CHENNAI: As several issues concerning water remain on the back-burner despite tall promises by politicians, they have come to the centre stage ahead of the State Assembly elections and are likely to find a mention in election manifestoes for the first time. As political parties have vowed to provide clean drinking water to people across the State, water experts feel that the change in the approach of the parties is ‘better late than never’.
Professor S Janakrajan, President, South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies, told Express, “While water has been considered critical for economic and social lives, now it has become so for political survival as well.” Janakrajan has been invited to help political parties frame manifestoes.
“The politicians speak only when there is flooding or water crisis. When there is scarcity, they talk about desalination plants, and diverting water to Veeranam. This is not going to help. The same holds true for the entire State,” he said.
Hailing former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for implementing rainwater harvesting scheme, Sekhar Raghavan, Director of Aakash Ganga Rain Centre, said that the move that helped recharge groundwater had been forgotten now. The man behind the rainwater harvesting system said that most of the new housing complexes that sprang up recently lacked the structure. According to him, the solution for water problem is simple. “Instead, political parties go for mega projects like desalination plants spending money in crores of rupees. You build storm water drains across the city and drain the water into the sea.
And later claim the same water from the sea by spending money in thousands of crores,” he said. He also rued that Chennai was the only metro not having water metre. Interestingly, many urban lakes, which are key to the water security of the city and also are known as flood carriers, disappeared, while some have shrunk in size.
According to information available with Express, between 1979 and 2016, the area under waterbodies declined by 9.67 sq km. Velachery lake shrank over the years. Pallikaranai marshland, which measured 5,000 hectares in 1975, shrank to 695 hectare in 2016 as the State government allowed construction on a stretch of 500 metres on either side of Rajiv Gandhi Salai.
While political parties have come up with ambitious slogans like Singara Chennai, Ezhilmigu Chennai and Seermigu Chennai to cleanse River Cooum, the colour of the river while it crosses between Anna Nagar and Koyambedu remains dark. The water is also toxic due to the raw sewage dumped in it every now and then. The reason being the failure to plug sewage outfalls.
Although 644 sewage outfalls were enumerated by Chennai River Restoration Trust (CRRT) in 2010, only a few have been plugged till now. Similarly, the Integrated Cooum River Eco-Restoration Plan, which was implemented with five departments working in tandem, has yet to be completed.