Inspired by the Jallikattu protests that called for a social awakening across the state in January, 30 residents from the town of Tirusulam near Chennai, decided that change will have to start from their own localities.
For eight months, they worked in solidarity to clean the water tank at the Tirusulanathar Temple and pump out all the contaminated water from the ponds near it . It was a moment of pride for this small community as they rid one of their main sources of water of filth but this satisfaction did not last long.
With the north east monsoons came a deluge of fresh problems, as sewage water was released into the water tank from across the town. And now 5000 families in this area are back to depending on this contaminated water for their daily needs.
Thangadurai, a school van driver and an active member of the cleaning trust says, â€śWe managed to build an 8-foot high wall around the tank. We had also repaired the sewage pipes but, the rain in the last few days has damaged them completely.â€ť
The tank is allegedly polluted by domestic sewage overflowing into it from a nearby drain which has been separated by a sand bund. Despite multiple complaints about this temporary measure, the town panchayat has turned a deaf ear to the problem, say the residents.
They claim that the two ponds adjacent to the contaminated temple tank are also polluted. Dumping of waste over the years has only worsened the condition complain residents.
In an effort to solve this issue, residents had opted for crowd funding but could only manage to raise Rs 15 lakhs. They approached the town panchayat for additional funds to resume the cleanup drive and to construct a wider drainage system.
Their proposal was forwarded to the Collector in July 2017 but, l no action has been taken, residents allege.
â€śThe panchayat received the funds four times but, none of it has been used for this purpose. They spent Rs 4.5 lakhs on the construction of a road but, not a single penny was given to resolve this problem,â€ť claims Thangadurai.
Sundarmoorthy, a member of the Tirusulam Town Panchayat when asked about these allegations however, offers an alternate solution. â€śThere is a wall around the tank, which is around eight feet high. We would be raising its height to 12 feet,â€ť he says.
The Panchayat has also promises to build a footpath around the tank. â€śPallavaram MLA, I. Karunanidhi (DMK) has promised to talk to the Collector and get a fund of at least Rs. 25 lakhs sanctioned for this work,â€ť adds Sundarmoorthy.
Residents here meanwhile are forced to shell out money to meet their daily drinking water needs. Ranthiram, a labourer who owns a house next to the contaminated pond says, â€śThe bore wells are not working properly because there is no electricity. We now buy water for drinking and use lake water for other domestic purposes.â€ť
The residents are also struggling with garbage disposal issues. The garbage around the pond is not collected regularly by the local authorities and the place has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
â€śWe never allow our children to play near the pond especially during the rains. There are mosquitoes which may cause dengue. So far no such cases have come out,â€ť says Rathiram.
Lack of adequate water was one of the major reasons for the local farmers to discontinue farming and take up petty jobs in the city for survival.
Sasikumar now drives an autorickshaw in the city; but once he had worked in his own field â€śI sold my ancestral land and bought an auto because we did not have clean water for irrigation. Just like me, many of my farmer friends discontinued farming and took jobs in the cityâ€ť.
Thangadurai and his Trust members hope to revive the temple tank after the monsoon. He dreams of a hygienic locality and clean water supply. He wants to teach the children the importance of preserving the water bodies and how resources should be used judicially.