In what appears to be high-handed police action, a group of 11 volunteers belonging to Arappor Iyakkam, a city-based civic activist group, have been detained for auditing the Kallu Kuttai Lake in Chennai's Taramani area on Saturday morning. The water crisis facing the city this summer has created an awareness among many to preserve water bodies. It is with this intent that the group of 11 volunteers went to the lake, but they are currently been detained at Hema Mahal Kalyana Mandapam in Velachery by the Taramani Police without any explanations.
When the volunteers were walking around the lake, surveying the area, and taking down its inlets/outlets, police officials descended upon them and detained the group.
Kallu Kuttai Lake
Speaking to TNM, Jayaram Venkatesan, Convener of Arappor Iyakkam says, “It was about 7.00 am when they gathered together and within half an hour, the police came over and began questioning them, asking if they had permission to do so. We’ve been do such activities for the past three years and this is the first time we’ve been asked such questions.”
Jayaram further explains that only in case of public events prior permissions are usually required. “This was not an event or a gathering of any kind. This was just a normal audit by volunteers. What kind of permission do they need?” he asks.
Taramani Inspector Devaraj tells TNM that the act by the police is only a “precautionary measure”, taken to prevent a possible clash between the volunteer group and locals from the area. “The people living there are mostly encroachers. They might fear eviction when suddenly outsiders come to survey their area. Had this group obtained permission from us beforehand, we would have given them protection,” he says.
Devaraj also adds that they initiated action only based on a tip-off from an area local and that an FRI will soon be filed on the group.
Jayaram, however, alleges that ever since Arappor organised ‘Kelu Chennai Kelu' on June 30, a protest for seeking solutions to the present water crisis, the police seems to be targeting events organised by them with an intent of arm-twisting the activist group. “They recently stopped our ‘Know Your Rights’ programme in Purasawalkam and this is the second time this has happened,” he alleges.
Arappor had moved the Madras High Court last month after being denied permission for the protest, following which the Madras HC directed police to grant permission.
The Kallu Kuttai lake that lies less than a kilometre away from the Taramani MRTS looks more like a swamp that doubles up as dumpyard. Overgrown with weeds and with garbage littered around its catchment area, the lake definitely needs a lot of work to be revived and restored.