Forest department wants construction work stopped

Annamalaicheri, the only flamingo habitat in Pulicat Lake on the Tamil Nadu side, is facing a threat due to the construction of a fish landing centre, according to forest officials and environmentalists.

As part of setting up a series of fish landing centres along the east coast for the benefit of fishermen, the Fisheries Department authorities began work at the Annamalaicheri village, part of the Pulicat lake ecosystem, which was declared a bird sanctuary in 1980.

Taking note of the threat, the State Forest Department has written to the Fisheries Department and the Tiruvallur Collector to stop the work immediately as no construction work could be taken up inside the sanctuary limits, forest officials said.

Once an area is declared a sanctuary, any development activity could be taken up only after prior permission from the National Board for Wildlife, the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.

However, fisheries officials claim that they have permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for the construction of the fish landing centre and that they began work only after getting CRZ clearance from MoEF. However, they are tight-lipped about whether the National Board of Wildlife has also granted approval.

Construction work in the ecologically sensitive Annamalaicheri area would force thousands of migratory flamingos to look for alternative sites.

The shallow waters to the north of the village are the only known and recorded habitat of the flamingos in the Tamil Nadu part of the Pulicat Birds Sanctuary.

Every year, thousands of flamingos congregate in these shallow waters rich in food, especially prawns, between December and May.

“Rare birds such as godwit, curlew, whimbrel, a variety of plovers, and a large number of migratory ducks along with lesser flamingos visit the sanctuary during the migratory season,” says T. Murugavel, project co-ordinator, Environmental Monitoring and Action Initiating.

“The place also acts as a major feeding ground for lakhs of birds breeding in the neighbouring Nellapattu bird sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh. Any anthropogenic pressure will have a negative impact on the fragile ecosystem,” he said.

Environmentalists like Prof. Sanjeeva Raj, a scientist working in the Pulicat lake eco-system for nearly 50 years, have been urging the State to declare Annamalaicheri as a separate bird sanctuary, foreseeing the dangers of development to this fragile habitat, which faces threat from the real estate sector as well.