CHENNAI: When residents of Pallavaram decided to restore the 13-hectare Nemilichery lake, little did they know that they would find layer after layer of plastic waste up to a depth of 12 feet.
“We decided to deepen the lake so that it would hold water after the monsoon and recharge groundwater levels,” said S Meenakshi Sundaram, a resident involved in the restoration.
“We had no clue that the plastic waste would have penetrated to such levels,” he said, explaining how the lake was once a dumpsite for Pallavaram Municipality.
Taking note of the extent of the pollution the dumping has caused, the Public Works Department (PWD) issued a notice to the Municipality on Wednesday, ordering it to remove the garbage.
Two weeks into the restoration, with the crowd-sourced Rs 7 lakh dwindling fast, the Federation of Pallavaram Residents Welfare Associations is afraid it has bitten more than it can chew.
As mounds of earth infested with plastic cover, old tyres and seat covers increase, the Municipality is doing little more than congratulating the federation for taking up the initiative. With residents spending over `40,000 for excavating soil, they fear all their attempts would go waste if the monsoon sets in.
The PWD’s notice to the municipality, accessed by Express, observes that the Municipality has provided basic amenities to encroachments, which have reduced the size of the lake from 17.4 hectares to 13 acres, despite repeated instructions to refrain from doing so.
The notice also observes that the encroachments are letting in sewage directly into the lake and completely contaminated it. When Express visited the site on Sunday, it found three sewer lines entering the lake.
Instead of paving the way for restoration of the lake, the notice has sparked a blame game between the Pallavaram Municipality and PWD. While the Municipality is open to re-routing the sewer lines, it is hesitant to touch the garbage-ridden soil, which has been excavated.
“Steps are being taken to stop entry of sewage into the lake,” said municipal engineer Karuppiah Raju, adding the soil can be removed only by PWD as the lake comes under its jurisdiction.
However, the PWD is insistent that the municipality should rectify its mistake of using the lake as a dumpsite.
“The Municipality had been dumping waste in our land and they should sift through it and clean it,” said a PWD official.
Soil or garbage?
However, the mounds of excavated earth are so tightly packed with plastic waste, they barely qualify as soil with any commercial value. The PWD notice also classifies it as garbage, but there is no talk of using methods such as biomining to reclaim the area.
The Municipality is yet to begin biomining of Periya Eri, which it has been using as a dumpsite for over a decade.
V Santhanam, president of the federation, agrees the mounds cannot be merely transferred from one location to another. The public took the initiative and it is time for the government bodies to restore the water body so the community can benefit from the rise in groundwater levels.
The Kancheepuram Collector is expected to visit the site on Monday and both PWD and municipality officials said his visit would offer some clarity to the situation.