Chennai Lakes- at death's door

The depleting water bodies because of the encroachment over them is severely affecting the ecology of the city. The consequent result of this is that Chennai faces drought during less rainfall whereas water logging and floods during heavy rains.

The city is suffering from severe water shortage this year due to the 60% deficit in the north eastern monsoon. It had already experienced one of the most devastating floods in 2015. These natural disasters have an alarming indication of the diminishing water bodies in Chennai. The city once had around 650 lakes and rivers which were a source of their freshwater. Besides this they were also responsible for recharging the ground water level thus preventing drought. During heavy rainfall these rivers regulated the flow of water to human settlements by draining the excess water.

However with the rapid growth of urbanization and industrialization most of these water bodies have lost their existence. Ever increasing population in the city has led to the increasing demands for housing societies, institutions and industries. Most of this construction has taken place over these water bodies. Also the direct discharge of industrial and municipal waste has worsened the remaining waterways.

Konnur Lake once occupied over 250 acres of land. Due to the residential and industrial construction it has now been reduced to 20 acres. Over 4000 houses have been built over it and it also supports the Sidco Industries. While the remaining 20 acres has also been allotted for institutional construction. Sidco Nagar was one of the worst affected areas during the 2015 floods. The construction over the lake restricted the free flow of water into the lake which had a devastating effect over the nearby slum dwellers.

The urban planning authorities do not take into consideration the ecological balance of the city while devising any architectural plan. This way they affect the natural penetration process which further leads to floods during heavy rainfall while drought in case of less rainfall. Besides this the lakes and rivers which are not considered fit for drinking or irrigation are declared as wasteland permitting construction over it. This again disrupts the ecological balance of the city. Even though Chennai receives an average rainfall of 129 cm, encroachment lets only 5% of this water to percolate into the ground. Moreover over 80% of the groundwater has already been exploited. Further extraction from the ground could lead to salt water ingression.

Pallavaram Lake which once spread over 200 acres is now left with just 50 acres. The lake was bifurcated after the construction of Thoraipakkam road for connecting Chennai Airport and Rajiv Gandhi Salai. One side of the lake still remains however the other side has choked to death due to Encroachment and dumping of effluents from nearby leather factory, industries and sewage waste. This part of lake has become a dump yard due to the consistent dumping of garbage for the past few decades. This dumping has contaminated the ground water of that area.

After the lake got bifurcated there is no water left on this part of the lake. It has been reduced to a Municipal dump yard.

Residents around the Pallavaram Lake had filed a petition in the HC for removing the illegal encroachment over the water body. According to them the settlements over the water have come up in connivance with the Pallavaram municipality. Besides letting the growth of encroachment in the lake the municipality itself planned to construct a methanation plant on the land.

No more a lake now !

Also an activist working for the restoration of water bodies in Chennai states

“it is only because of the municipal that the illegal settlements have survived well. Had they not provided the basic amenities the temporary shanties would not have turned into permanent residents.”

Madras HC on Jan 30 2015 directed the Alandur Tahsildar to take suitable action on the petition alleging widespread encroachment of the lake. However no action has been taken yet and the illegal settlements are ever increasing.

The illegal encroachment over the lake.

The illegal encroachment over the water bodies is not restricted to this lake. In fact one of the major causes for diminishing water ways in Chennai is that a lot of construction is being done on it.

No government official is ready to take the responsibility of the ever growing illegal encroachment. The commissioner of the city, K Sivakumar MA, put the entire blame on the PWD while the latter accused the revenue department. At first the Commissioner refused to accept that there were any illegal settlement in the area. After consistent questioning he said

“ the settlements and other land allotment is not under municipality. PWD and the Collector will only resolve this matter. Municipality is not responsible for it.”

Having asked that if the land and property is not under municipality then why is it providing the basic amenities to this illegal settlement and encouraging it, he answered

“ these people are also part and parcel of the society, they are not coming from anywhere. When all encroachments get proper houses, these settlements will be removed.”
Settlement over the lake.

On further questioning he said

“IT IS ILLEGAL, OKAY!! BUT I AM NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION. THIS HAS BEEN HAPPENING HERE FOR THIRTY YEARS AND ABOVE.”

The commissioner outright refused to answer any further questions. He even accepted that the encroachment was illegal.

The PWD commissioner K Padmanabhan on the other hand said

“ the government is taking action. First of all the exact land has to be surveyed. Only if the Revenue department comes up with the data that so and so land is under illegal occupation, only then we can take any action.………. We are responsible but in order to get the data from another department we have to depend on them. We are trying but we are not getting enough support from the revenue department.”

The government officials are not paying heed on the fact that their carelessness is ultimately leading to the deterioration of the water bodies. The city will have to face adverse consequences of it in the form of severe water shortage in the future. The PWD official had nothing to say on this.

He even accepted that it was a lapse from the government side that the encroachments have expanded so much.

Activist David Manohar who has been fighting against these illegal encroachment over water bodies for a long time said “the municipality can safeguard the depleting water ways in Chennai by demarcating it. Encroachment can be prevented only if the government legally certify the boundaries of the lakes and rivers.”

The PWD commissioner said

“proper documentation is required which would clearly mention the exploitation that has happened over the years. This would help in working for the water ways in the city.”

However little has been done to implement these solutions and the laidback attitude of the government has already affected the rivers and lakes of the city.

Created By
puniti pandey
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