URUR-olcott kuppam retains IDENTITY VIA GS MAPPING A story of a young fisherman, who helped an entire fishing community, to retain their identity attached to their land, also by stands in harmony with the nature .

“My name is Saravanan, son of Kasinadhan, from urur-olcott kuppam”, he begins…

The thirty-two-year old who holds a diploma in fisheries, for the Tamil Nadu State government department of fisheries dept, hails from a small urban slum - Ururu-Olcott kuppam, placed at the south of Adyar Cooum river.

Saravanan, a twice elected board member of the Fisheries Co-operative Society of Urur-Olcott Kuppam, finished his schooling in Alcott till 10th, and the secondary education at Anna goivernment school.

“I never had any idea on conserving the environment till class nine, when my teacher, Poornima Arun, gave an introduction on the conservation of the Oliver turtles.”

“I remember mocking the idea of preserving turtle eggs, since we kids in the slum had a game of breaking them. Following this, I received a counselling session on the life cycle of the Australian origin Oliver turtle.

This episode changed the course of my professional and personal life. I soon participated in turtle walks in 2002, and continued it for the next 15 years.

He has conducted several outreach programmes on conservation of Oliver turtles in nearby fishing villages, following educating the forest department officials in Mahabalipuram and several other NGOs like Tree foundation. This involved teaching the importance of the gel coating the eggs, the right temperature to store the eggs, and to retain the same shape of the place, where the eggs were laid by the turtles.

Saravanan also disclosed volunteering at RSS - the Hindu religious organisation, in his childhood. He explained, “They conducted camps as they preached us on the role of how our religion, (Hindu), is the higher than the rest, even asked us to act against Christians who came inside our village.

His actions were further observed by his teacher Poornima, who intervened and explained the ill-effects born out of it.

Mapping done by the Tamil Nadu State Government on the fishing villages in Chennai

In 2002, I joined a team of environmental activists led by Nityanand Jayaraman, soon we fought against the State government’s project to build an elevated expressway from Nochikuppam to Kottivakkam, on the coastline of Madras.

With the advent of RTI Act in 2005, we succeeded in acquiring datas pertaining to the project and the restriction laid out by the environmental laws. This attained me a new identity and victory as an RTI activist, and my petetion was the first RTI application to the Chief Information Officer.

He continues, after acquiring the information related to Urur Kuppam, we conducted meetings to disseminated information for other fishing villages who needed help to safeguard their land.

Mapping done by the Urur-Olcott fishermen ci

In 2009, I was elected as the deputy sec in the fisheries co-operative, so that my arguments relating to the destruction of our coastal land, will be taken seriously in the fishing community.

I reported how the feasibility report showed the land close to our fishing villages on the seashore, is defined as unoccupied and unutilised, thus having no effect on their livelihood, in their feasibility and detailed project report. This left us to prove how the so marked unused areas were actually in use.

This is situation gave rise to the idea of mapping our fishing village, with some help from our friend, Transparent/transform Chennai – Siddharth Handey, who explained us the benefit of GS mapping.

“For the first time we mapped an entire fishing village, i.e Urur-Olcott Kuppam (2010-2012) and submitted them to the government. This move reinforced the importance of our land to our livelihood and our social identity.

This was achieved as we conducted and raised the issue as a community, Save Chennai Beaches, a campaign was formed, along with support from the then Director of Kalashetra Foundation, cultural ministry, and also from worldwide members of the Theosophical Scoiety.

In 2011, the Madras High Court cancelled the State government’s project of building an elevated road.

“On one hand, global conditions like climate change are red-drawing our map, on the other hand corporations running and owning real estate’s are eating into our boundaries, leaving us sandwiched our fishing community

Whatever be the outcome of our actions, in the next ten years, it is important for the fishing community to be close to the sea and be consulted on how our land be used.

If you ask any fisherman in this country, he would say that “this sea and the seashore belong to him. But in reality, no law guarantees this right upon us. Whereas, only the Coastal Zone Management Plan has recognized our right in the land.

Since, then we conducted awareness programme for our neighbouring villages, on how to read the map, and the importance behind the very act of mapping. We also preached the importance it holds for their livelihood and their identity, to check if their village is rightly marked, if the mangroves are placed right, to check if the Zones under the EIA act are rightly marked.

How can a government official or an expert map a fishing village, without having any practical knowledge or history of our coastal communities? It is important to understand that, only a fisherman can be the hero of his story. The State government has made a draft of the map, without consulting the fishermen, and till now they have not completed the map.

We have mapped all the seven fishing villages – sreenivasapuram, urur kuppam, olcott kuppam, odai kuppam, thiruvamyur kuppam, kotti kuppam, palavakkam kuppam , neelankarai kuppam, close to 7kms along the coastline. Next generation, in many villages co-op representatives only help with distributing funds. And we thus give guidance to our next generation, and educate them about the laws binding the co-op, the guidelines laid down, especially with the recording monetary and financial activities such that we audit our work, which has gained us the respect and credit to our work. This mandate which we followed has also received us the opportunity to get elected in the Panchayat elections, after our exemplary and honest work in this filed.

Women members of Urur-Olcott Fishermen community, Chennai

I have also helped the people of ennore, in interpreting the law and reading the map, but the rest is left with their own people addressing their own problem and crisis. Just the identity of being a fisherman has earned me the trust

"Only a fisherman can be the hero of his story, not members of expert committees" - K Saravanan, RTI activist-Panchayat leader


Mamtha Asokan

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