Residents of Chitlapakkam were trying to get the municipal authorities to take cognisance of construction activity on the bund of the Chitlapakkam lake. “However, our petitions were getting bounced between various governmental bodies. We had to approach one department after another,” said Sunil Jayaram, a resident.
Fed up with the lack of response, the citizens filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras High Court. “When we got no proper response, we had to go the legal route. The mandate by the court put a stay on constructions on the waterbody. The authorities must present their case on March 27. But the mandate gave the residents an assurance that their lake will be safe,” he added.
Similarly, residents of Villivakkam saw their lake diminishing, as mud from the Chennai Metro Rail works was being dumped on the lake. Following this, they approached Arappor Iyakkam, an NGO. Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor, said that the residents participated in a public hearing, following which a PIL was filed to rejuvenate 27.5 acres of 39 acres of the lake. “The government filed a counter-affidavit saying that they need 11.5 acres for the relay (connecting pumping stations) of the sewage treatment plant. TUFISL has been asked to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR). In order to fix accountability and cross check facts with sewage discharge and debris dumping, the bench has transferred the case to National Green Tribunal (NGT),” said the activist.
The legal route, said Sunil, helped the citizens, ensure that they were no new encroachments. “People will fear to invest in an area which is under legal scrutiny. This way, new encroachments are deterred. But to remove the existing one is a massive challenge,” he said.
Jayaram pointed out that this is a failure of the administration. “For simple matter of encroachment, for which the government should act immediately under GO 540, the public has to approach the court, which is their only option. This is a breakdown of democracy,” he added.
Arun Krishnamurthy, Founder of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), which has been rejuvenating lakes with the help of local communities, said this is a positive trend. “This shows that the community wants to participate. And they have no choice but the judiciary, which they think is a safe and short route to get the work done. The community participating in the system is an encouraging move,” he concluded.