Many communities came together to protest against the project that is likely to cause problems at many levels.
As the sun rose on the beaches of Chennai, on the morning of July 31, the boats remained tied to the shore and the nets lay untouched. Perhaps many a stomach went hungry. The fishing communities spread across 14 villages from Nochi Kuppam to Kottivakkam, stayed off the sea knowing well that they would go without food for the day. A neo-Gandhian protest to express their angst against the proposed elevated expressway project of the Tamil Nadu Government. Will the Government and the media take note of the fact that more than 50,000 families from these villages gave up their livelihood for a day? They had to make themselves heard.
The still beaches came alive at 3.00 p.m. More than 5000 people spread themselves across the Elliots Beach forming a human chain, bringing to the notice of the city that the sea remained deserted for the day for a reason. The Meenavar Vazhvurimai Padhukappu Kuzhu comprising the 14 fishing hamlets, which organised the protest, was formed to lend the event a face; everything has to be branded to have authenticity.
Placards, slogans and speeches condemning the project added to the momentum. An occasional yellow headband with the words “stop the elevated highway” was spotted, highlighting the support from the students' community. Environmentalists represented the case of Olive Ridley Turtles, which come ashore to lay its eggs.
It was in December 2009 that the 14 village Panchayats comprising the fishing hamlets formally decided to resist the construction of the expressway, explains R. Sundaramurthy, resident of Urur Kuppam and a member of the above mentioned committee.
Though the feasibility report for the project mentions that a public hearing was held, the fishing community denies having been consulted. Two months back they released a press note denouncing the expressway and demanded that the Government looked at alternatives.
Not receiving any favourable response from the Government, the fishing community decided to display its dissent.
The elevated expressway would not only displace them as it would run right through their homes but would also hamper their livelihood, for the place where they once dried their fish would now house the massive concrete structure. And it will transport only private vehicles adds to the ire. The Rs. 1000 crore proposed expressway running along the beach from Lighthouse to Kottivakkam will cater only to a very small percentage of the city's fortunate one owning vehicles while leaving out the State-run public transport. How this can decongest traffic, which is the purpose of the expressway, is a puzzle.
There has been mounting protest against the expressway from all sections of the population as seeen by the human chain event. The fishing communities warn that the protest will take on a stronger tone if the Government remains unresponsive. The city's ‘beautification' projects may succeed in promoting Chennai as a tourist destination. But at what and whose cost is the question that the active citizenry ask.
Janani is a B.A. Economics graduate from Stella Maris College.