The RK Nagar Pumping Station, which is supposed to divert the sewage into the Kodungaiyur treatment plant, has been dumping raw sewage into the Buckingham Canal – an indication that the city’s sewage management system is faulty.
Residents living in Nethaji Nagar are accustomed to the sight of sewage gushing out of the Chennai MetroWater Supply and Sewage Board’s (CMWSSB) line from the pumping station into the Buckingham Canal at regular intervals.
The stench emanating from the canal’s ominously dark waters has become a part of their life’s fabric – a subconscious act – much like breathing or struggling to survive another day. Thirty-five-yearold Vijaya, a resident who sells koozhu (a porridge), said, “The sewage is let out regularly – sometimes, within an interval of three days.
During the British rule, this canal was a waterway for trading but now, it has become a cesspool for the city’s sewage. What is the point of complaining?” Hemraj V, a marketing professional and local activist, said, “We had seen the sewage dumping happen a month ago and had complained to the CMWSSB, who promised to address it immediately. But that hasn’t happened, as the canal is polluted again by letting out sewage on Wednesday.”
An official from the CMWSSB confirmed that raw sewage had been let into the canal in this case but hotly contested that this was not a regular occurrence.
“The sewage from the RK Nagar pumping station is supposed to go to the sewage treatment plant (STP) at Kodungaiyur but it has been diverted. The reason for diverting the sewage flow into the canal occurs due to a leak in the main valve which has a diameter of 1,100 mm or if there the pipeline has burst.
Frequent power cuts for long hours can also cause piling up of sewage in pumping stations, forcing them to discharge it into the canal,” said the official.
The Buckingham Canal is linked to the Cooum and Adyar rivers, and the sewage inflow also pollutes these waterbodies, which are already critically polluted, to begin with. The state government has been spending crores for the restoration of the two rivers, under the mandate of Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT).
In 2016, a Rs 3,000 crore plan was proposed for the restoration of the 1,095-kilometre stretch of the Buckingham Canal (also known as National Waterway 4), which runs from Kakinada in East Godavari to Puducherry, via Chennai.
In the same year, a plan to restore the canal falling within the city was proposed by CRRT and Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Financial Services Limited (TNUIFSL). A CRRT official said that a study is underway to identify sewage, solid waste and encroachment along the 42-km Buckingham Canal stretch.
“The Buckingham Canal and the 21-connected drains is being studied along with Cooum and its 11 feeder drains and Adyar river and its 21 drains – which carry water and sewage to these waterbodies.
The objective is the preparation of a detailed project report (currently in draft stage) for plugging sewage inflow into these drains, solid waste management strategies and resettlement and rehabilitation of slums along these waterbodies.
Once the draft is prepared, the consultant will draft a proposal for remediation – such as laying of interception and diversion lines for sewage management – and the other areas, for a holistic restoration of the city’s waterbodies,” said the official.
Close to Rs 400 crore has been earmarked for restoring the canal and the other drainage systems linked to it. On the pretext of waterbody restoration, hundreds of families living near these locations for generations– branded as encroachers and polluters – have been resettled in Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) tenements in far-flung areas of Perumbakkam, Gudapakkam and Navalur, stripping them of livelihoods and homes.
These families cannot be called as polluters, when strong evidence of dumping untreated waste inside the waterbodies exists, said social activist Vanessa Peter.
They cannot be called encroachers because the government has failed to regularise their buildings but has done so for malls, hotels and educational institutions located near the rivers, which continue to operate to this day. By resettling the slum-dwellers, the government has shown its discriminatory approach,” said the activist.