Civic issues
Garbage and waste now spans one acre of the Chitlapakkam lake, posing a health threat to residents.

The putrid, pungent stench hits you even before you approach Chitlapakkam Lake in Chennai. And then as you walk towards the lake, you’re greeted by the mound of garbage on one side and the polluted water on the other.  

Residents at Chitlapakkam, a south-western suburb of Chennai, are a worried lot with garbage piling up and sewage water affecting the lake.

There are 10,100 households living in Chitlapakkam town in an area of 2.95 square kilometres. It was in the 1980s that people moved into this suburban neighbourhood which boasted of sufficient groundwater, explains P Vishwanathan, Convener of All Resident Co-ordination committee.

But as the years rolled by and the city became overpopulated, the comforts slowly became a curse for Chitlapakkam residents.  “In 1988, the lake area was 80 acres but today, it has deteriorated to 40 acres,” points out Vishwanathan.

In 1994, the Tamil Nadu government came up with ‘Sites and Service Scheme’ to build housing boards on five lakes including the Chitlapakkam lake. “We began protesting in 2001 against the government’s plan. They had said that they will use only one-third of the lake for the project but we knew it would slowly get extended. Finally, after our protests, the government scrapped their project in Chitlapakkam lake,” he recalls.  

But their troubles were far from over. “Unfortunately, the town panchayat shifted heaps of garbage from a graveyard to the bund in the lake. Claiming there was no other place to dump garbage, the town panchayat collaborated with an organisation called Hand-in-Hand to carry out the work,” Viswanathan notes. Despite protests by residents since the 1990s, the dumping of garbage has not stopped.

Garbage and waste now spans one acre of the Chitlapakkam lake. Vishwanathan says there are only 18 pits to dump biodegradable waste. He observes, “The rest of the waste goes into the lake. The waste which is dumped is not even segregated. The cattle might consume the plastic and get sick because of this.”

But one of the major concerns for those living near Chitlapakkam lake is that there is a government school and a Public Health Centre situated near the garbage dump. He claims, “Because of the garbage dump, the students studying in the school have decreased and very few people visit the PHC.”

Another resident, P Krishshnamoorthy points out that despite repeated protests and complaints by residents, authorities have taken no action on the ground. “They had promised us that they will transport this dump to another place. But till now, no action has been taken. The garbage is often burnt and all that smell comes into our houses. How harmful will that be” Krishnamoorthy asks.

Chadrasekharan, another resident says that burning garbage could pose serious health problems for those living in Chitlapakkam.  He says, “There are so many mosquitoes in this area. Moreover, this smoke will surely cause respiratory problems.”

Residents also allege that there is no proper sewage system in the neighbourhood.  “All the sewage from Tambaram, Pallavaram and Chitlapakkam goes into the lake. It gets mixed in the lake and it becomes polluted,” alleges Vishwanathan.

Mulitple letters written year after year to the town panchayat, Chief Minister’s office, Revenue department and Pollution Control Board has met with no response, residents say.

Despite attempts by TNM to contact officials at the town panchayat, they were unavailable for comment.