CHENNAI: IS the contractor involved in restoration of Pallavaram and Keelkattalai lakes using lake soil for widening the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam radial road, a project for which the same company is a sub-contractor?
A Rs 13.85-crore tender was awarded to D Tamilrajan of AST Constructions for restoration of the two lakes. The tender makes no mention of what is to be done with the excess earth that is excavated from the lake during deepening.
Officials from AST Constructions claimed the municipality had allowed them to dump excess soil in low-lying areas six to eight kilometres from the two lakes. Technical assistants, placed on site by the municipality, corroborated this claim.
However, Express found that the contractor seems to be using the soil to level a section of the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam road which is being expanded into a six-lane stretch with two service lanes.
Tamilrajan said he was just dumping the soil along the highways, denying any connection to the highways-widening project. However, Highways Department and Pallavaram Municipality officials confirmed the contractor was a sub-contractor for the `40-crore road widening project being done by JSR infra. According to the work order, AST Constructions will be paid close to `15 crore in monthly instalments over the next 18 months without being charged a rupee for the soil it seems to be using. This is a violation of Minor Minerals Concession Rules. Local contractors said each truckload of soil could sell for as much as `3,000.
“The municipality can start work with the Collector’s permission, but have to submit an application to us. We haven’t received any application,” said Perumal Raja, assistant director of Geology and Mining (Kancheepuram).
An assistant engineer from the municipality overseeing the restoration claimed to be unaware the soil is used for the highways project. “If he is using it for a commercial purpose, action will be taken,” the engineer said. Pallavaram municipal commissioner and municipal engineer refused to comment.
Possible diversion of soil from the restoration of the Keelkattalai and Pallavaram lakes is not the only issue plaguing the project.
With the contractor yet to completely drain the water from both lakes, locals allege that the company, AST constructions, has started digging private property for soil around the Keelkattalai lake (survey number: 307). “The contractor sets fire to the shrubbery on my property and has started digging it. It is not part of the lake,” claimed K Gangadharan, a local who said the land had belonged to his family for a long time. Around 10 other local landowners gathered at Keelkattalai lake on Saturday demanding proper markers to ensure their lands were not touched.
Flak from local politicians
The project has attracted criticism from local politicians from AIADMK and DMK. Former Pallavaram Municipality vice chairman, D Jayaprakash led a group of AIADMK functionaries to Keelkattalai lake on Wednesday to stop AST constructions from using the soil for their road project. “Without the council in place, the municipal commissioner and municipal engineer are making a killing. How can they let the contractor use the soil for another project without paying for it,” charged Jayaprakash.
The local DMK MLA, E Karunanidhi, who repeatedly demanded in the State assembly the restoration of Pallavaram lake last year, was oblivious to these violations. “It is disturbing to see the Pallavaram Municipality using the restoration for other purposes,” he said, assuring action once he visits the site.
AST contractors are allegedly excavating soil at the extremities, instead of following guidelines which mandate a gradient approach to the desilting and deepening. “They are allowed to excavate a depth of three metres only at the lake’s deepest point not near the borders,” said a Pallavaram Municipality official. S Janakarajan, a water expert from the Madras Institute of Development Studies, alleged that this callous approach toward lake restoration could result in flooding.
“When the extremities of the lake are deepened, it increases the pressure on the bunds which could then crumble,” he said, explaining factors such as silt levels, original water spread should be considered before attempting to restore a lake. M Maran, on whose land a makeshift command centre for restoration operations has been put up without his consent, alleged the digging at the extremities could destabilise his land. Local activists have also raised their concern over the restoration.
“The municipality’s concern is soil and not restoring the lake,” said David Manohar, expressing concerns over the disregard of the encroachments at the inlets of the Pallavaram lake. “A complete restoration is possible only when the encroachments are removed,” he said. While Keelkattalai lake has only temporary encroachments, around 50 families live along the inlet channel of the Pallavaram lake and will not be evicted in course of restoration.
When D Tamilrajan of AST Constructions was asked about the alleged irregularities, he told Express that a Revenue Inspector would call back with clarifications. However, no such call was received by Express.