A delay in the completion of a sea wall by the WRD has put several houses in Nettukuppam in acute danger. Construction of the sea wall began earlier this month, but already, its tail-end is sagging, unable to withstand the force of the waves.

It has been just over a year since Kokila's family moved into her house in Nettukuppam, a fishing hamlet in north Chennai. Late on Monday night though, her house slid into the sea, and is now standing at an acute angle –— due to sea erosion.

Kokila's house is one of the over 150 constructed by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board after the tsunami in 2004. Her neighbour Jayanthi's house seems next in line to go the way of Kokila's — thanks to a delay in the completion of a sea wall by the Water Resources Department (WRD).

“Where will we go with our children? We cannot enter our house now as over the last week, around 30 feet of land has been washed away. We have been living on the street for over 15 days fearing our houses would tumble down. We had pinned all our hopes on the work by the WRD. But they have let us down badly,” said a tearful Ms. Jayanthi.

The two families have now moved their household goods to the terraces of other houses in the area. “If it rains, we might as well dump our things into the sea. Our things are scattered. Schools reopen on June 4, and we are yet to pay our children's fees. The entire village has not gone to sea for a month now, waiting and watching the sea. We need some kind of temporary housing till the government constructs our house,” said Ms. Kokila.

Four more houses along the same line are now under threat of falling, if the sea wall is not completed on a war-footing. Construction of the sea wall began earlier this month, but already, its tail-end is sagging, unable to withstand the force of the waves.

“In the first week of May, the sea suddenly advanced and took away 100 metres of our shore. After years of communication, the WRD only started work after we lost that portion of the shore. But they stopped work 10 days ago, after constructing some 70 metres of the sea wall when we needed around 200 metres. If only they had completed the work, these houses would have been safe,” said Kalaivanan, a resident.

Residents alleged that when they asked WRD staff about resuming work to dump boulders to construct the sea wall, they responded by saying that it was not the department's responsibility to safeguard the houses.

According to sources in the Water Resources Department, so far, a sea wall covering a distance of 90 metres in Nettukuppam at a cost of Rs.60 lakh has been laid using the MLA's constituency development fund.

“We are ensuring alternative housing for affected residents. Placing sandbags have not helped in containing the sea erosion,” said an official. In two or three days, the department plans to start work to construct the seawall along an additional 150 metres. The Rs.1 crore project will be taken up with a Member of Parliament constituency development fund. “We want to complete the work in a fortnight. Once it is over, Nettukuppam can be saved from sea erosion,” the official added.

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