Tiled & Built, Waterbodies chocked to last drop

Lakes and ponds in a city not only provide scenic relief they also a source of sustenance. While the State government spends cores on beautification of waterbodies, experts and urban planners are not enthused Illegal constructions, both by private companies and government departments have reduced several waterbodies to alarming levels.
Tiled & Built, Waterbodies chocked to last drop
From 5000 hectares in 1975, Pallikaranai Marsh has shrunk to 695 hectares in 2016.

CHENNAI: Chennai city has a long history of facing unpredictable weather patterns in the form of cyclones and very heavy rainfall. While flooding can be attributed to the lack of stormwater drains in the city, encroachments on water bodies also play a major role in causing the inundation.

Experts claim that beautification of water bodies is a wasted exercise if the concerned department does not increase the capacity of water bodies. And removing illegal construction on lakes and tanks is the only way to prevent flooding in the upcoming monsoon season.

The Oil Mills bus stop in Pallikaranai, once a waterbody, was constructed atop land worth hundreds of crores
The Oil Mills bus stop in Pallikaranai, once a waterbody, was constructed atop land worth hundreds of crores

“The Public Works Department (PWD) might not have submitted the complete record on the number of encroachments on the water bodies across the State. However, some district collectors ensure there are no encroachments on the water bodies, as they have direct contact with the PWD assistant executive engineers. Almost 50% of the water bodies are encroached by private companies for commercial and agricultural purposes,” said S Thirunavukarasu, a retired PWD assistant executive engineer.

He added that PWD begins an eviction drive of water body encroachment, only when there’s a case in High Court and it gets a memo. Additionally, over 19 water bodies, which went missing in North Chennai, are now almost impossible to retrieve to their original state.

“If they take 10-20 lakes for rejuvenating in 5 years, there won’t be any water body encroachments. Instead of spending Rs 40 crore on the beautification of lakes, the concerned department can restore them and increase the water capacity of at least 70 lakes in the city,” he adds.

Thirunavukarasu also pointed out that the PWD has records of lakes that are over 100 acres which are under their control, so they’d be able to identify the number of those missing lakes. “On the other hand, there’s no report on the water bodies less than 100 acres maintained by the Panchayat Union. And these are difficult to restore,” he rued.

Several lakes including Keelkatalai, Sembakkam, Rajakilpakkam, Selaiyur and Velachery have been encroached by both government and private buildings. “During the eviction process, the government should not give reallotment, because it leads to more encroachments. Also, the TANGEDCO should not provide power connection for these buildings,” commented the retired PWD official.

According to the report of the Comptroller and Audit General of India (2016), Velachery Lake has shrunk over the years, leading to reduction in its’ storage capacity.

Another major lake is Pallikarani Marsh, a unique freshwater swamp in CMA measuring 5,000 hectares in 1975, has now shrunk to 695 hectares in 2016 mainly due to the decision of Tamil Nadu government to allow construction on a stretch of 500 metres on either side of Rajiv Gandhi Salai (IT corridor) to facilitate the development of IT industry.

“After Arapoor Iyakkam filed a case against the illegal encroachments near the Chitlapakkam lake in the High Court, the PWD cleared the buildings such as the primary healthcare centre, police station, post office, and community hall. Unless there are cases against such incidents, the concerned department doesn’t act. Also, there should be meetings conducted by district collectors, but there is no progress except for some localities,” said a social activist.

A senior official at the Water Resource Department said that along with the revenue department they’re in the process of identifying encroachments on water bodies. “Notice will be issued and they’ll be evicted. The same process will be taken in the coming days even if they’re government buildings,” stated the official.

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