CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government is taking coordinated steps involving key departments to remove encroachments along and on waterbodies, preventing discharge of pollutants, said Sandeep Saxena, secretary of Public Works Department.
Speaking to TNIE as its Down By The River series draws to a close, Saxena said the government would soon put in place the TN Water Resources Integrated Management System, an IT solution to ensure effective management of available water. A State Water Use Policy is in the pipeline, too, he added.
Outlining the steps, Saxena said highly objectionable encroachments, that is, the ones on the watercourse blocking the inlet/outlet or the stability of banks or bunds, would be identified on a priority basis and removed ahead of the onset of the northeast monsoon.
Besides, TANGEDCO will not provide power supply to the encroachers. Reclaimed land will be fenced to protect it from re-encroachment, he said. Saxena also appreciated the articles that appeared in these columns over the past few days highlighting the state of Tamil Nadu’s rivers.
“This integrated IT application is being developed. Through this, effective management of available water will be ensured,” he said. Appreciative of the articles appearing in TNIE about the issues plaguing rivers, Saxena, in an interview to TNIE, answered many questions related to the topic.
What are the steps being taken to end the menace of encroachment on waterbodies?
Encroachment is the principal problem with rivers and waterbodies. A recent meeting chaired by Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu decided on a set of coordinated measures to be implemented by departments of the Water Resources, Rural Development, Municipal Administration, Highways, Revenue, Environment, and Forest. On a priority basis, highly objectionable encroachments — i.e., those on watercourse blocking the inlet or outlet or stability of the banks or bunds, would be identified and removed before the monsoon.
Further, seasonal encroachments too would be identified and removed in a phased manner. At the division level, multi-department committees will be constituted to monitor this initiative. For the first time, youth committees will be formed at the grassroot level to prevent encroachments of waterbodies and to prevent discharge of pollutants. They will be involved in identifying buried water courses and restoring them too.
Any progress on removal of encroachments?
Across the State, as on August 31, we had evicted encroachers from 1,521 hectares of land around tanks and around waterbodies such as river canals, 945.5 hectares have been cleared. The PWD maintains 14,138 tanks. In most of them, encroachments have been removed completely while in 5,298 tanks, there are some encroachments and the process is on to remove them too. The number would come down very soon.
What are steps being taken for upkeep of waterbodies?
These measures are going on on a regular basis. Desilting and capacity increase have been completed in a few hundred PWD tanks and other waterbodies. Also, native species of trees will be grown along waterbodies to prevent re-encroachment. The Chennai Corporation is planning to rejuvenate 100 waterbodies out of 210 under its control. The Municipal Administration Department is planning to identify small ponds in urban limits and restore them so as to recharge groundwater.
Any plans to revise the State water policy?
We are working on a State Water Use Policy. The focus areas will be to maximise surface water utilisation, to utilise groundwater judiciously and encourage reuse of water.
Another huge problem is illegal sand mining
The Madras High Court in March had given certain directions on how sand should be removed. Government will take action in this direction very soon. To check illegal mining, the mines department as well as district collectors are keeping a strict vigil.
Why is the Cooum river restoration project delayed?
It is not getting delayed. The Chief Secretary is reviewing the progress made on the project every month. It is a long-drawn, continuous process because we have to resettle all project-affected families. Already, the process of clearing encroachments in Adyar, Cooum, Buckingham canal & Kosasthalaiyar has started and families living there are being given alternative houses.