CHENNAI:In the eye of a gathering storm over the alleged encroachment of an important waterbody that it is mandated to protect, the Public Works Department (PWD) stoutly denied the allegation before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) here on Wednesday, claiming that it was based on a ‘deceptive picture’.
“Not even a square inch of the Porur lake has been encroached upon,” said advocate Salim, the counsel representing the PWD, before the Southern Bench of the NGT.
The issue had come to public attention after a group of activists, including retired PWD officials, staged protests alleging that the authorities had covertly handed over a part of the waterbody to a private trust and were even creating a road by filling up a portion of the lake.
The matter soon reached the NGT bench, which issued an interim order on Thursday last, banning activities of the PWD near the Porur lake.
When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, the PWD’s counsel rejected the allegations that the department was trying to “build a road” in the lake. “The entire allegation is based on a deceptive picture,” he claimed. “We are building a bund to demarcate private land from the lake. The allegation is false, it is based on a few news articles that appeared in the media,” Salim said.
However, the bench comprising Judicial Member P Jothimani and Expert Member R Nagendran wondered how a lake could exist all these years without even a bund, and asked: “Do you mean to say that all those news reports were false?”
Promising that the department would prove the allegations false in black and white with relevant documents, the counsel sought time to furnish the proof. Accepting his submission, the bench adjourned the matter to July 30, making it clear that the interim order to maintain status quo will continue till the next hearing.
According to activists, a private institution had demarcated 17 acres of the land claiming that they had documents proving that the State had sanctioned the acquisition in 1987.
What they charge to be the “road” and the PWD claims is a “bund” is being laid in the lake to bifurcate the patta land and that which is owned by the government. The size of the lake has reduced drastically from over 800 to around 200 acres now, the petitioner alleged. With a storage capacity of 46 million cubic feet, the lake is an important source of water for Chennai, the city that is facing serious water crisis at the moment.
The Porur lake is one of the three water bodies that were chosen to create an additional storage capacity to meet the city’s drinking water needs. The issue soon found resonance among various political parties, with CPM jumping into the fray to protest first. On Wednesday, cadre of Naam Tamilar Katchi followed suit and protested near the lake, against the alleged handing over of public resources to private parties.