CHENNAI: The Cooum River originates in the neighbouring district of Tiruvallur, at its namesake village, and runs a course of roughly 70 km before joining the Bay of Bengal on the eastern coast. A significant part runs through Chennai. It has often been said that the Cooum, which is now what River Thames was once for London — an eyesore — is a sight not to behold. But, Thames has now been rejuvenated and is considered one of the cleanest rivers. Successive governments have drawn up ambitious plans and allocated several thousand crores towards cleaning up the river. But like the popular phrase goes, “It seems all the money has gone down the drain.”
Golden George Nagar
Just a short distance away, along the river bank is the neighborhood of Golden George Nagar, which is near to several upcoming residential projects. One can notice construction debris, mostly bricks, dumped here. It is anyone’s guess which construction firm or individual builder may have done this.
Slums and small settlements can often be found along the river banks. A big issue then is the indiscriminate dumping of domestic waste and garbage on its margins. Ironically, while the local civic body does undertake periodic door to door collection of garbage, residents rather conveniently resort to dumping their waste. Says Ebrahim, a father at local church, “Most of these people don’t quite realise the ill- effects of their dumping. Harmful and poisonous insects and snakes thrive here after the dark.”
MSP Nagar (near Mogappair Eri Scheme)
Earlier, there used to be large scale dumping of garbage but now locals say it has reduced. They attribute it to civic authorities’ action of collecting garbage from individual households. However, there continue to be instances of domestic waste dumping on a smaller scale. When asked about the state of river, Seeni Ambal, 45, nonchalantly says the river is only carrying the load released by commercial establishments and residential units from upstream.
Small-time traders and commercial establishments often find it convenient to dispose their waste in an arbitrary manner. Near Spurtank road in Chetpet, plastic covers and other discarded material can be found. Discarded wash basins and other sanitary wares are also found on the river bank. More appallingly, garbage can be found inside the unfinished pillars that came up as part of the elevated Chennai Port-Maduravoyal corridor.
For many of the slums located along the Cooum, the river is linked to the every day life of its inhabitants. Undoubtedly though, the single major utility of the river is that people treat it as a simple garbage disposal mechanism “We have been been requesting local civic officials to place a garbage bin in our area for a considerable time now. But they have been reluctant stating that the roads are too narrow for their garbage lorries to negotiate,” said S Veera, a second year B Com student at Loyola College.
River beds are often a site for burning garbage. Near Co-optex showroom at Egmore, we witnessed domestic household garbage being set on fire.
The Chennai Corporation has now undertaken a project where 337 sewage canal outflows will be plugged. The civic body is also constructing a ‘baby canal’ that can withstands disasters like the Chennai floods.
Letting untreated sewage into the river is a major source of contamination. At NSK nagar near Aminjikarai, several PVC pipes can be seen letting untreated sewage into the river. These pipes originate from the houses of residential units located nearby. Nearby, there is a street drain which empties into the river.
Jothi Ammal Nagar
Along the entire stretch, domestic waste is dumped along the banks. Admitting their fault, 60-year-old A Bhoominathan, a resident for the past 40 years says, “People have to take the complete blame for the current state of the river. Today, due to population explosion, the garbage and sewage we generate is so huge that we have brought the curse of Cooum on ourselves,” rues Bhoominathan. The rise of Anna Nagar as a residential and commercial locality too has burdened the river, he feels. He alleges that the government is guilty of not seeing through plans to make Cooum the pride of Chennai.
College Road, Nungambakkam
It seems the river bed in conveniently used as dumping place for construction debris. During team CE’s audit, journalists found construction debris, rubble and mortar heaped near the DPI complex in Nungambakkam.
South Cooum River Road, Pudupet
One of the first steps to clean the river is to remove the garbage floating on the river. Since the river, at many places stands still, garbage too stands still. Just off the bridge on the Ethiraj Salai, a steel barricade is set up by corporation to prevent garbage floating on river. But without it being removed, the garbage has accumulated to such extent it is definitely a sight not to behold.
Near Chintadripet MRTS station
Rivers are a natural ecosystem for fish. While Cooum is now past that stage where fishes can live healthily, along its banks in Chintadripet, there is a thriving export/import fish business. As many as 10 sheds are present handling thousands of kg of fishes every day. These sheds, which get their fish packed in ice boxes, do good business. But they also contribute to the pollution of the river. Bobbing on the surface of Couum are hundreds of discarded thermocol boxes. Besides, there is a considerable amount of fish waste dumped into the river.