The Pallikaranai wet swamp is the only remaining wetland ecosystem of the expanding metropolis of Chennai, located in the southern part of the city and yet it also happens to be the most neglected in terms of environmental conservation. It has also been categorized as one of the three most important natural freshwater ecosystems of south India, the other three being, Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

It has a geographical area of 80 square kilometres and contains several rare and endangered species of plant, bird and animal life. It is also a significant breeding ground of thousands of migratory birds from in and around the country. But according to recent reports, the marshlands have undergone intense degradation due to the perungudi garbage dump yard set up by the Corporation of Chennai not far from the wetlands. Huge mounds of garbage have been accumulated over the years which has become a dominant part of the local landscape of Pallikaranai instead of the beautiful marshlands situated right behind it. Local residents have complained again and again about not only the overpowering stench that emanates from the surroundings but also about the fact that the dump yard is the cause for many species of bird and plant life to be put in mortal danger. Hence there is an ecosystem that is in threat and concern action must be taken. The wetland ecosystem is extremely sensitive in nature and requires a certain kind of management process.

A corporation resolution, passed on November 19 last year, claimed that waste would soon be segregated. Recyclable and biodegradable waste would be sent to certain industries, and residue would be shredded, converted into brick bats or pellets, which would be burnt in the incinerators. The heat derived would be converted into electricity.

Environmentalists say the system has not proved to be viable in India. “Most household waste like paper and plastics can be recycled. All organic waste (like food) can be composted. Only electronic, metallic waste and building debris will go into the incinerator. They have calorific values too low to burn on their own and will need to be incinerated with organic waste,” said an environmental researcher

Activists say incinerators have been known to emit gases containing dioxins and hazardous nanoparticles into the atmosphere. Incinerator companies have even been dragged to court and shut down in the US and across Europe, they say.

“Waste pickers could sell the recyclable garbage to industries and compost the organic waste either in residential compounds or parks. They will earn an income and reduce the garbage being dumped at landfills by more than 40%,” said Nalini Shekhar, who runs Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat, an NGO of waste pickers in Pune.

Corporation officials say the proposal, though passed, has now only been sent to the government for approval, and add that they are open to new. “We have invited people to present their options and opinions,” said corporation commissioner P W C Davidar.