CHENNAI: At a time when Chennai is facing a severe water crisis, a State agency is trying to build a huge industrial zone on the catchment area of Red Hills reservoir, a primary water source for the city.
Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation Limited has applied for reclassification of 53 acres of the catchment area of Red Hills reservoir to build an industrial zone for women entrepreneurs,
according to officials. The application has been submitted on August 3 to the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the planning authority of the city.
Spread across 4,500 acres, Red Hills (also known as Puzhal Reservoir) is one of Chennai’s largest water source. With a total capacity of 3,300 Million Cubic Feet, this reservoir has been providing water for
the city even during times of drought. A part of Krishna River water which is released from Andhra Pradesh is also stored in this reservoir.
The catchment area surrounding any reservoir plays a crucial part as run-off rainwater will reach the storage point as small streams or creeks through the catchment area. For this to happen, the area must
be bereft of any construction which might cut-off its flow. Experts said encroachment on this area will ultimately result in floods, like the one the city witnessed in 2015. This will also reduce the amount
of rainwater the reservoir receives.
The latest attempt by the industrial corporation is not an isolated incident. Comparison of satellite images from 1984 and 2018 accessed by Express (see image) shows that many constructions have come up in the catchment area of the Red Hills reservoir over the years. “Satellite images from the 1970s show that there has been a massive reduction in Chennai's blue and green cover. Many of the lakes have
been destroyed by various arms of the government in the past in order to reduce the costs related to land acquisition. Without protecting upstream sections of the lakes that provide drinking water, it would
be difficult for the city to overcome flood or drought crisis in the future,” said Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, a remote sensing expert from World Resource Institute, India.
When Express contacted the industrial corporation, the officials confirmed their plans of using the space for small businesses run by women entrepreneurs. “For obtaining a bank loan, we need a layout
approval from the CMDA. For this purpose we applied for reclassification of its land use. But we will not touch any part of the reservoir and the space we are taking up has no streams. This way we will not be obstructing any kind of water flow to the reservoir,” said an official from SIDCO, who didn’t want to be named.
Environmental activists strongly condemn the government’s move and said such developments will help in legalising encroachments on water bodies which are on the brink of disappearing in the city. “Parties
that have an objection with the said reclassifications are never called for a meeting with the authorities. Also, CMDA doesn’t furnish the reasons behind the conversion of a water body nor does it communicate with dissenting parties. Now OSR and agricultural land are also being given up for industries and flats to come up,” said David Manohar, an activist from the Arappor Iyakkam.
On the other hand, CMDA clarified that though they received many applications for reclassifying water bodies, many were rejected. “The construction of Semmencherry police station on a waterbody in
Sholinganallur was the only exception as that piece of land was originally classified as a road. We don’t have the authority to change the land use of any water body or Poramboke land, as it's a violation
of high court orders. Only the state government can do so, not CMDA,” said Rajesh Lakhoni, member secretary of CMDA.