Community efforts blossom to restore Chennai's Periya Eri lake

Community-driven cleaning & lake restoration works are under way as authorities pay no heed to complaints about pollution in and around Periya Eri
From May first week, the group, comprising people of all age groups, began cleaning the area around the lake that was littered with alcohol bottles and household waste
From May first week, the group, comprising people of all age groups, began cleaning the area around the lake that was littered with alcohol bottles and household waste(Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: The fondest childhood memories of Thirun­eermalai residents, especially those in their middle-age now, are mostly connected to the Pallavaram Periya Eri. The lake is not just a major water source of the area but is also a prime hangout spot of the locals.

When B Saravanan returned from Singapore in 2018, Periya Eri seemed awfully dirty, unlike how it used to look when he left. The lake’s charms had withered away and the techie’s memories of soaking in its vast expanses were out of place; its visage stooped due to the treatment meted out to it.

Unlike its human counterparts, the 42-year-old thought, the lake lacked a walking stick – a support system. That is when he realised destiny’s hand at bringing him back to his native in Tambaram.

The post 2015 period, historically earmarked as that of the Chennai floods, community-driven cleaning works, including restoration of lakes, were picking up in many parts of the city. Several success stories of residents stepping up to clean the local lakes and waterbodies on weekend mornings, bringing it to the attention of government bodies, and eventually succeeding in giving the waterbodies a new lease of life, were sprouting. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the trend died down.

PICS: Ashwin prasath
PICS: Ashwin prasath

Like others, Saravanan continued with his life and job in Chennai. But his memories of the lake kept reaching out to him. He immediately knew that he had his work cut out for him. The ‘Periya Eri’, originally spanning around 190 acres across three wards of the Tambaram corporation, needed saving. Karuvelam shrubs had eaten up the drier parts of the lake, and the water had been contaminated by sewage and effluents from industries.

“I found that there were many people in the neighbourhood, who were thinking along the same lines as me. I brought them together so that we can restore the lake around which many of us grew up,” Saravanan tells TNIE. Their first step was to reach out to the authorities concerned.

Week after week, for the last four years, Saravanan and a group of residents’ representatives wrote to government authorities for help, but they never heard back. The quality of groundwater in the area was worsening with the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) recording 1,800 and 1,200 as against the usual 250-300, making the water not ideal for drinking. Residents were forced to rely on bubble tops.

Without a proper underground drainage system, sewage found its way into the lake. Quality of groundwater reached an all-time low and many of these areas had neither metro water connection, nor did they fall under the Palar water supply.

On May , residents decided to take things in their own hands. “We asked people to come and help us clean the lake. Despite being informed on a short notice, around 60 residents turned up at 7:30 am,” says Saravanan. For a start, the group, comprising people of all age groups, began cleaning the area around the lake that was littered with alcohol bottles and household waste.

More people turned up the next day. Looking at the group getting their hands dirty, residents of nearby apartments came forward to do their bit, said other residents. Soiled hands exchanged buttermilk, idlis, and Pongal that was arranged by different groups and individuals. Apart from achieving their objective, the group ended up having a picnic after the day’s work.

“We had fun, but most importantly, help began to arrive from all quarters. Exnora Green Pammal, an NGO, came to help. The Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) said they would help take this initiative forward. We are grateful to have attracted the right people,” Saravanan tells TNIE exuding confidence in the process.

Now, he juggles his work and restoration efforts. Both Saravanan and the residents of the locality feel more secure about their future, having rejuvenated their past.

(Edited by Shrija Ganguly)

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