Trash snuffing life out of Chennai rivers

“If officials say the flood-carrying capacity has been raised to 40,000 cusecs, it is important to remember 97,000 cusecs were released during 2015 floods,” he points out.

Published: 24th September 2021 06:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th September 2021 06:52 AM   |  A+A-

An aerial view of the Cooum River from Ethiraj Salai in Chennai | R Satish Babu

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Cooum and Adyar, two of Chennai’s main rivers, have long been shadows of their former selves. Worn thin by encroachments, they’re now dumping grounds for sewage and trash.

Elaborate plans have been drawn to restore the Cooum, but even after several years, the only things different are that people living on its banks have been resettled, and the flood-carrying capacity has been increased. More than 12,000 families have been relocated to reclaim the Cooum’s right of way, and the flood-carrying capacity is now up to about 40,000 cusecs in areas such as Chintadripet and Pudupet, say officials.

In 2014, the Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust’s Integrated Cooum River Eco Restoration Plan aimed to reduce pollution, ensure water quality and sustainable development, improve the flood-carrying capacity, create river front development, and explore navigation and other future purposes of the river. The project was granted an administrative sanction of `646.77 crore for 60 sub projects.

But some experts, such as S Janakarajan, president, South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies, say the river is now in a worse condition than before, and even the improved flood-carrying capacity isn’t enough. “If officials say the flood-carrying capacity has been raised to 40,000 cusecs, it is important to remember 97,000 cusecs were released during 2015 floods,” he points out.

In terms of eviction, there has been appreciable progress; but the riverfront projects planned to take up the reclaimed space are not sustainable, says a retired official who was part of the Public Works Department when a delegation went to Singapore in 2009 with the then deputy CM MK Stalin and mayor M Subramaniam. The aim of the delegation was to adopt the Singapore river model to clean the Cooum.

“The hydraulic aspects of the river have not been considered while planning riverfront development. It should be able to withstand heavy floods. Even the fencing (now carried out by the city corporation) should have been sturdy enough to withstand corrosion. Parts of the fencing carried out in Langs Garden in 2009 are now worn out. That shouldn’t be the case again,” he asserts.

Children playing in the Adyar River | Martin Louis

Janakarajan, who has been following developments on the river for over 30 years, says, “The river is in a worse state now. The flood plains have disappeared and urbanisation has led to encroachments on both sides. The river is supposed to have a gentle gravity from upstream to downstream. This gravity has now been distorted due to dumping of waste and construction debris.”

Pollution is still a major cause of concern. TNIE had reported in July how the concrete drain, off Langs Garden Road, perpetually discharges waste water into the river. As far as the Adyar River is concerned, flood-protection walls, desilting, removal of solid waste, and fencing work is underway, while evictions are yet to resume.

According to the policy note for this year tabled in the Assembly, under Phase-I, the Eco-Restoration work for Adyar Creek (58 acres) began in 2008. The major activities undertaken at Adyar Creek were increasing the water spread and tidal interaction area, planting native saplings such as tropical dry evergreen forest species, mangroves, reeds, etc, and landscaping for interactive environmental programmes.

The State government has accorded an administrative sanction of Rs 100 crore for restoration of 358 acres of the Adyar Creek and Estuary area on the eastern side of Thiru Vi Ka bridge. “The Adyar Creek and estuarine ecosystem were degraded due to infestation of Prosopis juliflora (Karuvelam), indiscriminate disposal of sewage, solid waste and debris, which resulted in shrinking of the water spread area, reduced tidal interaction and degradation of biodiversity,” it stated.

(With inputs from SV Krishna Chaitanya)

Ahead of World Rivers Day on September 26, TNIE looks at the problems plaguing the rivers flowing through TN.


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