Dhanushkodi – Fifty Years After the Cyclone of 1964


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.

On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town  with heavy casualties.

On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.

 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964

The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22 – 25, 1964.

More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.

The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.

The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.

Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.

The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.

After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.

The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.

The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.

After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.

An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.

We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.

St. Antony's Church at Dhanuskodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

St. Antony’s Church at Dhanushkodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.

Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.

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India and Day 26 – Part 3: The Devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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December 26, 2004 – Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami

On Sunday, December 26, 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake, known as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC in the Indian Ocean with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, between Simeulue in the Aceh province of Indonesia and mainland Indonesia. The earthquake with a magnitude of Mw 9.1–9.3, is the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph.

The duration of faulting, between 8.3 and 10 minutes, was the longest ever observed. The behemothic quake caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other minor earthquakes as far away as Alaska.

The tsunami was then known by various other names such as: “The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” “South Asian tsunami,” and “Indonesian tsunami.” Since the tsunami occurred on December 26, it was also known as the “Christmas tsunami” and the “Boxing Day tsunami.”

December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (Source: all-that-is-interesting.com)

December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. (Source: all-that-is-interesting.com)

The earthquake triggered a tsunami, considered to be one of the deadliest in history, which inundated coastal communities with waves up to 100 feet (30 meters) high and killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

Costlines severely hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami (Source: academic.evergree.edu)

Coastlines severely hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami (Source: academic.evergree.edu)

The huge waves racing at the speed of a jet aircraft took fifteen minutes to seven hours to reach the various coastlines. The waves hit the northern regions of the Indonesian island of Sumatra immediately. Thailand was struck about two hours later, despite being closer to the epicentre because the tsunami waves travelled more slowly in the shallow Andaman Sea off its western coast. About an hour and a half to two hours after the quake, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India were hit. The waves then reached the Maldives.

Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

The earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Indian Ocean had a devastating effect on India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs about 18,000 are estimated dead.

The following table compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that a total of 227,898 people died. According to this table, in mainland India and in its territories, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 12,405 people died in the tsunami, around 5,640 are missing and 647,599 people have been displaced.

Figures compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey

COUNTRY WHERE
DEATHS OCCURRED
CONFIRMED ESTIMATED INJURED MISSING DISPLACED
INDONESIA 130,736 167,799 n/a 37,063 500,000+
SRI LANKA2 35,322 35,322 21,411 n/a 516,150
INDIA 12,405 18,045 n/a 5,640 647,599
THAILAND 5,395 8,212 8,457 2,817 7,000
SOMALIA 78 289 n/a n/a 5,000
MYANMAR (BURMA) 61 400–600 45 200 3,200
MALDIVES 82 108 n/a 26 15,000+
MALAYSIA 68 75 299 6 n/a
TANZANIA 10 13 n/a n/a n/a
SEYCHELLES 3 3 57 n/a 200
BANGLADESH 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
SOUTH AFRICA 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
YEMEN 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
KENYA 1 1 2 n/a n/a
MADAGASCAR n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,000+
TOTAL ~184,167 ~230,273 ~125,000 ~45,752 ~1.69 million

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean were devastated by the tsunami, and by the initial quake and several aftershocks that occurred during the following days. The Great Nicobar and Car Nicobar islands were the worst hit among all the islands due to their proximity to the epicentre of the quake and because of the relatively flat terrain.

One-fifth of the population in Nicobar Islands was reported dead, missing or wounded. Chowra Island lost two-thirds of its population of 1,500. Communication was cut off when many islands submerged. The Trinket Island was bifurcated.

Fishing communities were destroyed and very little is known about the effects of the tsunami on the indigenous tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The official death toll in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was 1,310, with about 5,600 missing from the islands. But the unofficial death toll, including those missing and presumed dead, was estimated to be around 7,000.

Map showing Tsunami Affected Area in India.

Map showing Tsunami Affected Areas in India.

The tsunami hit the southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. It inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast. Around 8,000 deaths were reported from Tamilnadu, and around 200 deaths from Kerala. The district of Nagapattinam was the worst hit in Tamil Nadu, with nearly 5,500 deaths.

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast of southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. Crown. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast of southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. Crown. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)

Surprisingly, Bangladesh, which lies at the northern end of the Bay of Bengal, had only two confirmed deaths, despite being a low-lying country and located relatively near the epicenter. Also, distance alone does not guarantee a safety since Somalia located in the Horn of Africa on the eastern coast was hit harder than Bangladesh even though it is much farther away.

Coasts, with a landmass between them and the location of origin of a tsunami, are usually deemed safe, but tsunami waves can sometimes steer around such landmasses. Being a relatively small island, the western coast of Sri Lanka suffered substantial damages from the impact of the tsunami; likewise, the Indian state of Kerala too was hit by the tsunami, despite being on the western coast of India.

The government of India announced a financial package of about US$200 million to Andaman and Nicobar islands after the tsunami, but the unbearable living conditions due to rise in sea level, constant aftershocks and fear of another similar tsunami, propelled thousands of settlers on the islands to relocate to the Indian mainland.

According to the World Bank, reconstruction was expected to cost more than US$1.2 billion in India alone.

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 Previous ~ India and Day 26 – Part 2: Turmoil in Gujarat

Next → India and Day 26 – Part 4: Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai – 1

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Wooden Cars


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

I came across the following on BBC TopGear’s front page:

Morgan

Morgan

An antidote for anyone who despairs at the loss of innocence. How sweet it is to think that there’s a shed in the Malvern hills in which a dedicated bunch of artisans is hard at work hand-building sports cars with wooden chassis. What’s more, with the Aero 8 and forthcoming hybrid LifeCar, it looks like they’re here to stay.

This aroused my curiosity about wooden cars.

The Morgan Motor Company, is a family owned British motor car manufacturing firm founded in 1909 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan that specializes in hand-assembled cars. The company, based in the Malvern hills, an area of Malvern, Worcestershire, England to the north and east of Great Malvern employs around 163 people. In 2007, Morgan produced 640 hand-assembled cars.

In their FAQs page to the question “Is it still made with a Wooden chassis?” they answer:

“The Morgan car has always been built around an ash-frame , and a steel chassis. The new Aero 8 also has an ash frame. This gives unique strength, flexibility and surprisingly, research showed that the frame made the car safer on impact tests.”

A year ago, in May 2013, I came across a news item in the media about Istvan Puskas, a 51-year-old Hungarian farmer. He lives in Tiszaörs, a village in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, in the Northern Great Plain region of central Hungary.

Istvan Puskas

Istvan Puskas

Farmer Istvan Puskas, is also skilled in woodcraft. He loves to create unique articles with wood that would interest people.

A year earlier, in 2012, he created a unique motorcycle entirely of wood. a one-of-a-kind chopper made almost exclusively out of wood.

In 2013, Puskas created a unique wooden vehicle powered by a Polish-made Fiat 126 engine. The vehicle resembles a tractor.

Though a steering wheel salvaged from an old Mercedes-Benz came in handy, he made the frame, wheels, axles, suspension and gearbox out of wood. He used an old beer barrel for the fuel tank. His object was to use as much wood as possible.

It took him four months to finish building his vehicle.

Even though the current Hungarian laws make it impossible for Istvan Puskas to officially register and drive his unique wooden vehicle on the road, the local policemen impressed with his efforts allow him to drive it on the local lanes in his village. So far, touch wood, he has not run into any accidents.

Since Istvan had no garage to park his wooden vehicle, he had plans to put his creation on the market, as a collector’s item, or as a vehicle for someone who prefers to drive slow. He said that he intends to use the proceeds to fund his next project – a three-wheeled vehicle.

Recently, I came across the following video on YouTube of an amazing, beautiful custom-built 2009 wooden car Uploaded on October 13, 2010 by mrantisocialguy.

This custom hand-built wooden car mounted on a 1986 Toyota truck frame is powered by a Chrysler 318 engine. Driven by an automatic transmission it had 1,800 miles registered on its speedometer at the time of shooting this video.

The following video titled “wooden car Amazing Invention – HD” uploaded by Mohammed Rashed Ul Haq on Jan 13, 2011 is a four-minute long documentary on the manufacture of a wooden car.

Today, I read an article in the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai edition, titled “Wooden car awaits licence“.

Appar Lakshmanan, a hereditary master wood craftsman belonging to the Viswakarma community, has built a wooden car, which is probably the first eco-friendly vehicle made in the state of Tamilnadu, India.

Like Istvan Puskas in Hungary, Appar Lakshmanan too finds it difficult to meet the high criteria set by the Regional Transport Officer (RTO), Chennai.

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

The writer of the article J.V. Siva Prasanna Kumar quotes Appar Lakshmanan as saying:

“If its strength of materials and ability to withstand combustion in the event of an accident or collision, then test my car and see the results… The officials seem to raise several questions, including how the wooden frames were fixed together. My father used bamboo pegs as rivets and they stood the test of time. Would anyone believe that?”

Appar Lakshmanan says the wood he used to make the car was not inflammable. Nevertheless, his efforts to convince the RTO authorities and obtain a licence did not yield the desired results. The one among his woes is that he could not get an engine or chassis number for his wooden car. A real paradox indeed!

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The Refracted-Light Lamp of Alfredo Moser Brightens Millions of Homes


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“Alfredo Moser has changed the lives of a tremendous number of people, I think forever. Whether or not he gets the Nobel Prize, we want him to know that there are a great number of people who admire what he is doing.” – Illac Angelo Diaz, MyShelter Foundation, Philippines.

 

Alfredo Moser

Alfredo Moser

The creative mind of Alfredo Moser, a  Brazilian mechanic, came up with a cheap way to illuminate his house during the day without using electricity. His “Lamp Moser” is just a plastic bottle filled with water and a little amount of bleach, added to prevent the growth of algae.

Alfredo Moser lives in Uberaba, a city in the west of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. In 2002, there were frequent power outages in his home city. While talking to the media Moser said: “The only places that had energy were the factories, not people’s houses.”

During the power outages, Moser and his friends were discussing a hypothetical situation of a small plane coming down and the survivors had no matches to light a fire to signal the rescuers. Moser’s boss suggested filling a discarded plastic bottle with water and using it as a lens to focus the sun’s rays on dry grass to start a fire.

This simple idea germinated in Moser’s mind and motivated him to develop the “Lamp Moser” – a cheap source of indoor lighting during the day. The lamp has an intensity around 60 watts.

Moser installed the bottle lamps in his house and in the houses of his neighbours and also in the local supermarket.

Though he does earn a few dollars installing his creation, it has not made him wealthy, but has given him a great sense of pride. He still lives in his simple house and drives his old 1974 car.

In the Philippines, where electricity is relatively expensive, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Alfred Moser’s idea of the refracted-light bottle lamps have been installed in more than 200,000 homes and benefitted more than a million people.

Illac Angelo Diaz

Illac Angelo Diaz

Illac Angelo Diaz is the executive director of the MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines that specializes in the use of sustainable or recycled materials such as bamboo, tyre, paper, and discarded plastic bottles as alternative construction materials. They built walls with plastic bottles filled with mud and windows with bottles filled with water.

Diaz came to know about Alfredo Moser and admired the simple principle embodied in the refracted light lamps that provide indoor lighting during the daytime.

In June 2011, MyShelter started making the refracted-light bottle lamps, following the Moser method. Diaz says that one can find Moser lamps, even on remote island communities in the Philippines. He adds that the light provided by the refracted-light bottle lamps help people in poor areas to grow food on small hydroponic farms.

The Foundation now trains people to fabricate and install the refracted-light bottle lamps to earn a small income.

The idea has also caught on in about 15 other countries, from India and Bangladesh, to Tanzania, Argentina and Fiji.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965). It serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rain water and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump over one-third of the garbage, almost 2,600 tonnes per day, of the ever-growing metropolis here in this climactic wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

At present the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article The mired marshby Shaju John. This article was augmented by photographs  captured by him in the post Photo file: The mired marsh.

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse.

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums frequent the garbage dump.

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Continual inhaling of the ever-present malodorous germ and virus bound air, the stifling smoke, polluted and poisoned ground water subject the people living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

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The incredible rate of development, such as the rampant construction of sanctioned IT parks, the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) campus, Hospitals, Colleges, high-rise office and residential buildings, the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland also have immensely contributed to the shrinking of the water spread.

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

With policies in place to crackdown on poaching, encroachment and illegal waste disposal, there is yet hope for the Pallikaranai wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

However, even now, dumping of garbage by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Last Sunday I posted an article titled “February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day.”

Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions. Primarily, wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

The Pallikaranai Wetland 

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 sq Km). It is the Chennai city’s natural primary aquifer recharge system.

Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)

The original expanse of the marsh, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares, which has now been reduced to about 600 hectares. Situated next to the Bay of Bengal, about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre, it is bounded by Velachery (north), Kovilambakkam (west), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), and Medavakkam (south). It is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city and is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India. It is one of the three in the state of Tamilnadu, the other two being Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is one of the 94 identified wetlands in India under the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India that came into operation in 1985–86.

The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

Flora and Fauna

This wetland is literally a treasury of bio-diversity that is almost four times that of Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai where more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world visit during the migratory season every year.

The Pallikaranai wetland contains several rare and endangered species of plants and animals. It acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the wetland is definitely more than in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity, and studies wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned her the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components — to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

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In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)

Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

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The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)

Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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Next → The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!

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February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Today, February 2 is World Wetlands Day

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On February 2, 1971, the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea,  to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time in 1997 made an encouraging beginning.

Wetland wallpaper

Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that is adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands and maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area, found near large bodies of open water, generally in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where normal drainage has been disrupted by glacial deposits. Swamps are characterized in the northern regions by an abundant growth of rushes and sedge and in the southern regions dominated by trees, such as the swamp cypress, and high shrubs. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing flood waters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area. The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium, but few other plant nutrients because they acquire their water from precipitation as well as ground water.

Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)

Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The water found in inland wetlands can be fresh water. The water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines are invariably salty or brackish.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods, and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems comprising a wide range of plants and serve as home to diverse animal life – fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc., and provide essential food and habitat for wildlife. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles. Wetlands are crucial to 75 percent of world’s migratory birds.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period. That’s approximately seven football fields, every hour! It’s a 25 percent increase over the previous 6-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change. Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This co-habitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Now, 43 years later, the anniversary of the adoption and signing of the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘ is being celebrated under the theme ‘Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth‘.

Paul Ouedraogo,Ramsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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Modern Day Slavery in Brick Kilns in India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A Child Brick worker in India (Source: BBC)

A Child Brick worker in India (Source: bbc.co.uk)

A century ago only 10% of India’s population lived in urban areas and now expected to increase to 40% by 2030.

The outcome of India’s economic growth has transformed small trading towns into bustling business centres with multinational enterprises, setting up factories, call centres, software development units, etc., eager to capitalize on high skill labour at low pay.

This stupendous metropolitan and rural boom need factories, offices, apartments, shopping malls, etc., constructed with bricks made of clay burnt in a kiln, as one of the needed primary building material. Bricks are used as filler materials for framework structures as well as to build load bearing structures.

Making the Brick

The process of making a brick has not changed over the centuries or across geographies. Traditionally the main steps followed to make a brick are:

1. Procuring the materials: Clay, the main raw material after mining is stored in the open to make the clay soft and remove unwanted embedded oxides.

Brick field labourer in India.

Brick field labourer in India.

2. Tempering: Clay is mixed with water to the right consistency for moulding. It is then kneaded manually with hands and feet. In certain regions, animal driven pug mills are used.

Brick Making - Tempering (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Tempering (Source: ecobrick.in)

3. Moulding: The kneaded clay after rolling in sand is filled into wooden or metal moulds. Sand is used to prevent the brick from sticking to the mould.

Brick Making - Moulding (Sourc: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Moulding (Sourc: ecobrick.in)

4. Drying: The moulded clay arranged in a herringbone pattern are placed in the drying area to dry in the sun. To speed up uniform drying and to prevent warping the green bricks are turned over every two days. After two weeks, the green bricks will dry enough ready for firing.

Brick Making - Drying (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Drying (Source: ecobrick.in)

5. Firing: The green bricks are arranged in a kiln. Insulation is provided by packing with mud. Fire holes used to ignite the kiln are sealed to prevent heat from escaping. The heat is maintained for a week.

Brick Making -Firing (Source: indianjourneys.wordpress.com)

Brick Making -Firing (Source: indianjourneys.wordpress.com)

6. Sorting: On disassembling, the bricks are sorted according to colour. Colour indicates the level of burning. Over-burnt bricks are used for paving or covering the kiln. The under-burnt bricks are burned once again, or used for building the inner walls of the next  kiln.

Brick Making - Sorting (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Sorting (Source: ecobrick.in)

India’s Brick Industry

India’s brick industry – the second largest in the world after China, has more than 150,000 brick production units employing an estimated 10 million workers. The brick kilns that feed the booming construction sector of India are a crucial part of India’s growing economy that contributes around र300 billion to the country’s economy every year. However, the brick workers do not get to benefit much from that amount since brick kilns use forced labour.

Millions of men, women, young boys, young girls, and children get paid meagre amounts that allow them to merely subsist. In many brick kilns in India, bonded labourers working in near-slavery conditions, are on average paid around र150 to produce over 1,500 bricks during a 12-hour-workday. They are paid in advance and are allowed to leave, along with their children suffering from severe respiratory problems, only after six months.

The trade unions, NGOs, and local people do organize and mobilize thousands of workers to fight for increased wages, combat child labour and sexual exploitation. However, these efforts have not achieved much for the welfare of the workers.

Union_Solidarity_International_logo

Over the last two years, Union Solidarity International (USI), a UK-based NGO has been campaigning to improve the conditions of the brick labourers. Andrew Brady of the USI says:

“It’s modern-day slavery. Entire families of men, women and children are working for a pittance, up to 16 hours a day, in terrible conditions. There are horrific abuses of minimum wage rates and health and safety regulations, and it’s often bonded labour, so they can’t escape.”

Prayas logo

To capture international attention on this issue the USI in partnership with the Indian human rights group, Prayas, will launch the Blood Bricks campaign next week. USI and Prayas are organizing unions for  brick-kiln workers. This initiative has already seen a 70 % wage increase in some areas.

The campaign comes after the Observer’s recent revelations of horrific labour abuses on Abu Dhabi’s new pleasure island of Saadiyat, where new outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are under construction. The investigation discovered thousands of foreign workers living in squalid conditions, their passports confiscated and trapped until they paid back hefty recruitment fees. Brady says:

“It’s a worldwide issue. We’re merely using India as the example, but we’ve seen the same abuses with projects in Qatar and Brazil for the World Cup and Olympics – iconic projects built on the back of the blood and sweat of bonded labour. It’s time to put an end to this trade in blood bricks.”

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ALEC Says: “If You Install Your Own Solar Panels Then You Are a ‘Freerider’!”


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Solar panels on a home.  ALEC will promote legislation planning to penalise individual homeowners who install solar panels.

Solar panels on a home. ALEC will promote legislation planning to penalize individual homeowners who install solar panels.

While everyone wants to go green, an alliance of corporations and conservative activists in the United States called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in a sweeping new offensive on clean energy is mobilising to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders“.

  • Documents show conservative group’s anti-green agenda.
  • Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels.
  • Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms’ profits
Is this not a shame?

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Hats off to the owner of this house!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Tree house

I proudly shared the above photograph of a house I came across on facebook.

The owner of the house, I presume, must be a lover of nature and a “Save the Trees” activist because he has built the house including the tree that was obstructing the frontage of his house.

Clever thinking, isn’t it?

Impressed by this builder’s feat, I chipped in and wrote: “Hats off to the owner of this house.”

However, my friend Joe Croos from Germantown, Maryland, USA, cut my ego down to size with his wise quip:

If I were the local thief the owner would be my sweetheart.

I realized my folly for not thinking about the security and safety of the people living in that house and so, I acknowledged Joe’s shrewdness:

Joe, I did not think from your angle. You are indeed a genius …

The Tree house

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