Drowning in construction

M Ramesh | Updated on January 09, 2018

Chennai’s water bodies have been deliberately destroyed

Chennai’s Valluvar Kottam, a monument built to honour the Tamil sage Tiruvalluvar, stands on what used to be a lake. Over the years, the lake was systematically destroyed by dumping municipal garbage into it. Ironically, many of Tiruvalluvar’s couplets contained in his work, the Tirukkural, touch upon water bodies.

The recent rains in Chennai, while nowhere near as devastating as those of November-December 2015, have nonetheless wreaked havoc in the city. Marina beach area received an unprecedented 30 mm. Parts of the city never known for flooding were submerged waist-deep. Fortunately, the rains abated before the city saw an encore of 2015.

This sorry state is due to mindless and avaricious construction on lake beds aided by corrupt and apathetic governments. As habitats invaded water spaces, the waters are now taking revenge. In the 1980s, Chennai had 47 sq km of inhabited space, which rose almost ten times to 402 sq km in 2012. In the same period, water bodies that spread over 186 sq km, shrunk to 71 sq km.

The modus operandi is simple. First, the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board declares a certain water body unfit for drinking. Then, houses are built, ration cards and voter IDs issued, electricity connections given. Then it is a fait accompli. The constructions are regularised. By the time, say, a public interest litigation is heard, there is little that can be done.

Chennai should learn from the experience of Thiruvanthapuram which, under the directions and oversight of then Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson, built a network of tanks and stormwater drains and effectively solved the problem of flooding. Massive reparation of water bodies where possible should be taken up immediately, in the true spirit of the Tirukkural.

Senior Deputy Editor

Published on November 09, 2017

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