CHENNAI: It’s not just encroachers. Even a town panchayat in southern suburbs of the city seems to have shrunk a lake in its limits so that it can dig five wells right in the lakebed and pump water. The Madambakkam lake, one of biggest lakes in the south of the city, is said to be spread across 250 acres. But apparently the map of the lake submitted by the Madambakkam town panchayat to the Public Works Department changed the shape of the lake and shrunk it to a mere 80 acres.
The locals, who have obtained a copy of the documents through an RTI application, say the boundaries of the lake were intentionally redrawn so that the panchayat can dig wells on the lakebed and draw water to supply for residents of Chitlapakkam town panchayat residents.
The wells are being dug by the panchayat under a `3-crore project to extract around 18 lakh litres of water every day from five wells and supply it through an underground pipeline system to Chitlapakkam and Madambakkam. One of the main conditions laid down by the Public Works Department was that wells should be at least 25 metres away from the lake. The residents, pointing the contradictions of the maps of the lake in revenue records and the one submitted by the panchayat, say the boundaries were redrawn so that the spot in the lakebed where the wells are dug appears to be 25 metres away from the lake.
Since it was announced, the project has met with strong local opposition. “The Madambakkam town panchayat has clearly fudged the lake sketch to ensure the project is given the green light, “ said Lt Colonel CR Sundar, a resident who has filed a PIL in the Madras High Court pointing out the irregularities.
“This project will completely drain ground water in Madambakkam and we’ll have to start buying water after our borewells go dry,” said G Radhakrishnan, a resident of Yeshwanth Nagar, alleging that political pressure is driving the project.A top former Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board official said the project will have disastrous long-term effects on the ground water table. “In a matter of months the ground water levels will plummet and borewells have to be deepened. Soon Madambakkam will be as dry as Chitlapakkam,” he said, explaining how Madambakkam lake depends on only rain water for replenishment and cannot be used to fuel a big water supply scheme.
The Madambakkam town panchayat has denied any irregularities in seeking permission for the project and the sketch provided. “We have conducted a proper survey and have marked the wells as per the norms mandated,” said S Loganathan, executive officer.When Express contacted the PWD, they assured steps would be taken if irregularities were found in construction of wells and assured steps to maintain groundwater levels in Madambakkam.
“Seven wells were requested for the project but we have given permission for only five,” said a senior PWD official.Chitlapakkam, which is around 8 km away, has a lake of its own but it has been contaminated by decades of irresponsible disposal of garbage and sewage.
Initially, Madambakkam residents managed to stop panchayat from digging wells by blocking access to the lake. However, officials armed with around 150 cops began operations.Protestors were allegedly manhandled and threatened with dire consequences for pointing out irregularities and halting digging operations. Locals claim cops even hinted at the possibility of opening fire if protests persisted.“The police brought up the Thoothukudi firing incident to intimidate us. We just want to protect our water resources,” said a woman from New Kailash Nagar, adjacent to the lake.