Even the Sea Won’t Save Chennai Unless. . .

By: Nityanand Jayaraman

Chennai got a dose of its own poison in November 2019 when air quality nose-dived to hazardous levels. For a city with three busy seaports, metropolitan traffic woes, 3300 MW of coal-fired power plants, and large smoldering garbage dumps within its borders, Chennai’s air quality should be a lot worse than it actually is – thanks to the sea.

Image Source: Twitter/@Prabanch_Nath

Air pollution in Chennai worsening every year

But with each passing year, as industrialization intensifies, and construction and vehicular traffic increases, the city’s air is getting worse particularly in the predominantly working-class neighborhoods to the north of the city.

Chennai gets all its electricity, petrol products and much of its water from North Chennai. In return, North Chennai gets to keep all the trash that Chennai residents dump. This is what environmental injustice looks like.

In 2019, while Chennai, on the whole, had unhealthy air quality on 30 percent of the days, air quality was unhealthy on 60 percent of the days in North Chennai.

Air quality is unhealthy despite the presence of sea

Delhi is unfortunately located in a valley of sorts, with poor ventilation and no way for pollution to escape. But Chennai is located on the coast, with alternating land and sea breezes that help move the air. If air quality is unhealthy despite the sea, then Chennai better take care.

Even as you read this, the city is adding 3000 MW of electricity generating capacity with new coal-fired power plants all in North Chennai.

Already, the Manali-Ennore-Kattupalli region is burdened with diesel emissions from heavy vehicles moving shipping containers and coal ash from the three ports all located north of the Cooum River.

Chennai to become another Delhi?

Plans are afoot to construct yet another mega port – a 30 berth seaport – an industrial estate, a Japanese-funded “Smart City” all of which will increase pollution load and vehicular traffic multifold.

When this happens, even the sea won’t be able to save Chennai from becoming another Delhi.

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Nityanand Jayaraman

Nityanand Jayaraman

Nityanand Jayaraman is a writer and researcher based in Chennai.

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