Our Lake Warriors: Who is saving Chennai's fast-disappearing water bodies?
news Saturday, May 09, 2015 - 05:30
OUR LAKE WARRIORS - 2: The 2011 census recorded the highest increase in rural to urban migration, which means a large, likely permanent increase in urban population, whose needs urban local bodies need to look after. Most sources of water in urban areas are under severe threat owing to the rising pressure on resources made worse by mismanagement by governing authorities. Ordinary people in south Indian cities are battling to keep water freely accessible to all, and also trying to ensure that these water bodies do not succumb to environmental and urban pollution. This is the first in a three-part series by The News Minute team.¬† ¬† Gone are the days when citizens just sat back in their dining rooms criticising the filth in public areas in their cities. Instead of just lamenting, people living in the proximity of the sprawling, garbage-strewn Perumbakkam lake in Chennai have actually moved out of the comforts of their houses, and started cleaning up the lake by themselves. ¬† Local people began the clean-up after it was no longer possible to ignore that the lake had shrunk significantly owing to years of dumping of municipal waste and untreated sewage. Their efforts began to be more focused when they sought the help of Chennai-based Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI). At Keezhkattalai¬† ¬† The organization‚Äôs founder Arun Krishnamoorthy says that EFI had only joined the efforts of the local people. ‚ÄúAs we believe in community based conservation, ¬†it was easy to work on the Perumbakkam lake as people in the neighborhood were supportive of the cause. We joined hands in manually cleaning the lake. ¬† This isn‚Äôt the first lake that EFI has helped to restore. Involved in lake clean-ups since 2008, the group has also aided rejuvenation of 39 lakes or ponds in other cities such as the Selva Chintamani Kulam in Coimbatore, Arasankazhani in Chennai, Kapra in Hyderabad and also in New Delhi. ¬† ¬† The project to clean the Perumbakkam lake has received a generous response from the public, with several contributions pouring in through a fundraising campaign on Milaap. ¬† Until date, the group has raised Rs 1,70,800 of the Rs 5 lakh goal required to purchase the machinery necessary to unclog the Perumbakkam lake. Arun says that EFI usually does not seek public contributions but were forced to do so on this occasion as the cost of the equipment was ‚Äúbeyond our limits.‚ÄĚ According to the group, Chennai which according to revenue records had atleast 300 lakes is witnessing fast disappearing water bodies, while the remaining are too polluted to preserve. ¬† Asked about allegations that nearby industrial and manufacturing units were dumping waste into the lake, Arun said, ‚ÄúTo date we have no proof as to where the waste originates and we are unable to blame a particular industry.‚ÄĚ He is however, hopeful that they will be able to prevent further damage once the cleaning and restoration work begins. At the Perungalathur pond clean up ¬† Ahead of World Environment Day (June), in March 2014, EFI had initiated ‚ÄėProject 100‚Äô aiming at getting people to commit to 100 days of volunteering to clean up some of Chennai‚Äôs lakes.. ‚ÄúThe idea was to involve a lot of people,‚ÄĚ says Arun.¬† At the Perungalathur pond clean up ¬† Chennai‚Äôs biggest example of mismanagement of water bodies is the Cooum lake. Over the years, a number of plans for its cleanup have been made and again remade without intervention. Latest in the government‚Äôs schedule in January this year was the announcement of a Rs. 605 crore project to clean up the river. ¬† Asked whether the government‚Äôs efforts in rejuvenating lakes were failing, Arun says that the issue is more complex. ‚ÄúWork is happening, cleaning and restoring water bodies is complex as it involves socio-economic and political management. When more of us get involved as volunteers in supporting the government's efforts, I am sure one day we will be able to swim across Chennai's three rivers.‚ÄĚ ¬† Photo credits:¬†Vignesh Mahesh ¬† ¬†Our Lake Warriors: A small army of people in Bengaluru is waging war to protect lakes