After NGT rap, PWD team lands in Porur lake to remove bunds

PWD buckled under NGT’s reprimand and removed constructed bunds around the Porur lake
After NGT rap, PWD team lands in Porur lake to remove bunds
Photo: Prakaash

Chennai

After getting a dressingdown from the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal and stiff opposition from the public over construction of bunds across the Porur lake sprawling around 330 acres in the city, the Public Works Department (Water Resources Department) has relented and at last, started removing the bunds. 
PWD officials say they would go ahead with the Court order in all contexts and they respect the same in this case too. 
According to sources, the government in 2011 had allotted Rs 20 crores for the PWD (WRD) to undertake lake improvement activities like deepening and desilting works in the Porur lake to create a larger reservoir of water. 
The lake is one the main water resources for Chennai city. Later, PWD officials constructed bunds across the lake on account of preventing encroachment. They stated that about 17 acres of land was being owned by a private trust, as per revenue records. 
However, these developments spurred activists to file a petition with the NGT to stop the works in July 2015, after which the works were put on hold. Sources added that the NGT officials questioned the PWD probing the connection between lake improvement works and construction of bunds across the lake. 
The officials countered that a private trust owned 17 acres along the lakes, so they took up such works to prevent encroachments on the lake. However, the NGT cited the High Court order that there should not be any construction in any water bodies and ordered the removal of bunds in December 2015. 
M Bhakthavatsalam, Superintending Engineer, PWD, Palar Basin Circle, Chennai Region, said, “We respect the Court order and we are in the process of removing the bunds. We will complete the works as fast as possible. 
Earlier, it wasn’t feasible to undertake the activity, as the lake was filled up with rainwater. Now, the water level has begun receding slowly and work has been initiated,” he said. When asked, if a private trust owned part of the land from the lake, the engineer said, “We are going as per the Court direction.” Activists were optimistic about this development but condemned the officials for their approach. 
“I cannot understand how the officials, who should have protected the lakes, went ahead and built bunds across them,” said M Natarajan, a retired PWD (WRD) engineer and an activist, hoping the officials would have learnt a lesson from the recent flooding. 
It was also argued that according to the revenue record in 1920, a private institute had Patta for the land. But, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA)’s record showed the land was part of the lake area.
Crowdfunding to save lakes
After the successful restoration of parts of Arasankazhani Lake and Perumbakkam lake through crowdfunding, environmentalists feel that other lakes in the city can also be restored if residents pitch in. Arun Krishnamurthy, Founder, Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), said that the residents funded the equipment costs while the organisation provided volunteers and logistics. “For the Arasankazhani lake, the residents provided the resources needed to hire the equipment. We started with regular clean ups and de-silting. We then created an inner and outer bund with a trench in between. These lakes are a natural habitat for a variety of birds, like cormorants and even kingfishers as well as snakes and other fauna. So, we created g-shaped spots in the middle of the lake, to provide a nesting area for these species,” he said. Arun added that crowd-funding can help restore our lakes and create a public space for social interaction.

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