With Chennai expanding in all directions, two beaches are just not enough. Prince Frederick draws attention to the lesser-known beaches along the coastline
The residents of the areas adjoining Elliot’s Beach know what it means to be besieged. During weekends and special holidays, cars spill over into the side lanes, with awkwardly parked ones placing the residents under ‘house arrest’. The considerably larger Marina does not pose this problem, but the brunt of the ‘weekend exodus’ to this beach is borne by motorists on the connecting roads. On such days, the traffic is slow-moving on Kamarajar Salai and its feeder roads. The message is loud and clear: with Chennai expanding in all directions, two beaches are just not enough.
Fortunately, this concern resonates in the corridors of power. In its coastline beautification proposal, the Chennai Corporation accords top priority to development of less popular beaches. If this plan is seen through to its conclusion, beach-goers will have a plethora of options stretching from Ennore to Uthandi, and the load on Marina and Bessie (an alternative name for Elliot’s Beach) will significantly ease.
As part of this initiative, around ten beaches, most of them serving as neighbourhood hangouts, come under the scanner. Interestingly, the development of these small beaches does not hinge on aping the methods that proved successful with the Marina or Bessie.
Studying the more prominent ones, which include Thiruvanmiyur, Palavakkam and Neelankarai beaches, on the to-be-promoted list will provide pointers to how the others may be developed. These three draw people beyond the neighbourhoods. Good approach roads are a reason. The Palavakkam beach can be accessed through three roads and Thiruvanmiyur through four.
Provision of adequate lighting encourages longer stays on the beach, beyond twilight hours. Meeting Priya at 9.30 p.m. on the Palavakkam beach is testimony to this. Togged up in jogging gear, she says, “A year ago, it was unthinkable for me to tread these tracts at such an hour.” Better lighting has made the difference for her, as it has for visitors to the other two beaches. In addition to the regular ones, high-mast lights have been installed and some more are on the way.
It is clear the civic and local authorities take a great interest in these beaches which, however, derive their major strength from elsewhere. Thiruvanmiyur beach — which, according to local residents, is one part Thiruvanmiyur and another Kottivakkam — has a strong residents group. Called East Coast Beach Walkers Association, it has around 600 members, most of them drawn from Thiruvanmiyur and Kottivakkam. The executive committee meets like clockwork, once a month, and campaigns relentlessly for better conditions.
More significantly, the members pitch in during attempts to improve the beach. A row of benches bears testimony to this generosity. “The members donated them,” says G. Dharmarajan, retired deputy commissioner of police and a regular at the beach, pointing to the benches.
The road hugging the beach is lined with saplings protected by tree guards, bearing the Forest Department's name. One of the four approach roads has a barricade preventing cars from invading the space, causing inconvenience to walkers in the morning and evening. “In fact, all the four roads had barricades. Only one is in place now,” says another member Dr. T. Rajendran with a look that suggests a battle in the offing.
Retired superintendent of police Ramamurthy, also a member, points to a police outpost and says, “Someone has to be present there more often than is the case now.”
Remember, Thiruvanmiyur beach has more things going for it than any of the other second-tier beaches of Chennai. But the members are not prepared to settle for anything less than what ought to be. The residents of Neelankarai have banded together in an effort to better their beach and have apparently sought help from those watching over Thiruvanmiyur beach.
Palavakkam resident Arun Kumar’s account further illustrates that residents make a beach: “Around four years ago, a non-resident Indian from Florida with a strong connection with Palavakkam, decided to make over the beach like the one in the United States that captured his imagination. At his own cost, he planted a row of date palms, installed a drip irrigation system for them and put up stone benches. Vandalism by visitors meant broken benches. And the trees withered for want of attention.”
Can we conclude that no matter what the authorities do, it’s finally people who make or mar a beach?
Musts for wannabe beaches
Police surveillance till late hours
Promenade for walkers, joggers
Adequate parking space
Entertainment, especially for children
Shopping options: in the case of neighbourhood beaches,a few will do
A bit of greenery
A powerful local residents association
An effective beach-cleaning system