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Nemmeli Desalination Plant, Tamil Nadu, India

100 MLD Nemmeli Desalination plant was introduced as solution to Chennai's drinking water shortage. Since its inauguration, fishers living close to the plant complained against environmental damage, coastal erosion and land use change.


Chennai counts with a desalination plant in Minjur, and Nemmeli was the second. Further plants are to be built. Coastal common areas used by native small scale fisherfolk for their livelihoods was occupied by the state owned Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board for the construction of the 100 MLD (100 million litres day) Nemmeli Desalination Plant. During construction, a cofferdam was built to transport equipment from the ships to the project site. This blocked the littoral drift of sand, causing the coast line to erode. Lot of people lost their lands and houses so far because of the existing plant. Areas north of the project site has eroded, and the sea has advanced over 500m. This has led to large scale loss of livelihood spaces - to park boats, haul nets and dry fish while also causing material damage to living spaces close to the beach. The desalination plant has also been violating environmental conditions issued to them by discharging highly saline brine water on the beach, which mixes in the near shore water. This has led to intense salinization of near shore water, killing plankton and other organisms responsible for the health of the fish resources. As a result, fish catch in a 5 kilometer radius from the coastline has reduced as reported by local fisherfolk. The sea here has become a dead zone. Local fisherfolk were promised jobs which were later denied. Today, there are plans to expand the project.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Nemmeli Desalination Plant, Tamil Nadu, India
State or province:Tamilnadu
Location of conflict:Nemmeli
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Existing Capacity of Desalination Plant - 100 MLD

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Project area:15
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3000-4000
Start of the conflict:2013
Company names or state enterprises:Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, Government of Tamilnadu (CMWSSB ) from India - Owner/Operator
Relevant government actors:Government of Tamilnadu
Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local fishermen.
Coastal Resource Centre.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsCoastal Erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsConsumption of fish caught in waters contaminated with chemically treated brine
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Land dispossession, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Development of alternatives:The following are the demands of the locals and EJos.
1. Follow environmental conditions issued, ensure discharge of brine at a particular depth decided with the consultation of fisherfolk
2. Halt plans for further expansion in the same area
3. Carry out beach nourishment work in areas affected by sea level rise
4. Construct Green Belt
5. Compensate for loss of ecology and livelihood
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although people have been protesting the negative effect of this desalination plant, state wants to keep the plant operational and further expand the capacity is ongoing. This is an indication that further damage is probable, and this is not an EJ Success.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

CRZ Notification 2011
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(4) Solidarity Group. 2013. Report of Fact- Report of Fact-Finding Team's Enquiry Finding Team's Enquiry Finding Team's Enquiry

into Alleged Environmental and Human Rights Violations

Arising from Construction and Operation of 100 MLD Nemmeli

Desalination Plant in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. By Louis Menezes, I.A.S. (Retd) Prof. Saraswathy Advocate P. Sundararajan Nityanand Jayaraman
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

நெம்மேலியில் கடல் நீரை குடிநீராக்கும் திட்டம் : டெண்டர் நடவடிக்கைகளை தொடர அனுமதி
[click to view]

In photos: A village is helping meet Chennai’s water needs, but at considerable cost to itself
[click to view]

(2) In Nemmeli, lives wither in salt. Undrinkable water and dwindling fish yield — the city’s second desalination plant has wreaked havoc in Suleri Kattukuppam. 14 April 2019.
[click to view]

(3) Newsminute. As Nemmeli desalination plant ruins ecology and livelihoods, TN govt plans two more units. 11 Dec. 2016.

The Nemmeli desalination plant has caused sea erosion and turned drinking water in the area saline and unpotable. Nityanand Jayaraman. Sunday, December 11, 2016
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

(1) Citizen matters. Nemmeli: Quenching Chennai’s thirst, but at what cost?. IMPACT OF NEMMELI DESALINATION PLANT. February 7, 2019 Aruna Natarajan
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Pooja Kumar, The Coastal Resource Centre, Chennai
Last update10/08/2019
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