CHENNAI: The Cooum has often drawn comparisons with the Singapore River over the past couple of decades, with both having faced similar issues. The Singapore River in the 1970s was choking with sewage and effluent flowing into it from the thriving enterprises on the waterfront.
The river also coursed through the central business district, much like the Cooum. Between 1977 and 1987, however, government agencies joined forces to clean the river. Chief among their objectives was to identify and eliminate causes of pollution. During the same period, however, Cooum’s condition went from bad to worse.
In 2009, a Tamil Nadu delegation, led by the then deputy chief minister M K Stalin, visited Singapore to learn how the Singapore model can be adopted to the Cooum in Chennai. But, after the AIADMK government assumed office in 2011, this proposal did not move further. Now, as the DMK takes up ‘Singara Chennai 2.0’, of which cleaning up the Cooum is a part, there are several aspects to learn from the Singapore model and also from others, say experts.
When TNIE contacted an official who was part of the 2009-delegation, he said pollution due to urbanisation and encroachments in both rivers were the same. But factors like population and the size of the river basin had to be considered to make it a viable project for Cooum. “Here, the river basin is around 400 square kilometres, whereas in Singapore, it was a maximum of 100 square kilometres. They had shifted the river mouth and built a barrage,” the former official said.
“They had created a freshwater reservoir in Singapore. If you look at Cooum, there is tidal influence. Till Chetpet, it is considered a tidal zone and the water will be saline and not potable,” he added. Moreover the intensity of the floods also has to be considered. A flood regulator here, similar to the one Singapore had, was washed away in the 1976 cyclone, officials said.
In the Cooum, issues of pollution are yet to be fully addressed. In Singapore, industrial establishments and the 26,000 families residing along the banks were relocated by 1984. In Tamil Nadu, commercial establishments continue to function along the Cooum, though families have been relocated.
“Before installing fences and building retaining walls, we have to get to the basics first. Commercial establishments encroaching the river must be removed without discrimination,” said Veerappan A, former special chief engineer, PWD, who is presently the state secretary of Tamil Nadu PWD Senior Engineers Association. In his opinion, any structure, including the fence built along the river, will not withstand the salt-laden air of the locality
“They also have to figure out segregation of solid and liquid waste. Sewage treatment plants are not enough. I would suggest using reinforced concrete pipes to collect liquid waste along the two banks of the river and the grey water to be recycled through a tunnel reservoir,” he added. In this series, TNIE looks at the problems plaguing the rivers flowing through TN.