnamukhi River at the northern end, in addition to some smaller streams. It was about 461 sq. km. in its average area of water spread, but now it has shrunk so much that it may be hardly 350 sq. km. today, and is still shrinking rapidly. Average depth of water has reduced from 1.5 m in the early twentieth to about 1 m.
The lagoon has rich flora and fauna diversity, which supports active commercial fisheries and a large and varied bird population. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) declared the Pulicat lagoon system a Ramsar site of international importance and the World Wide Fund for Nature declared it a protected area.
Threat to the lagoon includes the pollution from sewage, pesticides, agricultural chemicals and industrial effluents – from Arani and Kalangi rivers draining into the lake and wastes from numerous fish processing units. Shrimp farming in more than 1000 acres on the eastern part of the lagoon have affected the Pulicat bird sanctuary, livelihood of 30,000 fishermen and 20,000 farmers (for whom fishing is an off-season economic activity). The lucrative business of fishing has brought into the market ‘Padi Valai’-- fishing net with very fine mesh. This unethical practice of fishing has affected the aquatic resources of Pulicat Lake.
The first PIL was filed in 1994, in regard to setting up of the National Coastal Management Authority, to deal with coastal area activities. Subsequently, in 2000, another PIL was filed in High Court, in response to the setting up of the petro-chemical park in the area, leading to lake pollution. In 2000, ar PIL was filed in Madras High Court, in response to the setting up of the petro-chemical park in the area, leading to lake pollution.
This lake is under two PILs which are still under the consideration of Madras High Court. Followings are some of the highlights.
The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification No.1991, issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, defines the entire coastal stretch of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters from the lowest low tide to highest high tide line and the coastal land within 500 m from the high tide line on the landward side as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)
A public interest litigation was filed by Shri S Jagannathan, Chairman, Tamil Nadu Gram Swaraj Movement, Kuthur under Article 32 of the Constitution of India praying for enforcing the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification dated 19 February 1991 within a stipulated time frame.
Central Government constituted an authority known as Aquaculture Authority to deal with the situation created by the shrimp culture industry in the coastal states and Union Territories. It ensures that no shrimp culture pond can be constructed or set up within the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) under the CRZ notification and up to 1000 m of Pulicat Lake.
Proposal of Ennore Satellite Port and the petro-chemical industrial park near the lake came up.
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) prepared a report according to which there will not be any environmental hazard by setting up the proposed project in the locality nor any environmental disaster to the Pulicat Lake or Pulicat Bird Sanctuary.
The four-member expert committee constituted by the Coastal Action Network (CAN), a coalition of NGO’s of Tamil Nadu, looked at the environmental and social impact faced by the Pulicat Lake due to the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS), which already existed. It also studied the likely impacts of the proposed Ennore Satellite Port and the petro-chemical industrial park. NCTPS dumped flyash into the Buckingham Canal, which is connected to the Pulicat Lake and the Ennore estuary. This flyash killed the ability of the water to support fish life, which in turn affected the livelihood of families.
PIL filed by CAN in the High Court of Chennai against setting up of petro-chemical park, as it will be an environmental hazard in the impugned locality and would also endanger the Pulicat Lake as well as the Pulicat Birds Sanctuary. CAN opposed the project as it would destroy the ecosystem of the region. The court issued notices to the respondents to file their counters.
The HC rejected the PIL. The proposal of setting up the Petrochemical Park was subject to the environmental clearance and proceeded with.
Controlling coastal erosion and accretion, preventing habitat degradation and getting community participation are among the key issues identified for the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management (ICMAM) project for the Chennai coast. The plan is being prepared by the project directorate under the Central Department of Ocean Development (DOD) for the Tamil Nadu Government's Department of Environment. The work on the plan would be funded by the World Bank.
Pulicat Lake Bird Lovers Society (PLBLS) was established in Sullurpet Town. It was established because it focused on the protection of the biodiversity and also on public awareness.
Rs15 lakhs sanctioned for development of the lake by the state Forest Department.
Mangrove Action Project (MAP) with its project partner, COPDANET Foundation (Coastal poor development action network India), NGO, tried to restore the degraded mangrove areas around Pulicat Lake. COPDANET started a mangrove nursery containing several varieties of mangrove. They started to plant mangrove seedlings on a 12 ha island site of the lake.
The closure of the sea mouth near Thoopilipalem village pose a grave threat to the existence of the Pulicat Lake, putting at stake the future of thousands of migratory birds and also 50,000 fishermen dependent on it for their livelihood. The northward sweeping wind resulted in the formation of a huge sand bar rendering the shrunken sea mouth further shallow. The closure of the sea mouth prevents migration and remigration of fish and other fauna after breeding, thus posing a threat to the food security of the migratory birds.
The Centre has sanctioned Rs 1.67 crore for the development of Pulicat Lake. The Tourism Ministry also released Rs 1.33 crore and the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) was given the responsibility to execute the work.