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Why Environmental Activists Want Karunanidhi’s Pen Memorial To Be Shelved

Setting up a memorial inside the sea is illegal, unnecessary and against nature.

Published
Why Environmental Activists Want Karunanidhi’s Pen Memorial To Be Shelved
i

'The Pen is mightier than the sword,' they say, as it can tell stories for future generations to come. And in Tamil Nadu, 'the pen' could erase fisher histories and ecosystems.

It has been over a year since Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) MK Stalin has come to power in Tamil Nadu. Revering his father and a monumental leader Karunanidhi, popularly called 'Kalaignar,' which in Tamil translates to "scholar of arts," the state has come up with a proposal for a ‘fitting tribute’. A memorial corresponding to a title would indeed be his iconic fountain pen.

The statue is to be erected over half an acre of reclaimed sea, which is part of a patchwork of productive fishing grounds.

Fishing communities and environment activists have slammed this move to be illegal, unnecessary, and against nature.

Here is all you need to know about the proposed memorial, the government’s stand, and why there is strong opposition to shelve the project.

Why Environmental Activists Want Karunanidhi’s Pen Memorial To Be Shelved

  1. 1. What Is the Dr Kalaignar Pen Monument?

    The 'Muthamizh Arignar Dr Kalaignar Pen Monument' is planned to be constructed in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of Marina Beach in Chennai, at an estimated cost of Rs 81 crores.

    The proposed total area of the project is about 8,551 sq m and will feature a giant pen pedestal on reclaimed sea.

    The monument consists of a 42-metre-tall pen statue-cum-pedestal set over half an acre of reclaimed sea at a point where the sea is six-meter- deep. The monument, with landscaped gardens, would be situated about 360 m from the shore and a bridge will connect the existing (under construction) memorial of former Chief Minister Karunanidhi to reach the monument.

    The lattice bridge would be about 650-metre-long, 290 m over the land and about 360 m over the sea that connects the monument and the shore. The monument is slated to be at an elevation of six m from the high-tide line, going by the proposal chalked out by the Public Works Department.

    His son, Chief Minister MK Stalin shared this vision of the memorial back in 2021.

    Chief Minister MK Stalin has shared this vision of the memorial back in 2021.

    (Image: Twitter/ @mkstalin)

    Expand
  2. 2. Why a Pen at Marina Beach?

    The significance of the pen is because Karunanidhi, the man of letters, is known for his contributions to Tamil literature. He has written Kuraloviam for Thirukural, Tholkaappiya Poonga, Poombukar, Sanga Thamizh, Thirukkural Urai, Ponnar Sankar, Romapuri Pandian, Thenpandi Singam, Vellikizhamai, Nenjukku Needhi, Iniyavai Irubathu and Kuraloviam. His books of prose and poetry number more than 100.

    After his death, a pen was buried along with his mortal remains to symbolise his love for literature.

    The choice of Marina beach for the memorial has a lot of political importance.

    Rewind to 2018, when DMK had to run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to lay Karunanidhi to rest as the AIADMK had refused to give space on the shore.

    DMK had to run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to lay Karunanidhi to rest.

    (Image: The Quint)

    The Marina was projected by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) as a miniature of AIADMK triumvirate with Annadurai, MGR, and Jayalalithaa’s memorials. AIADMK believed providing the Kalaignar memorial at Marina next to the Anna memorial, would alter the AIADMK projection as the inheritor of the Dravidian legacy. After a brief legal battle, Karunanidhi was given burial inside the Anna Memorial.

    "This is a big political move. DMK wants to immortalise 'Kalaignar' and this would do exactly that," said a senior political analyst.

    The place where Karunanidhi was laid to rest at Marina Beach.

    (Image: The Quint)

    Expand
  3. 3. TN Department’s Justification for Construction Over Sea

    The proposal by the Executive Engineer of the Public Works Department, Chepauk, Chennai detailed how they intend to be environment-conscious with this initiative. Here are some of the claims made to justify the proposal:

    • Proximity to the existing memorial

    • No additional traffic congestion and pollution since the visitors will be common for all the attractions nearby, including Marina Beach and other memorials.

    • Sewage generated during the construction phase will be used for the green belt developed within the premises and sludge will be used as manure for the belt

    • Used/spent oil generated from the DG set will be disposed through TNPCB authorised recyclers.

    • Proposed activity shall not interfere with the fishermen, marine patrol and movement of public and fishing boats

    • No ground water from Costal regulation zone area shall be tapped for the project.

    • Project shall comply with the Environmental Management Plan both during construction and operational phases.

    • Construction shall be designed and constructed in accordance to the seismic factors applicable to moderate intensity zone. 11

    • Solar energy to power the lights of the project premises.

    The proposed site falls under CRZ-IA which means it is an ecologically sensitive area, essential in maintaining the ecosystem of the coast. The proposal clearly states that "construction of memorials would generally be discouraged” but “the same would be allowed only in exceptional cases with adequate environmental safeguards."

    Expand
  4. 4. ‘Can Wreak Irreversible Ecological Damage': Activists

    The proposal claimed “no disturbance to any other nearby activities," which has been strongly contested by fisherfolk and green activists who claim that this can wreak significant irreversible ecological damage. "First, it was the British who erased cultures by building posts and causing sea erosion and now the Dravidian rulers are continuing the process of erasure in the name of memorialisation," recounts activist Nityanand Jayaraman.

    Fishers from Nochikuppam to Urur Kuppam, who live on the shore and rely heavily on this coastline said none of them had been engaged in dialogue about the project’s proposed site at the time the government was conceptualising it.

    “Sea is anything but empty space. Who are you to erase lives and livelihoods?” environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman posed a question to the government.

    Jayaraman told The Quint that the Tamil Nadu government failed to comply with the law when preparing the coastal zone management plan. Since they do not ensure the planners consult fishers to avoid conflict and disturbance of their livelihoods, the coastal zone map and plan don’t reflect the fishing grounds.

    How can you protect something when you don’t even know what is there, he asked.

    “A government is setup to work for our welfare. Technocrats and bureaucrats aren't doing this to technically hurt the fishers because the lived realities of the locals here do not even come up in their discussions. There is no room to understand their rights, so the idea of factoring in their opinions doesn't occur.”
    Nityanand Jayaraman, Environment Activist

    It is to be noted that the Cooum river-mouth meets the sea just ahead of the proposed site and is rich in biodiversity. Every monsoon, the river deposits healthy sediments from inland, and under the influence of the northeast monsoon, it creates a productive muddy seabed of a rich fish habitat every monsoon.

    This freshly layered sediment close to the river mouth, called kadavaadu, is a great breeding ground for prawns, he explained.

    An activist told The Quint, “This site is proposed to fall right where fish and prawns are abundant and have been the source of livelihoods for thousands of fisherfolk for centuries.”

    “These habitats take eons to develop. And ruining this with construction debris will alter this habitat. Even if you remove the debris after a while, it will take eons for the ecosystem to revert to its original state. Anyway, by then there will be more such construction. Already due to the port and continuous construction, the shoreline has diminished so much,” he said.

    Expand
  5. 5. Proposed Site Will Eat Into the Olive Ridley Turtle Nesting Grounds: Activists

    The PWD claims to have considered three sites – all in the northern tract of the Marina, where the state’s late chief ministers are buried.

    One of the sites located closer to the Cooum river-mouth was rejected and another site near Loop Road was also rejected. However, fisherfolk living along the shore said that the present site too will eat into the 70 m of turtle nesting grounds.

    Yuvan Aves, a naturalist and environment activist told The Quint, “You could argue that this is a small patch. But understand that turtles nest about 50 m away from the high tide line. If you follow the long shore current, turtles will come out from the south and go in the opposite direction. If you build something then block the current and you disrupt the path for the mother turtles.”

    A monument can be built anywhere. But why inside the sea?

    He added, “Turtles are saviours as so much of our coastal conversation efforts rests on the Olive Ridley turtles. In the past few years, due to ocean acidification, jellyfish have proliferated. Fishermen have been complaining about how a lot of jellyfish get caught in their nets; turtles are the natural predators that can restore the balance.”

    An activist who works closely with the government told The Quint, “This is a sporadic nesting site and in a year we find 200-350 nests every year along this coastline. We have seen the numbers rise and this memorial could reverse all our conservation efforts. Already, a lot of the shore area has been eaten away by palatial bungalows built literally on the sand. And towards the north there is a declining shore because of the port and other structures. It is this 14 km stretch from Marina to Neelangarai – prime nesting grounds – which will disappear if this comes into being.”

    Expand

What Is the Dr Kalaignar Pen Monument?

The 'Muthamizh Arignar Dr Kalaignar Pen Monument' is planned to be constructed in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of Marina Beach in Chennai, at an estimated cost of Rs 81 crores.

The proposed total area of the project is about 8,551 sq m and will feature a giant pen pedestal on reclaimed sea.

The monument consists of a 42-metre-tall pen statue-cum-pedestal set over half an acre of reclaimed sea at a point where the sea is six-meter- deep. The monument, with landscaped gardens, would be situated about 360 m from the shore and a bridge will connect the existing (under construction) memorial of former Chief Minister Karunanidhi to reach the monument.

The lattice bridge would be about 650-metre-long, 290 m over the land and about 360 m over the sea that connects the monument and the shore. The monument is slated to be at an elevation of six m from the high-tide line, going by the proposal chalked out by the Public Works Department.

His son, Chief Minister MK Stalin shared this vision of the memorial back in 2021.

Chief Minister MK Stalin has shared this vision of the memorial back in 2021.

(Image: Twitter/ @mkstalin)

ADVERTISEMENT

Why a Pen at Marina Beach?

The significance of the pen is because Karunanidhi, the man of letters, is known for his contributions to Tamil literature. He has written Kuraloviam for Thirukural, Tholkaappiya Poonga, Poombukar, Sanga Thamizh, Thirukkural Urai, Ponnar Sankar, Romapuri Pandian, Thenpandi Singam, Vellikizhamai, Nenjukku Needhi, Iniyavai Irubathu and Kuraloviam. His books of prose and poetry number more than 100.

After his death, a pen was buried along with his mortal remains to symbolise his love for literature.

The choice of Marina beach for the memorial has a lot of political importance.

Rewind to 2018, when DMK had to run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to lay Karunanidhi to rest as the AIADMK had refused to give space on the shore.

DMK had to run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to lay Karunanidhi to rest.

(Image: The Quint)

The Marina was projected by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) as a miniature of AIADMK triumvirate with Annadurai, MGR, and Jayalalithaa’s memorials. AIADMK believed providing the Kalaignar memorial at Marina next to the Anna memorial, would alter the AIADMK projection as the inheritor of the Dravidian legacy. After a brief legal battle, Karunanidhi was given burial inside the Anna Memorial.

"This is a big political move. DMK wants to immortalise 'Kalaignar' and this would do exactly that," said a senior political analyst.

The place where Karunanidhi was laid to rest at Marina Beach.

(Image: The Quint)

ADVERTISEMENT

TN Department’s Justification for Construction Over Sea

The proposal by the Executive Engineer of the Public Works Department, Chepauk, Chennai detailed how they intend to be environment-conscious with this initiative. Here are some of the claims made to justify the proposal:

  • Proximity to the existing memorial

  • No additional traffic congestion and pollution since the visitors will be common for all the attractions nearby, including Marina Beach and other memorials.

  • Sewage generated during the construction phase will be used for the green belt developed within the premises and sludge will be used as manure for the belt

  • Used/spent oil generated from the DG set will be disposed through TNPCB authorised recyclers.

  • Proposed activity shall not interfere with the fishermen, marine patrol and movement of public and fishing boats

  • No ground water from Costal regulation zone area shall be tapped for the project.

  • Project shall comply with the Environmental Management Plan both during construction and operational phases.

  • Construction shall be designed and constructed in accordance to the seismic factors applicable to moderate intensity zone. 11

  • Solar energy to power the lights of the project premises.

The proposed site falls under CRZ-IA which means it is an ecologically sensitive area, essential in maintaining the ecosystem of the coast. The proposal clearly states that "construction of memorials would generally be discouraged” but “the same would be allowed only in exceptional cases with adequate environmental safeguards."

ADVERTISEMENT

‘Can Wreak Irreversible Ecological Damage': Activists

The proposal claimed “no disturbance to any other nearby activities," which has been strongly contested by fisherfolk and green activists who claim that this can wreak significant irreversible ecological damage. "First, it was the British who erased cultures by building posts and causing sea erosion and now the Dravidian rulers are continuing the process of erasure in the name of memorialisation," recounts activist Nityanand Jayaraman.

Fishers from Nochikuppam to Urur Kuppam, who live on the shore and rely heavily on this coastline said none of them had been engaged in dialogue about the project’s proposed site at the time the government was conceptualising it.

“Sea is anything but empty space. Who are you to erase lives and livelihoods?” environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman posed a question to the government.

Jayaraman told The Quint that the Tamil Nadu government failed to comply with the law when preparing the coastal zone management plan. Since they do not ensure the planners consult fishers to avoid conflict and disturbance of their livelihoods, the coastal zone map and plan don’t reflect the fishing grounds.

How can you protect something when you don’t even know what is there, he asked.

“A government is setup to work for our welfare. Technocrats and bureaucrats aren't doing this to technically hurt the fishers because the lived realities of the locals here do not even come up in their discussions. There is no room to understand their rights, so the idea of factoring in their opinions doesn't occur.”
Nityanand Jayaraman, Environment Activist

It is to be noted that the Cooum river-mouth meets the sea just ahead of the proposed site and is rich in biodiversity. Every monsoon, the river deposits healthy sediments from inland, and under the influence of the northeast monsoon, it creates a productive muddy seabed of a rich fish habitat every monsoon.

This freshly layered sediment close to the river mouth, called kadavaadu, is a great breeding ground for prawns, he explained.

An activist told The Quint, “This site is proposed to fall right where fish and prawns are abundant and have been the source of livelihoods for thousands of fisherfolk for centuries.”

“These habitats take eons to develop. And ruining this with construction debris will alter this habitat. Even if you remove the debris after a while, it will take eons for the ecosystem to revert to its original state. Anyway, by then there will be more such construction. Already due to the port and continuous construction, the shoreline has diminished so much,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Proposed Site Will Eat Into the Olive Ridley Turtle Nesting Grounds: Activists

The PWD claims to have considered three sites – all in the northern tract of the Marina, where the state’s late chief ministers are buried.

One of the sites located closer to the Cooum river-mouth was rejected and another site near Loop Road was also rejected. However, fisherfolk living along the shore said that the present site too will eat into the 70 m of turtle nesting grounds.

Yuvan Aves, a naturalist and environment activist told The Quint, “You could argue that this is a small patch. But understand that turtles nest about 50 m away from the high tide line. If you follow the long shore current, turtles will come out from the south and go in the opposite direction. If you build something then block the current and you disrupt the path for the mother turtles.”

A monument can be built anywhere. But why inside the sea?

He added, “Turtles are saviours as so much of our coastal conversation efforts rests on the Olive Ridley turtles. In the past few years, due to ocean acidification, jellyfish have proliferated. Fishermen have been complaining about how a lot of jellyfish get caught in their nets; turtles are the natural predators that can restore the balance.”

An activist who works closely with the government told The Quint, “This is a sporadic nesting site and in a year we find 200-350 nests every year along this coastline. We have seen the numbers rise and this memorial could reverse all our conservation efforts. Already, a lot of the shore area has been eaten away by palatial bungalows built literally on the sand. And towards the north there is a declining shore because of the port and other structures. It is this 14 km stretch from Marina to Neelangarai – prime nesting grounds – which will disappear if this comes into being.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It is to be noted that a similar monument, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial, is currently being constructed by the Maharashtra government in the Arabian Sea, and has received the CRZ clearance.

Activists fear that regulations will be tweaked to allow this memorial as well.

"It will be a great move by Stalin if he says no to this. He will be the first to actually take an ecologically stand. Today 'Kalaignar,' so tomorrow will it be for Stalin and the Edappadi Palaniswami? Will you clog the entire coastline with statues and memorials?" asked an activist.

The Quint reached out to officials who refused to comment.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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