Chennai Corporation's proposed makeover for the city's coastline from Ennore to Akkarai promises to give residents exciting options

Why look at pictures of Malay and Thai beaches with sun-kissed sands and rolling waves, when the city's residents have their own share right here? As the city's boundaries expanded , the Chennai Corporation has inherited ten beaches, which local councillors are looking forward to improving.

The sandy coastline begins from Ennore in the north, and extends south till Uthandi, leaving one to choose from more than just Marina and Elliot's beach. With walkers' paths, comfortable seats, better lighting, green areas and children's playgrounds proposed for select beaches initially, there is more to look forward to when you clock in some time for fitness.

Residents of Sholinganallur (Zone 15), have the biggest reason to celebrate with seven of the 10 beaches falling under this zone. These beaches may have always been around, but plans have now been drawn up for installing high mast lights, and the road linking Neelankarai and Chinnadikuppam beaches is to be improved with funds provided by the local MLA.

Many of these beaches including the ones at Ennore, Neelankarai, Palavakkam and Kottivakkam are already famous and see a lot of visitors on weekends. Unfortunately, the Ennore Beach, which is at an estuary, is being slowly eroded due to two ports coming up to its north. Two pipelines used in dredging are, at present, aberrations on this beautiful stretch. “I remember as a child, I have walked along the beach from Kasimedu till Ennore. But now small breaks in the sea wall are our beaches. We need the sea wall because of the threat of sea erosion,” said T. Joseph of Nettukuppam.

The beaches at Ennore, Nettukuppam, Chinnakuppam and Periyakuppam see a lot of crowds in the evenings and on weekends, and many fishermen take tourists on boat rides in the Ennore creek. Hundreds of young boys can be seen swimming in the sea off the Kasimedu beach even as the temperature soared to well above 30 degrees . A resident, speaking about lighting on north Chennai's beaches, said: “When arterial roads like Ennore Expressway and Tiruvottiyur High Road don't have proper lighting, how would we be concerned about lack of lights on our beaches?”

Though experts say the city's coastline is sandy, only the south has vast sands. Some beaches like the one in Injambakkam attracts crowds as early as 4.30 p.m. even when the sun is still beating down. For Sapna Vikram and her friends, the beach was an accidental find. “We were in a restaurant and asked if there was a beach nearby,” she said, folding up her jeans to dip her feet into the cool Bay of Bengal.

Further up the coast, I. Moses, who has been a watchman at a famous resort, has been keeping vigil for nine years – making sure beachgoers stay within permissible limits. “For the number of people who come here, the lighting is very poor. This is why it is important that we make sure everyone leaves the beach by 6.30 p.m.,” he said.

Yet, Injambakkam beach has also come under scrutiny by a local resident welfare association. K. Sainath, president, Injambakkam Rajan Nagar Selva Nagar Residents Welfare Association, said a proposal had been drawn up to develop the beach three years ago. “Many people take morning walks near the beach but they are forced to close their noses while doing so. Public toilets are needed for the fisher folk to keep the beach clean,” he said.

Similar stories describe the Panaiyurkuppam and Nainarkuppam beaches which are predominantly used by fishermen with a portion meant for use by the public. However, garbage is strewn along these beaches and needs to be cleared.

But some councillors certainly want to make a difference. Take D. Viswanathan for instance; ever since he was voted councillor in Palavakkam, his vision has been to make the area's beach as beautiful and user-friendly as the ones in Thiruvanmiyur and Thiruvalluvar Nagar.

“I have written to the Commissioner asking for three high-mast lights in each of the junctions leading up from East Coast Road to the beach. I have also asked for a walking path to be laid on the side with chairs for walkers to rest on,” he added.

The civic body has its own set of plans for these beaches. It has proposed procuring five sand cleaning machines. Mayor Saidai S. Duraisamy said that the sands of Marina and Elliot's beaches were being cleaned at night. A similar routine would be put in place for other beaches once the machines are procured. The equipment costs approximately Rs. 35 lakh each.

“We are slowly trying to tell people that the beach is their own as much as the Corporation's. We are looking at improving lighting, seats, providing shade and some greenery. As security is also a concern, if need be, we will look at some kind of policing. Residents can tell us their needs and we can look at them and see how they can be put in place,” he said.

All this, to keep the sandy coastline pristine and beautiful. Especially the one which comes last in the Corporation's limit — Chennai's own Juhu beach in Akkarai. Though many think this beach is private property, it is not. It is open to the public though access is through private roads. “I have lived in Mumbai and near the Juhu. I was thinking of a name and I thought Juhu would be nice for this beach too,” said property developer Markhand Desai in Akkarai.

V. Sundar of the Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT Madras, said that every year approximately 6 to 10 meters of the coastline is eroded. “In north Chennai, over the last five years, quite a bit of erosion has happened. If one wants to protect the coast and develop beaches, there are ways to do that. Singapore has as a very small coastline and it has taken steps to safeguard it. But it is quite expensive. In India we have other priorities. The State government has taken whatever steps are possible,” he explained.

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Deepa H. RamakrishnanJune 28, 2012

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