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Why Stalin’s planned pen-shaped monument in the sea for Karunanidhi is facing flak

The Rs 80 crore monument, proposed in an 'ecologically sensitive coastal zone', is awaiting environmental clearance. Fishermen say project will be 'huge blow' to 30 hamlets in Chennai.

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Chennai: A monument planned by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin for his late father and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M. Karunanidhi at Chennai’s landmark Marina Beach is facing stiff resistance from most political parties, the city’s fisherfolk and some environmentalists. 

The proposed monument, branded as a “tribute to his father” by Stalin, is planned in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, at an estimated cost of Rs 80 crore.

Critics of the project are slamming the proposal as a waste of taxpayers’ money and one that can potentially damage marine life close to the proposed site.

A three-hour long public hearing at the Kalaivanar Arangam in Chennai, organised by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board Tuesday, witnessed objections raised against the monument, which is to be shaped like a pen to mark Karunanidhi’s literary contributions.

Former fisheries minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) spokesperson D Jayakumar told ThePrint: “We strongly object to this proposal. How is placing a pen in the middle of the sea at a cost of Rs 80 crore beneficial to the public?”

“It will affect the livelihood of the fishermen, their access to the sea, and will be a huge blow to the economy,” he added.  

The DMK, meanwhile, continues to push for the proposal, which is still awaiting environmental clearance. 

Also Read: Just family meeting or clearing the heir? What Udhayanidhi-Alagiri camaraderie could mean for DMK

Part of project in ecologically sensitive zone

In July 2022, the Tamil Nadu government came up with the proposal for the pen monument, a 42 m tall structure in the shape of a pen, to acknowledge the contribution of ‘Kalaignar’ (scholar of arts) Karunanidhi to the literary world.

According to the proposal, the monument, surrounded by a landscape garden, will be around 360 m from the shore. It can be accessed from Karunanidhi’s memorial on the beach through a lattice bridge which would be about 650 m long and 7 m wide.

While the proposed monument will be in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) IVA, which is the sea, the lattice bridge — which is planned to extend 290 m over the land and 360 m over the sea — would fall under CRZ-IA, an ecologically sensitive region (turtle nesting grounds), and CRZ-II, a developed urban coastline. 

‘Major impact on our livelihood’

Saravanan, a representative of the Urur Kuppam fishermen cooperative society, who was part of the public hearing held Tuesday, alleged that the meeting was mostly politically motivated. Despite being one of the first people to register to speak at the event, he was not given an opportunity, he told ThePrint.

The monument will be a huge blow to “around 30 fishing hamlets in the city,” he said, adding that the whole proposal was “illegal and against the CRZ regulation”.

He further explained that a project can be implemented in the CRZ IVA “only if there is no other option and with assurance that it will have no impact on the environment”.

“But in this case, the government has not checked for alternative locations for the monument on land. All three suggested locations are in the sea,” he added. 

Criticising the Draft Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the project for failing to address key details, Durga Moorthy, an environmentalist working with the Save Chennai Beaches Campaign, said, “The proposed project site falls in the coastal ecologically sensitive area CRZ IA and about 70 m of ecologically sensitive turtle nesting area. The impact on turtle nesting is not studied in the EIA at all.” 

“The column structures of the proposed project inside the sea will block longshore current which female turtles use to travel along the coast to nesting grounds,” she added.

“Similarly, 100 m of Chennai’s coast is at risk of submersion as a result of 7 cm sea level rise in the next five years according to GCC’s Climate Action Plan Chennai report released in 2022. Hence, the infrastructure of the project site will be potentially impacted by the sea level rise. Impacts of sea level rise are not studied in the EIA,” she added.

However, according to the EIA report, the mid-sea memorial doesn’t involve any reclamation of land: “There is no reclamation, other than construction of bored cast in-situ concrete piles.”

The report reiterates that “the site is devoid of any forest or trees and hence there will be no change in the land use pattern and no land acquisition or conversion is involved. Hence no land reclamation is required.”

Political uproar 

While participating in the public hearing, Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) chief coordinator Seeman said: “We will break the statue if it is built in the sea.” He added that the monument can be built anywhere else on land. 

The BJP, which was also part of the ruckus, termed it an “unreasonable project”. BJP state secretary, Vinoj P Selvam said, “The DMK still has several undelivered promises which it had made to the naive people during the election. In this circumstance, wasting over Rs 100 crore on erecting a pen doesn’t seem to be making any sense, and that too by creating an adverse ecological impact…”

Most of the Congress leadership has sidestepped the issue. Calling Karunanidhi one of the foremost thought leaders of the 21st century, Congress MP from Sivaganga Karti Chidambaram told ThePrint, “Kalaignar’s life and works should be celebrated, but in my opinion, this should be done by creating institutions and spaces which will provoke discussions and debate and that is my view of celebrating his legacy.” 

Meanwhile, the DMK countered the opposition’s objection as just political vendetta.

“The opposition are detractors of the DMK. They are not able to point anything against the party and are using this opportunity. We have seen freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s statue erected in the confluence of Narmada river, we have seen Chhatrapati Shivaji’s statue and all huge monuments,” said DMK spokesperson A Saravanan.

He added: “We have seen Rs 3,500 crore of taxpayers’ money used for a single statue. This is not Kalaignar’s statue, it is a pen that signifies so many things.”

As the project still awaits a green signal from the environmental ministry, Saravanan said, “If the opposition has any credible objection, we will look into it.”

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: Blunt opposition, resurgent BJP—Why the churn in Tamil Nadu politics is a headache for Stalin


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