Hydrologist J Sarvanan said that currently, there is no policy for urban water bodies, viewed in terms of restoration, conservation and management. “Urban water bodies include large sects of water bodies such as irrigation tanks, temple tanks and village ponds. Currently, we have different organisations maintaining these structures in the city — Chennai Corporation looks after the smaller water bodies, temple tanks come under the jurisdiction of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) and the large irrigation tanks come under Public Works Department (PWD).” He further said, “In the cities, urbanisation has led to grey water and sewage being released into all our waterbodies. Raw sewage is being directed into the Velachery lake, for example.” These waterbodies should be viewed as macro rainwater harvesting systems, he said.
Satyarupa Sekhar, Director, Government Outreach and Advocacy, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), pointed out that the Corporation status will raise questions of ownership of these waterbodies.
“The Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act gives authority to the local body to maintain and use the waterbody (less than 40 hectares) in their jurisdiction. Once these places become a Corporation, there is no clarity on who will maintain it. This will have implications for the rural local bodies on land use planning — what happens to common lands used by villagers for various activities? Marshlands are also of concern, since they are not recognised. Revenue records term these marshlands as wastelands, which could lead to loss of ecology,” she said.
Once these localities gain a Corporation status, urbanisation may spell doom for the local waterbodies, added Saravanan. “Grey water and solid waste dumping will happen in the waterbody, rendering it redundant. Residents look at this as a nuisance and encroachment will take place, until the waterbody is lost. We need to map these waterbodies, establish enforceable laws and not just convert it into water parks,” he said. Real estate development could also have a negative impact, stated environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman. “The minute these areas turn into a Corporation, the real estate market is bullish. The pressures are higher and degraded waterbodies (due to sewage inflow and dumping of solid waste) become easier to build on. This culture of development in our state at the cost of waterbodies is a problem in Tamil Nadu,” he said.