CHENNAI:All of 16 years of age, young Rahul has travelled a long way from his home in Bengaluru to Chennai this weekend. The budding activist, who sports a school boy-like nonchalance was here to lend a hand to a bunch of student-environmentalists to help clean up the 200-acre pond at Old Perungalathur on Sunday.
“We are currently working on scientific restoration of the Sholinganallur lake, Perumbakkam marsh and the Madambakkam lake, which is slated for completion in August,” says Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), that the volunteers are part of. They have been organising such camps since 2008, and every weekend since the turn of this year, where around 30 volunteers turn up.
The organisation seeks to mobilise youth towards the cause by campaigning that cleaning garbage isn’t as bad as it sounds since there is a sense of giving back to our environment. “At every clean-up, the mood is electric, and we don’t stop until we get the day’s job done,” says Arun.
But while dealing with the highly-polluted water bodies in and around Chennai, this is easier said than done. Rahul recounts how cleaning the periphery is the most difficult process and how it reveals gruesome tales of dumping in our city. The waste ranges from polythene and burnt wires to even pet carcasses. It is also a cause of concern since families in the locality raise crops and vegetables with this water.
Though a water-starved metropolis, lake restoration has not been undertaken in a wider way in Chennai.
There, however, are smaller groups like EFI where the show is run completely by school kids. From campaigning and speaking to panchayat unions, to curating content and managing social media, these worker bees are active. And they are aged anywhere between 14 and 18 years, like 14-year-old Sunil, a student of PSBB school, who commutes all the way from ECR by bus during his summer holidays for this.
In the process, they also learn technicalities like research, studying depth, how to purity-test the water, etc.
Over the months, they have managed to organise clean-ups for 12 water-bodies in the city. Shobana Bashyam, a professor at Maamallan Institute of Technology, who is residing at Perungalathur says, “I have been here for 20 years and in the last four to five years, the pond has become unrecognisable. It is the main source of water for our homes and sometimes it is dirty and the colour looks off. But a few weeks ago when I drove past it, I saw it looking much better actually.”
“People my age find it uncool and simply can’t bother themselves with the environment. But we just have to make them understand I guess,” says Rahul in an almost a matter-of-fact tone.