Blaze scorches illegal OMR dump, Muttukadu backwater faces heat

100 tankers release raw sewage daily at dump illegally operated by local body
TNIE saw 20 tankers releasing raw sewage into the Muttukadu backwaters in one hour in broad daylight
TNIE saw 20 tankers releasing raw sewage into the Muttukadu backwaters in one hour in broad daylight(Photo | SV Krishna Chaitanya)

CHENNAI: For the last five days, an illegal dump on the banks of Muttukadu backwaters in Kazhipattur has been on fire and toxic smoke emanating from it has caused hardship for those living in high-rise buildings nearby on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR).

Several residents said they were sealing their doors and windows using tapes in a desperate move to stop the smoke entering their rooms. “We can’t operate air conditioners when there is smoke all around and we can’t open our windows either. Our homes have become gas chambers. My wife and I are over 70 years old and have health issues. There are several elderly people and pregnant women in our apartment complex who are at high risk,” said Rishi Muni Dwivedi, a resident of Neel Kamal Apartments in Kazhipattur.

Similar complaints have been made from residents of Hiranandani Flats as well. TNIE visited the area and found that the dump yard which was on fire was being illegally operated by the Muttukadu panchayat. A panchayat tractor was seen dumping the municipal solid waste on the banks of the ecologically sensitive Muttukadu backwaters in violation of solid waste management rules and the judgement of southern bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT), which in 2021, based on a TNIE article, ordered the local body to not dump garbage near the waterbody and also take a slew of measures to prevent sewage tankers from discharging liquid waste into the backwaters.

Three years have passed, and the situation still remains grim. Some measures were temporarily taken in 2021 to satisfy the tribunal, but things have worsened thereafter. For about an hour when TNIE was there, around 20 tankers, some without number plates, came and released raw sewage into the Muttukadu backwaters in broad daylight.

A mud road has been built connecting OMR and the waterbody, which is being exclusively used by the panchayat to dump solid municipal waste and tankers to discharge raw sewage. Local residents alleged that a minimum of 100 tankers are using the road on a daily basis to dump the waste and blamed the authorities concerned for being mute spectators.

When contacted, Muttukadu panchayat president M Sangeetha acknowledged that the local body was unable to prevent sewage tankers from releasing raw waste into the waterbody and sought police help. “We caught and fined a few vehicles, but the problem persists.”

As regards the dumpyard, she said it was being used only as a transit point. “There is no place to collect and segregate waste in the panchayat limits. We collect all the waste here and once in a month transport it in trunks to a dump in Chengalpattu,” the official said, adding that fire tenders are dousing the flames.

Meanwhile, the amount of sewage flowing in the Muttukadu backwaters is shocking. Aerial footage showed that a large expanse of the waterbody had turned black. Sewage is flowing directly through the Muttukadu boat house, where the state’s first floating restaurant is set to come, and drains into the sea through Kovalam estuary and will affect water quality at the Kovalam Blue Flag beach.

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The New Indian Express