Rapid Change In Environmental Communication and Chennai City

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, TIO: Introduction – Environmental communication is rapidly changing the discourse of mass communication pedagogy. It is all about conveying environmental concerns and seeking answers in terms of human interaction with nature. Environmental Communication has to do a lot with the protection of humankind and nature surrounding human beings. It creates awareness about the degradation of environmental resources and how it may badly affect human health. The concern is raised for the protection of the environment.

Environmental communication is needed because if humans continue to live with their wasteful lifestyle, there can be serious environmental issues that may affect mankind. The purpose of environmental communication is to educate, alert, mobilize people on issues relating to the environment and persuade them to take necessary action to safeguard their future.

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The stakeholders in environmental communication are; a) Citizens b) Scientists c) Corporates d) Environmental groups e) Government agencies f) Mass Media g) Communication experts etc.

There are many other environmental issues concerning every city of India. They are highlighted in mass media through environmental communication. One such exercise is done here to discuss the environmental concerns of Chennai city. Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu has a metropolitan area that houses seven million people. It is witnessing several environmental issues in the recent past. The disastrous floods in December 2015, the giant oil spill outside Kamarajar Port at Ennore in 2017. The city’s water body like the Cooum river is open sewage and a highly polluted water source.  Similarly, the garbage landfill at Kodungaiyur is a threat to the health of the people living near that place.

Here we discuss some of these issues; i) Chennai floods of 2015, ii) Ennore oil spill of 2017 iii)  Kodungaiyur dump yard fire 2018 iv)  Pollution of River Cooum.

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 Chennai Floods of 2015 – The disastrous floods in Chennai in December 2015 are still coming to haunt the city dwellers. During the floods, Chennai’s famed beaches lined with mountains of trash, waste such as plastic materials, wrappers, bottles, covers, metals, scrap, and wooden logs were spread out along the coastline of  Chennai.  Heaps of wastes were cleared at the shore of Adyar river mouth, near Elliot’s beach after the 2015 floods. The Chennai flood served a big lesson.

The first step was to set up a task force that reviews all on-going construction activity in the city and its suburbs. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority reviews permissions that it has given to operate as the green channel for commercial constructions. It review plans were in accordance with the city’s master development plan.

Indian rescue personnel and police officials paddle an inflatable boat through floodwaters as they evacuate residents in Chennai on December 2, 2015.

The second was a relook at the land-use in the master plan. According to a report submitted by CMDA to the Madras High Court, there are over 1.5 lakh illegal structures in the city.  In fact, illegal construction across Chennai has been making neighborhood unrecognizable — what may have been a tank, lake, canal, or river 20 years ago, is today the site of multi-storied residential and industrial structures.

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The government has grand designs to build 100 futuristic ‘smart’ cities in India, and the devastating flooding in Chennai points at fixing basic problems of the 0 metropolitan cities before pressing for more ambitious tasks.

Ennore Oil Spill of 2017– Kamarajar Port near Ennore saw massive 251 tons oil spill when two tankers collided against each other in 2017. Reports say that the oil spill was removed largely by hand, with more than 2000 volunteers and laborers using mugs and buckets. The damage was toxic, killing olive ridley turtles and other marine fauna of Chennai’s beaches. The fishermen in the area struggled to make a living as pollution drastically affected the catch of fish and other aquatic organisms.

Kodungaiyur dump yard fire of 2018

Kodungaiyur dump yard fire of 2018

The Chennai city’s largest dump yard is in a place called Kodungaiyur It is alleged to have 12 million cubic meters of waste, dumped over a period of 30 years. The place in addition to being a fire hazard is also prone to airborne diseases due to the waste spreads in the surrounding areas.   A fire accident in April 2018 brought life to a grinding halt in the area of Kodungaiyur dump yard. Residents reportedly had to flee to escape the toxic air, the unbearable stench, and eye irritation at Kodungaiyur landfill.

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 Even though the state government announced a fat budget for the remediation and reclamation of garbage dumps at Kondungaiyur the scheme of solid waste management is still a work in progress in Chennai city.

Polluted Cooum River- The 136 km long Kosasthalaiyar River a.k.a Cooum River is the major water source for Chennai city. The river originates from Andhra Pradesh, flows across Tamil Nadu and enters Chennai city, and then drains into the sea at the Ennore creek near Chennai. The river enters the Chennai metropolitan area as Cooum River, one of the most polluted water bodies in Chennai.

 According to a study conducted by the National Green Tribunal in December 2017, Cooum was reported to be “more polluted than industrial effluents.” Of the total 20 samples taken along the area, all five samples from Cooum contained higher than permissible levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic above the standard levels for the discharge of industrial effluents into inland water.  Oil and petroleum waste with high toxicity levels are seen contaminating water at the mouth of the river Cooum. These contaminants do not degrade and thereby leave traces of toxins in drinking water consumed by the city. The contaminated Cooum water is altering the hydrology and affecting the potability of the water. Government has an ambitious plan to clean the river Cooum but again this work is in progress.

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Conclusion – The role of environmental communication is seminal to highlight all such issues. Environmental communication informs the salience of the issues and sets the agenda of public debate seeking solutions to any such environmental issues. Environmental communication plays a great role in collecting the information, analyzing and disseminating such information to the people make them aware of the catastrophes around them.  The environmental communication built a campaign to clean the air, the water, and the land surface to avoid any impending peril.   Environmental communication is being a catalyst to highlight the environmental problems of Chennai city. More hands are needed to flag such issues in the mass media. More activists are needed to highlight the environmental concerns of the environmental problems facing this southern mega-polis.

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Curated By Humra Kidwai

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Sr.Journalist, Author based in Chennai, India. Writes frequently for the USA based News Portal, TheIndiaObserver. He is author of the book Soundings on South Asia, New Dawn Press (2005). He can be reached at or TIO, at

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