CHENNAI: Is the Muttukadu backwaters on the outskirts of Chennai turning into another Cooum? It could, if urgent action is not taken to curtail the illegal dumping of waste on the banks of this ecologically sensitive waterbody.
Located about 30km south of Chennai, Muttukadu usually lures boating enthusiasts. Of late, the waterbody has been attracting another kind of visitors — trucks filled with garbage. A total of five unauthorised landfills have cropped-up on the banks of the waterbody between the boathouse and Navalur, where tonnes of solid waste is piling up.
With the northeast monsoon around the corner, all this waste is waiting to enter the waterbody and eventually the Bay of Bengal through Kovalam estuary. As part of a project by the Union Environment Ministry, the Wildlife Institute of India has recognised Muttukadu backwaters as Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas (ICMBAs) along with 15 other sites in Tamil Nadu including Pulicat, Pichavaram, Vedaranyam swamp, Palk Bay, Muthupet, etc.
When Express visited these areas, the waterbody was found devoid of any considerable aquatic life. The colour of the water near the landfills was black with leachate oozing out into the backwaters. There was a stormwater drain coming from underneath a nearby township, flushing sewage into the waterbody.
Ravi Kumar, a fisherman from Kovalam village, who took this reporter to the spot, said they have stopped fishing in Muttukadu due to poor quality of the catch. “The fish, prawns and crabs that are caught here stink like sewer.
The catch has become so unhygienic that we can’t sell it. About 10 years back, this backwater was brimming with life. Migratory birds were frequent visitors, but now, their numbers have drastically reduced,” he said. The depth of the backwater has also significantly reduced due to heavy siltation and plastic pollution.
‘Local bodies are responsible for proper solid waste disposal’
The depth of the backwater has also significantly reduced due to heavy siltation and plastic pollution. From the earlier 30 feet, it has dropped to 2-4 feet. Ravi had to carefully navigate the boat because plastic waste in the waterbody would easily entangle motor blades. A discarded plastic cement bag had in fact got caught in the blade while we were returning to shore.
Retired major general Jose Manavalan, a resident of a nearby township, said they have been raising the issue of illegal dumping of solid waste on the banks of Muttukadu backwaters with the district authorities and local panchayat officials for the past two years. “Whenever the complaint is lodged, the authorities will come with JCBs, dig a deep pit and bury the waste underground. After a few weeks, the dumping will start again.
The worrying factor is there is a lot of toxic and contagious bio-medical waste.” There are two dumpsites on either side of the township. One on the north, sitting next to a school, and the Navalur crematorium. This was earlier serving as a municipal waste segregation point, but after several complaints the area was vacated. Now again, indiscriminate dumping has started. There is another dumpyard on the southern side which is bigger, with a 14-feet tall garbage pile, a part of which is sitting on the backwater itself. Large green polythene bags were noticed with discarded PPEs.
Stray cattle was seen chewing on gloves probably from a nearby healthcare centre on OMR. Local residents allege that panchayat vehicles from Muttukadu, Navalur and Padur come and dump garbage here regularly. On Saturday, a garbage truck from Thiruporur town panchayat came and dumped waste. Also, a tanker discharged untreated sewage into the backwater. All of this is captured on camera by the residents and sent to Chengalpattu district authorities.
Meenakshi Pandey, a senior consultant Ophthalmologist at Apollo Hospitals and a resident of Padur, said there is a giant illegal dump yard behind the Hindustan College right on the banks of the backwater. When contacted, AV Venkatachalam, Chairman of TNPCB, said that proper disposal of municipal solid waste is the responsibility of local bodies. “A team will be sent for inspection and any violations found will be dealt with appropriately.” Justice P Jyothimani, Chairman, State Monitoring Committee of National Green Tribunal (NGT) for Solid Waste Management, said he would personally visit the dumpsites.
There are allegations from locals that a township in the area, spread over 100 acres, is releasing sewage into Muttukadu backwaters. A stormwater drain coming from township could be seen discharging the sewage into the backwater. Residents alleged that the sewage treatment plant of the township was not being maintained properly. “We are using the drinking water for flushing our toilets, for which we are paying. There is currently a 1,200 KLD STP plant and it’s not operating properly,” a resident of the township said seeking anonymity.