India — Activists and local residents have demanded that the Chennai corporation hand over the Pallikaranai marsh, where a huge fire raged on Saturday evening, to the forest department.
Currently, the corporation uses the marshland to dump waste while a Metrowater treatment plant nearby lets out sewage into the marsh.
Ranjit Daniels, a zoologist who conducted the first scientific bird census in the area, says it is time that the safety of the highly sensitive eco-system was considered. “TNPCB and officials concerned should look into the reasons for the fire that destroyed several acres on Saturday. It is quite evident that the formation of methane from the marshland could have been made the situation worse yesterday. Authorities should take action to prevent such accidents,” said Daniel.
Bird watchers have spotted cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills and white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, black-winged stilts, purple moorhens and dabchicks in large numbers in the marshland.
Last year, a report submitted by a panel appointed by the Madras high court highlighted the need to conserve the wetland. “Alteration of natural water courses by unregulated dumping in the marshland has led to calamitous flooding in the area. It would be wise to use the marshland as a natural flood-control option, and reinvest in flood control or damage mitigation at a later stage,” the report had said.
Despite the increasing pollution and destruction of the natural environment, the availablity of water sources still attracts a lot of migratory birds to the area. “But the land area is still with the Chennai corporation,” said Pallikaranai forest range officer S Ramdas.
In 2002, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board published a report on the shrinking marshland, which later led to a study that analysed the habitat quality and interventional methods to be taken to save it.
A senior forest official said that about five deacdes ago, the marshland was spread over 5,000 hectares. “We have already lost 90 % of the ecosystem due to developments and city expansion projects,” he said.
Earlier, there was a scheme to lay a walkway around Pallikaranai for bird-watching, similar to the one at the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary. “Authorities are yet to study the reports and projects to develop it as a protected area. As hundreds of birds are still coming here, it is still possible to make it a protected area and a bird sanctuary,” E Seshan, a retired Zoological Survey of India official, told TOI.
Local residents say that handing over the area to the forest department is the only solution to preseve it.