Regimes have come and gone, but the Chennai Cooum River Restoration project, a dream that was sold to the city right from late 1960s, remains unfulfilled for all these decades, benefiting none other than the contractors.
In contrast, the experts from the department was roped in for restoration of Adyar Poonga following advice by a private consultant who built Auroville, the green township in Puducherry.
From studying the restoration of the highly polluted river to planting saplings along its banks, the department has the expertise. However, the State policies give more say to the local bodies which execute the river restoration work like cleaning the chocked sewer canal, the official added.
“In western countries, river restoration work is undertaken by ecologists and conservation scientists. But in Tamil Nadu, it is executed by the Public Works Department and the local bodies, which invite contractors to use earthmovers and strengthen the bund using cement,” said conservationist K Brinda of Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, echoing the Forest department official.
Instead of focussing on the multi-crore contract, it is possible to clean and restore any river by following two simple steps, Brinda said. First, prevent dumping of plastic and draining sewerage into the river. Secondly, the dumped debris and waste should be removed, which would enable oxygen regeneration. The rest would be taken care by birds and vegetation, Brinda said, adding that such projects need environmentalists specialising on water, toxicity, salinity and fish breeding.
None of the earlier river restoration projects offered solutions for zero dissolved oxygen and substantial presence of faecal coliform bacteria. Same in the case of heavy deposits of lead, zinc, cadmium, phosphate and ammonia in the river water, she added.
Official data reveals that the regimes headed by AIADMK and DMK have spent more than Rs 10,000 crore on Cooum and Adyar in the past two decades under much-hyped plans like Singara Chennai, Ezhilmigu Chennai and Sirmigu Chennai. Restoration of the 72 km long Cooum dates back to days of DMK founder CN Annadurai in 1967.