Whether to buy a paracetamol or a safety pin, residents of fishing hamlets along the Pulicat lake in Tiruvallur district have to walk one kilometre across the lake to reach the market.
Residents of Pasiyavaram Kuppam, Rahmat Nagar, Idamanikuppam, Idamani Colony and Satankuppam said that they had demanded a bridge between the mainland and their hamlets on many occasions but to no avail. “We don’t have any shops in our village. Neither do we have buses to Pulicat. The closest hospital is located there. We have to cross the lake if there is an emergency. Someone even had a heart attack during the crossing,” said S. Rajeshwari, V. Ilavarasi and N. Radhika, students of class XII in Pulicat Government Higher Secondary School.
Scores of children of four schools use this route every day, wading in the water in which people openly defecate. The lake, which is the second largest brackish water lake in the country, is also a source of livelihood for thousands of fisherfolk. It is also a bird sanctuary where over 15,000 flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, ducks and herons are said to flock.
The only other way to get to the mainland is a 3-km road stretch through which no buses operate. “During the day, share autorickshaws ply to Pulicat and surrounding areas but they are too expensive. We cannot afford to pay Rs.10 per ride. Most children are sent to schools as education is free. Their families will not pay for transportation,” said Vasanthi, a teacher at an anganwadi in Vairavankuppam and resident of Satankuppam.
The water level during summer is about 1-2 feet. But when the tide rises or during full moon, it rises to 3-4 feet and during monsoons, villagers have to use boats to reach the mainland.
The highways department has prepared an estimate for constructing a two-lane 950-m-long bridge in the area but the proposal is yet to get the required sanction as the lake is a wildlife sanctuary.
The forest department has given its nod and the district collector has also identified alternative land to be handed over to the department. The next step is a recommendation from the State Standing Committee on Wildlife to the National Board of Wildlife.