04 April, 2014
In November 2013, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), along with the Madras Naturalists’ Society (MNS), carried out a survey of the waterbirds of Odiyur Lagoon, a wetland near the proposed 4000 MW Cheyyur Power Plant. Additionally, they carried out a literature survey of published and unpublished information available on the birds of the lagoon and adjoining areas. The findings were published in the form of a Report Evaluation of the Waterbirds of Odiyur Lagoon – A wetland near the proposed Cheyyur Power Plant, which is released at the press conference today by the BNHS’s Vice President and Member of the Governing Council, Dr. Ravi Chellam.
Contrary to the claim made in the environmental clearance that “migratory birds are found to be negligible in the Lagoon”, the study revealed that the lagoon has a rich birdlife, and in fact, rich enough to warrant the site to be declared as an Important Birds Area (IBA) by BirdLife International (BNHS is already making efforts to obtain this designation for the site). The Report lists the occurrence of at least 77 waterbird species, including resident, seasonal migrants (which breed elsewhere in the region), and winter migrants (species that breed in the Palearctic/Himalayan region and spend the winter in the Indian region). The study also highlights that 8 out of 42 endangered bird species of India occur in the Odiyur Lagoon.
The Report found a number of other declarations made by the project proponent to obtain environmental clearance to be incorrect. The Environmental Impact Assessment reports submitted to the Ministry of Environment & Forests claim that there are no reserved forests, mangroves or sea-grass beds, feeding and breeding grounds of fish, or areas that form part of the migratory route or nesting grounds for birds within 10 km of the project site. The Palaiyur Reserved Forests are part of the lands being acquired for the power plant and fall within 10 km of the port site. There are documented mangroves and sea-grass beds both in the Odiyur Lagoon and in the Yedayanthittu Estuary and backwaters to the south, and the Lagoon is a significant breeding and nursery ground for shrimps, crabs and fishes.
The Odiyur Lagoon and Yedayanthittu Estuary to its south are two major estuaries of the area that receive inflow from several freshwater sources and flow into the Bay of Bengal. They support a multitude of flora and fauna, besides playing an important role in regulating floodwater flows and maintaining the fisheries potential of the region. Other than the Lagoon, the surrounding area consists of beaches, mudflats and dunes with typical coastal vegetation. For these reasons alone, such areas should be strictly treated as ‘no development’ zones, especially for industries that have the potential, either in the short or long-term, to adversely impact the well-being of this important ecosystem, the Report’s authors argue.
BNHS and MNS warned that the power plant and captive port would directly and indirectly harm the estuarine ecosystem, adjoining habitats, and its rich water-bird populations and other fauna. These threats would be through air pollution in the form of acidic emissions and mercury as vapour (which would also get deposited into the wetlands over time), and contaminated runoff from the ash pond and power plant site into the Lagoon during floods. Further, the location of the plant, and the alignment of the conveyor belt and storm-water drain will alter the drainage pattern in the area causing irreversible damage to the delicate mangroves and estuarine ecosystems. A long-term threat would be the inevitable ‘development’ of the area after the plant comes up, by way of increase in infrastructure, road network, traffic, and changes in the profile of this rural landscape now comprising largely of crop fields, grazing lands, scrub forest and wetlands to a more urbanised landscape. All these developments will result in increasing pressures on the Odiyur Lagoon with the passing years thereby affecting this important refuge for waterfowl, even while harming the fisheries economy and hydrological functions of the area, the report warns.
Due to the above mentioned reasons, the study recommends the relocation of the power plant and captive port to an alternative location that is in compliance with the siting guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. BNHS and MNS urge the State and Central Governments to notify the Lagoon and its catchment as an Ecologically Sensitive Area under the Environment Protection Act and regulate activities to ensure the protection of local biodiversity, local livelihoods and the region’s hydrological functions.
For more information, contact: Vijay Kumar (Madras Naturalists Society): 9840090875
- Evaluation of the Waterbirds of Odiyur Lagoon – A Wetland Near the Proposed Cheyyur Thermal Power Plant
Bombay Natural History Society, Ranjit Manakadan, and the Madras Naturalists Society