It appears that the threats to our city’s beloved beach will never cease. The State Government recently made an announcement that a sailing academy at a cost of Rs 7 crore, will come up at the Marina Beach, ostensibly to help create an environment where “world-class facilities for water sports” can exist. The question is, given that the eastern face of our State is one long coastline, can this facility not be put up elsewhere?
Our beach grew to its present size thanks to the construction of the harbour in the 1880s. And it must be admitted that threats to it have also grown since then. In the early 1900s, there was a plan to build a railway on it. In the 1980s there was thought of having the MRTS cross it. A decade or two later there were plans to construct condominiums for the affluent on the waterfront and sometime later a Union Cabinet Minister announced that a commemorative tower would be built there. Fortunately, all these plans came to nought, but it appears that the flow of ideas has not yet ceased. Clearly, the sight of such a vast open space makes people in power come up with schemes aplenty.
The latest in the series is this idea of a sailing academy. The waterfront is already getting congested. Beach Road, which was at one time a vast and empty stretch, is getting increasingly clogged with vehicles. In the summer months, the Police are forced to declare as one-way various stretches of this thoroughfare in order to deal with the influx of visitors. There is a terrible service road that all vehicles bound for San Thome are forced to take, morning and evening. This is a thoroughfare that is most likely in violation of coastal regulation zone (CRZ) rules, for it runs close to the sea. The fishing hamlets that have been here for centuries have already complained several times about it but to no avail. Now the original residents of the area will have to put up with the sailing academy as well. Will it not add to the congestion already prevailing here?
Chennai already has two institutions dedicated to sailing. The Royal Madras Yacht Club is more than a century old and thriving. Younger, and doing well too, is the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA). The latter has in fact petitioned the Central Government for better facilities in the harbour. Why cannot the State Government channel its funds through these organisations? Would it not be better to strengthen existing facilities rather than set up what could become a rival entity?
Lastly, has everybody forgotten the havoc wreaked by the tsunami just around 12 years ago? The beach was one of the worst affected in Chennai city and if casualties and loss of life were kept to a minimum it was only because there were no permanent structures in the vicinity.With a sailing academy coming up here, are we not throwing open possibilities of a disaster on a larger scale?
It would be best to leave the beach free of all such ‘developmental projects’. It is worthwhile pointing out that while we are full of schemes as a people, there has been no luck in building adequate number of even the most basic of amenities such as toilets. That is what is needed here given that this is a popular spot for the masses. A sailing training centre catering to a few, even if felt necessary, can afford to move outside the city where the training can be concentrated on and not the sideshows.