Should there be 500-metre buffer zone on banks of Chennai's Adyar river to prevent flooding?
After the 2015 floods, the Public Works Department came out with a plan on fixing the buffer zone up to 500 metres to avoid flooding, sources told The New Indian Express. However, the CMDA opposed it.
CHENNAI: Should there be a 500-metre buffer zone along the banks of the River Adyar to protect residential areas and developments from flooding? After the 2015 floods in the city, the Public Works Department (PWD) wanted to fix a buffer zone of 500 metres along the banks of the river for 852 acres of prime land, which were initially acquired for airport expansion but later denotified.
The land, acquired in 2007, was not put to use for a parallel runway as the Airport Authority of India in 2011 has dropped the plan stating that no significant improvement in aircraft movement would be achieved due to long taxiing time involved. The land has been lying idle for nearly nine years as it is yet to be reclassified by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority.
The denotified land is located at Manapakkam, Gerugambakkam, Kolapakkam, Tharapakkam and Kovur villages in Sriperumbudur taluk of Kancheepuram district.
Although the PWD came out with a plan to fix the buffer zone upto 500 metres to avoid flooding, sources told The New Indian Express that the CMDA opposed it, stating that a buffer zone upto 500 metres or any other distance would be arbitrary and may not reflect the actual flooding condition on the ground. PWD sources told Express that CMDA felt it is a sensitive issue involving several plot owners and prospective construction of several homes.
It is learnt that CMDA has called for a detailed flood study by appointing a consultant in the field of flood modelling only recently to comply with a Madras High Court order on March 6, 2020. CMDA has been reclassifying the land which comes under the buffer zone of 500 metres based on conditional approval from the Public Works Department.
Sources said appropriate land use has to be assigned taking into consideration planning permissions, approved layouts, reclassifications and ground conditions etc.
It is learnt that two years ago a comprehensive reclassification proposal was prepared and placed before the technical committee on January 19, 2016 which recommended that lands falling under layouts should be assigned primary residential use zone. It also sought details of maximum flood level with regard to 2015 floods from the Public Works Department for zoning of flood prone areas.
But since then nothing moved except another meeting which was held in April 2018. It also failed to arrive at a decision. When Express contacted an official, he said that the issue has got nothing to do with floods. The area reserved for airport expansion has been defreezed and officials are conducting study to assign the land use, he added.
According to a Comptroller and Auditor General report, the state has yet to enact the Flood Plain Zoning (FPZ), a concept to regulate land use in the flood plains to restrict the damage caused by floods and determine the locations and extent of areas for developmental activities so that it does not affect the environment. It was mandated by the Central Water Commission which in 1975 circulated a model Bill of FPZ. Even the Second Master Plan of Chennai prepared by CMDA’s planners did not provide for FPZ.
K P Subramaniam, a former professor of urban engineering in Anna University, said the Union government in 2003 issued a guideline that floodplain zones should be excluded from any development but it has yet to be included in the development regulations. He also said that the government should do away with conditional approvals as there is no mechanism by the government to monitor it and it gives birth to unauthorised developments.
While the FPZ Bill may have been ignored, CMDA which had formed a committee headed by its vice-chairman recommended in 2012 that a buffer zone of at least 15 metres from the water body was required. But this was ignored by planners as the planning body accepted a No Objection Certificate from the Water Resource Department by giving conditional approvals, which is not as per the norm of Town and Country Planning Act nor the development regulations.
The CAG report states that the CMDA approved 291 layouts in the Chennai Metropolitan Area of which 127 were within 15 metres of waterways.