Updated: June 10, 2021 9:43:18 am
It has been two years since the desilting work of the 100-year old Chitlapakkam lake in Chitlapakkam near Chennai began. The project, which was kickstarted by the Public Works Department (PWD) with much fanfare in June 2019 following a green signal from the state Water Resources Department (WRD), was halted last year owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, the subsequent lockdowns and Cyclone Nivar.
With restrictions having eased across the state since Monday, residents of Chitlapakkam and volunteers from Chitlapakkam Rising are now hopeful that the lake will be restored to its glory before the onset of the monsoon this year. Chitlapakkam Rising, formed in 2014, is a 5000-strong volunteer group that works on civic programmes such as cleaning up of roads and lakes, Right to Information (RTI) queries and monitors government projects.
“It is unfortunate that the pandemic hit us and work on the lake was halted. While officials did try to bring in workers from time to time to carry out the work last year, it slowed down this year amid the second wave,” Sunil Jayaram, one of the core volunteers with Chitlapakkam Rising, told Indianexpress.com.
Following the relaxation of lockdown in Chennai, Jayaram said a few vehicles were seen by the lake on Monday for the restoration work. “One of the officials with the Public Works Department (PWD) assured us that the lake will be desilted by August this year. However, looking at the pace of work, I am not sure,” he added.
Every time the desilting work is halted due to rains, officials are forced to drain the lake before starting all over again. “Even this year, officials had to drain the water accumulated in the lake from the brief showers received last month before continuing with desilting,” Jayaram said.
The volunteer said that the restoration of the lake could have been completed in 2020 given the amount of funds allocated for the project.
Jayaram said that about 50-55 per cent of work has been done on the lake so far. This includes building an island in the middle of the lake to serve as a haven for birds and cobblestone pathways on the perimeter for the young and the old to to enjoy a stroll, go for a run or cycle around the lake.
“There is still about 45-50 per cent of work left, including desilting, landscaping and creating entrances, to make the lake accessible to residents. We also have to strengthen the island to ensure that there is no soil erosion”, he said.
Jayaram said that work on the lake was severely impacted during rainfall brought by the onset of Cyclone Nivar in November last year. “We had to open up all the canals to let the water in which eventually entered the lake. This affected the desilting process and would not have happened had the work been completed well ahead,” he added.
Jayaram said a sluice gate should also be constructed at the inlet to ensure that garbage is not accumulated into the lake. Volunteers from Chitlapakkam Rising used to patrol the lake everyday before the pandemic to oversee the desilting work and remove garbage that get accumulated near the storm water drains.
This, Jayaram said has been reduced to occasional visits following the ‘Stay at Home’ order by the government. “However, people who visit the lake still throw garbage. We hope that this will stop once the lake is beautified and CCTV cameras are installed to deter this”, he said.
While residents of Chitlapakkam were forced to use water from tankers in 2019 when Chennai faced a water shortage, Jayaram said given the amount of rainfall received last year, most of the residents relied on the groundwater from their individual borewells for water except for a few apartment complexes. “The lake was full last year as well so I think it had a role to play in raising the water table,” said the volunteer.
With the change in government this year, the group is hopeful that the work will not be impacted given that the funds for the lake restoration project were already allocated under the previous AIADMK government. “The DMK government had promised the restoration of water bodies in their election manifesto. So we are hoping to bring our lake’s project to their notice. While there has been no hindrance from the new government, we have not seen much action on the ground either”, said Jayaram.
Once we are past the pandemic, Jayaram said the government should focus on restoring waterbodies across the state on a war-footing and ensure that there is no water crisis.
Jayaram said he is hopeful that work will be done before the onset of monsoon later this year. Tamil Nadu usually receives moderate amount of rainfall from the Northeast monsoon every year.
With the construction of an amphitheatre on the lake gaining pace, residents are hoping to celebrate its restoration on a grand scale after the pandemic. The Chitlapakkam Lake Day was celebrated on June 2 this year over Zoom to commemorate two years of commencement of the lake restoration project.
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