Residents clean up Chennai lake with community help

'The residents would desilt the lake on their own'

Residents of Chitlapakkam in Chennai participating in the mega cleaning drive on Sunday. (DH Photo)

Chitlapakkam is a small town on the suburbs of this metropolitan city that boasts of a massive lake that is spread over 100 acres of land. The residents had been knocking at the doors of officials of every government department that are entrusted with the task of conserving and preserving water bodies.

With all their requests falling flat, the residents have taken up the task of cleaning the river themselves. On Sunday, more than 1,000 people, including volunteers from various political outfits and Rajini Makkal Mandram, picked up plastic and other waste from the river, thus sending a clear message to the government that has not been bothered about the condition of such water bodies.

From school children to students to youngsters to elders – people of all age groups and sections – participated in the drive with students taking a pledge to save the waterbody. The lake has been a major water source not just for residents of Chitlapakkam, but those residing near-by as well and recharging the groundwater whenever it has water.

The action by the residents of Chitlapakkam, close to Tambaram in Chennai, comes at a time the city is reeling under unprecedented water crisis, forcing people to come onto the streets to protest against non-supply of water.

Sunday’s exercise is part of the efforts by Chitlapakkam Rising, an NGO fighting for the restoration of the waterbody. The cleaning drive that began in the first week of June has been successful with more than 150 bags full of plastic being cleared from the lake.

“We actually sought the government’s permission to desilt the lake on our own since the PWD maintained it had no funds. But we were given permission only to clean the lake and we have removed plastic bottles and plastic items from the lake. Since they are also single-use plastic, we will send them for recycling,” Sunil Jayaram, one of the founders of Chitlapakkam Rising, told DH.

Jayaram said residents turn up for an hour every day in the morning to clean the lake and the number went up to 1,000 on June 23 since it was a Sunday. He also added that the residents would desilt the lake on their own without waiting for the government to release funds.

“We are even planning to move the judiciary seeking ownership for the lake since the government is not interested in protecting the waterbody. We will also meet Kanchipuram district collector and seek permission for desilting the lake before September so that the lake is ready for storing water before the monsoon arrives,” Jayaram said. This is the second time that the residents of Chitlapakkam have come together as one to protect the sprawling waterbody.

The Tamil Nadu government had given up the plan to construct a housing board complex by encroaching the lake in the 1990s after the residents resisted the move vociferously. “We stood against the might of the government in the 1990s and ensured that the lake was not destroyed. The lake was the last desilted in 2004 and for the past 15 years, we have only been visiting officers but to no avail,” P Viswanathan, Chitlapakkam Residents’ Coordination Committee, told DH.

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