29 August, 2013. Chennai. 9 a.m.
(As told to Nityanand Jayaraman (9444082401. email@example.com)
Five male residents of Sulerikattukuppam were picked up in a midnight
raid by Kanchipuram police in a bid to intimidate the villagers who
are protesting the disruption of fishing livelihoods by the 100
million litres per day desalination plant. The plant’s marine
structures have eroded nearly 75 metres of beach in front of
Sulerikattukuppam. Several community buildings have been swallowed by
the sea, and the villagers have lost the space to park their boats and
nets. Rocks dumped by Metrowater inside the sea have created pockets
of turbulence and danger for passing boats. Over the last three
months, at least two accidents have occurred claiming one life and
seriously injuring another. On both instances, the villagers filed
police complaints against Metrowater. But no action was taken.
The plant is currently under shutdown because of slush/silt
accumulation in the intake pipeline. Yesterday’s midnight raid was
prompted by a complaint by a Metrowater Chief Engineer Mr.
Sabarinathan alleging that six fishermen on a boat armed with sticks
from Sulerikattukuppam disrupted marine survey work by a Metrowater
team that was trying to fix the intake pipeline problem. The work was
being carried out using two mechanised boats from Chennai and a fibre
boat from Mammallapuram. The complaint named Ravi, Nityanandan, Kumar,
Ruban, Lakshmanan and Kadumbadi as offenders. Sulerikattukuppam
villagers say that they had spoken to the Mammallapuram fisherfolk and
requested them and other fishing villages to not cooperate with the
Metrowater until their justified demands are met. Angered by this,
Metrowater has filed this false complaint, they alleged.
Yesterday, around 5.30 p.m., a team including the SP and DSP of
Kanchipuram visited the fishing village and did the rounds of all
streets. Apprehensive of an imminent police action, the men left the
village for the night. Around 500 police are reported to have swooped
into the village at around midnight. Door-to-door searches were
conducted, and five men and three boys were picked up. After the women
pleaded with the police and produced the college ID cards, the three
boys were released. The five arrested persons include one person who
was visiting his relative V. Raghu. The other four are fishermen,
including G. Vijayamoorthy, aged around 35, H. Madhavan, aged around
42, Manibalan, aged around 35, and Jagadeesan, aged around 65. None of
them has any complaints against them, and not one of them was among
those named in the Metrowater police complaint.
In June 2013, 21 people from the village were released on bail after
spending a month in jail for demanding compensation for loss of
livelihood due to sea erosion caused by the desalination plant.
The plant, which was set up at a cost of Rs. 500 crores, has not
functioned at capacity since it was commissioned in February, and has
been beset with serious malfunctions. A retired chief engineer at
Metrowater has alleged serious irregularities in executing the project
as per design. In May 2013, Chief Engineer (Retd) C.R. Rajan wrote to
the Chief Minister complaining that the contractor and Metrowater
engineers had violated design stipulations and laid the seawater
intake pipeline at a wrong location incurring an additional cost of
Rs. 4 crores and exposing the plant to frequent shutdowns on account
of entry of slush and silt in the pipeline. See
Like in Koodankulam, where police force is being used to divert
attention from irregularities in the plant construction and its
failure to operate as promised, villagers fear that here too the
police action is meant to shield corruption in the design and
construction of the plant, and to deny compensation to the villagers
affected by the desalination plant.
At the time of writing, the villagers arrested last night were still
in police custody.
Call Mr. Vijayakumar, Superintendent of Police. Kanchipuram. 9443884395