With the government yet to come out with a comprehensive long-term solution for the continuing sea erosion, fishermen in the coastal villages of Vaithikuppam, Solai Nagar, Kuruchikuppam and Kalapet are anxious about their future.
According to the fishermen, the erosion has badly affected the viability of their occupation. Tidal waves damage their boats constantly. With alternative arrangements for parking their boats elsewhere not available, they are forced to pull the boats further inshore to escape the havoc caused by the waves.
“Everytime we pull the boats further, there is some damage to the boats. We have to spend out of our pockets to repair them. With diminishing income from fishing, this is making our life miserable,” said Ramalingam, a fisherman from Solai Nagar. He also said that sometimes, their nets are washed away and the damage could go to the extent of Rs. 15000.
The fishermen said that they usually call up the Fisheries Department which sends cranes to lift the boats in case of seawater intrusion.
The fishermen also blamed the construction of the Thengaithittu harbour for their current state. Built in 1989, it now functions as the Puducherry Fishing Harbour.
According to experts, the two breakwaters that were constructed as part of the harbour construction stopped the natural movement of sand from south to north on the coast. Thus, the sand moved only in the northern direction, with no movement in the opposite direction to replenish it. This resulted in increased erosion of beaches.
Experts also pointed out that the Central Water Power and Research Station, Pune, had warned about the disruption to the ‘littoral drift' when the harbour was constructed. As a remedy, a ‘sand bypass' system was initiated and constant dredging was proposed to counter the loss of sand.
According to Elango, a fishermen leader, the problem of sea erosion was primarily owing to dredging work not being done efficiently. “Very little dredging is done. How do they expect to restore the beaches without carrying this out,” he asked
According to experts, close to four lakh cubic metres of sand has to be dredged annually but this has not been complied with. They said that instead of dredging, the government decided to use groynes and build a sea wall.
The experts said groynes are not the ideal solution as what is seen in Puducherry is a “structural erosion” and this requires soft measures such as sand bypassing and not hard measures.
“If you build a sea wall, the problem of erosion will only be transferred to the next village,” said Aurofilio Schiavina, a coastal environment expert, who is part of Pondy Citizen's Action Network (PondyCAN), an NGO which deals with environment issues in the region. The problem is lack of sand and this has to be addressed immediately. “What you need is dumping of sand. But they are dumping rocks'” he said.
In 2008, the NGO filed a public interest litigation petition to stop the erection of groynes along the coast.
The fishermen want immediate construction of a groyne to help reclaim the beaches. Fishermen and experts though, agree that drastic measures with long term considerations are needed to save the coastal villages in Puducherry.