On June 30, about 100 people gathered near the Sivaganga Road and watched five earth movers charge at the juliflora plants and other weeds inside the Vandiyur tank. This initiative to rejuvenate the tank, costing Rs. 5 lakh, was inaugurated by V. V. Rajan Chellappa, MLA. The MLA and residents contributed to the cause. Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao and Corporation Commissioner S. Aneesh Sekhar too attended this event, as did several office- bearers of residents’ welfare associations in the area.
The enthusiastic work began with fanfare, pujas and pomp. But residents complain that all activities came to a halt about two hours later. “The workers cited the sudden downpour as a reason but have not resumed work till this day,” says N. Rajamurugan.
In many ways, this clearance initiative is symbolic of several other projects undertaken by various governments and organisations for the Vandiyur tank restoration. The last known effort by the Public Works Department (PWD) was five years ago when attempts were made to desilt portions of the tank, says a senior official in the Periyar Main Canal (PMC) division. Though the PWD has submitted several proposals, including revival of tourism- related activities along the lake, few have materialised.
Currently, water enters the tank through the PMC via Kallanthiri, Kadachanendal and Valar Nagar. For 45 days in a year, the PWD diverts about five to six cusecs of water into the tank to feed the ayacuts along Ring Road as they are part of the double crop region. If there is sufficient flow, the water continues to flow for 120 days or is distributed on a turn system (five days supply, seven days closure).
Capitalising on this, the Gomathipuram and Thendral Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association built five percolation tanks stretching over 500 metres across the tank five years ago. S. Baburaj, the then secretary, recalls that there was a rise in groundwater table then. “Residents, including those from KK Nagar and other nearby areas, contributed a total Rs. 5 lakh and found that the percolation pits not only recharged the Corporation’s 50 borewells along the tank, but also their homes,” he says. With time and accumulation of silt, the residents have not been able to make optimal use of the tank, says A. Durairaj, a retired Tamil Nadu Electricity Board employee and a resident of Gomathipuram.
Voluntary organisations and residents’ welfare associations have tried their hand at cleaning parts of the tank for several years. Several stakeholders even came together to form the Federation for Vandiyur Tank Water Development to look into tank rejuvenation. Now, the Welfare Association has been making representations to the PWD to desilt and deepen the tank. However, no action has been taken, says S. G. Ramanathan, the present secretary.
Mr. Rajan Chellappa spoke about two lofty initiatives when the puja was performed — to bring boating services to the tank to improve tourism and do a lake-front development project through the Corporation’s Smart Cities Mission for a rough estimate of Rs. 50 crore. However, experts like G. Balaji from Thiagarajar College of Engineering say that both the projects would require certain prerequisites.
“Boating requires at least six feet of water and allowing tourists into the lake area may cause more damage than help. Since tourists lack a sense of ownership, the tank will get polluted,” he says. He adds that initiatives like the lake-front project are merely ornamental and supplementary.
“The main aim is to ensure that we capitalise on the rain and ensure depth is increased so that the catchment area stores the water effectively inside the tank. If we plant species that have the ability to retain water in their roots, it would augment groundwater level. Declaring the tank as a protected area will go miles as littering can be prevented and special initiatives can be taken up. It is a boon to spot such waterbodies in the city limits,” he says.
Experts have lauded the PWD’s new efforts to strengthen the bunds, reconstruct the sluice and clear the jungle areas. The project costing Rs. 1.31 crore is necessary, adds Mr. Balaji.
He says that construction of check dams and percolation wells will bring better water quality. He adds that no form of sewage should be allowed into the tank. Otherwise, it would become a huge breeding ground for mosquitoes, he says. With a large presence of hospitals in Anna Nagar and KK Nagar, this would prove to be a huge problem, he concludes.
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