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Tale from Korattur

It’s a known fact that our city’s water bodies are in dire straits today – a fact acceded to by the people as well as the civic agencies – and the lakes that dot the suburban areas of Chennai and the adjoining districts are no exceptions to this. The water bodies in these districts – primarily lakes and ponds – had been the backbone for agriculture in these areas some decades back. Now the practice of agriculture out of sight, these have been virtually marked for destruction and are being fed for the endless and insatiable appetite of business magnates and politicians. In spite of being accepted that our city’s waters are lying uncared for, very little seems to have been done in the past years to replenish them. And this is a yet another story that tries to rip apart our inadvertence and make visible the state in which our lakes stand today.

Geography and History:Korattur LakeFigure 1: Geography of Korattur Lake

Korattur is a western suburb of Chennai and is bordered by Madhananguppam in the north, Kolathur in the east, Pattaravakkam/Ambattur in the west and Padi in the south. This area hosts the sprawling Korattur lake, whose area may vary anywhere between 600-990 acres today (the exact area can be known by filing an RTI application with the Revenue Department). This can easily be named as one of the largest of lakes in the western limits of the city, but lies virtually neglected and worse, badly victimized. Officially, it comes under the Kosasthalaiyar Division of Public Works Department and under Tiruvallur administrative district limits. The canals that connect this lake with other water bodies are vestiges of the once-prevailing agricultural practice in this area. There are two main canals – one running from the Ambattur lake that takes excess water and feeds the Korattur lake (located to the south); and the other running to Retteri lake, which drains excess water from Korattur lake (located to the north). The first canal has been sealed now, apparently to prevent entry of industrial effluents into the lake and which is mechanically broken in monsoons to prevent flooding in the neighbouring areas. City-planning can well be placed in the list of traits that we have lost in the course of our evolution and these canals stand testament to this! And we are poor utilizers too, for we have not put these bestowments to any good use in today’s post-agricultural era. Apart from these two main canals, the area once had had crisscrossing smaller canals – evidently for irrigational purposes – the mutilated parts of which lie scattered around now.

                 Old-timers reminisce of a Korattur, where the lake was much larger in area and the whole locality dotted with paddy fields, canals, ponds, etc… Today, so little of these remain, the reason for which is understandable and on the flipside, which need to be rescued and put to good use.

Ecology and Economy:

The lake has thriving populations of fishes, visiting birds, snakes, turtles, etc…, along with microscopic and macroscopic plants. The eBird database, a repository of checklists of birds from around the world, has recorded more than 130 species of birds in and around Korattur lake. This is an essential indicator of the potential of the water body to attract local and migratory birds. The pollution in the lake also attracts undesirable insects which befog the road adjacent to the lake, resulting in frequent accidents. The civic body responded by releasing around 200 ducks into the lake in November 2016, which provided temporary relief, but were washed away during the subsequent rains. In January 2015, a part of the lake appeared bright green in colour, apparently due to algal blooms, which is a strong indication of high pollution levels in the lake.

The lake is also home to several fish varieties such as Tilapia (ஜிலேபி), Catfish (வாளை), Snakehead fish (விரால்), etc… which are caught and consumed by the locals. Several years earlier, the lake hosted many species of snakes, which are conspicuously absent in the past few years. In June last year, sighting of dead fishes and turtles along the lake’s banks was reported, which lies bare the terrible state of the lake’s waters. The main factors that affect the ecology of the lake are sewage discharge by industries and domestic solid waste dumping.

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Figure 2: Dead Fishes along the Bank. Courtesy – The New Indian Express

Afflictions and Adversities:

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Figure 3: Water From Ambattur Entering Korattur Lake During Last Monsoon.        Courtesy – The Deccan Chronicle

The lake suffers from multiple issues ranging from sewage contamination to illegal encroachments, and the conditions have only deteriorated over the years due to noncompliance by the people and the civic agencies. The primary problem concerns with the discharge of industrial sewage from the neighbouring SIDCO (Ambattur) Industrial Estate and domestic sewage from houses situated around the lake. The untreated sewage from the industries enters through the “entry” canal that connects Ambattur and Korattur lakes. The issue is serious as the industries that line the estate include textile and dyeing units, Milk factory (Aavin) and Chemical industries, which may carry hazardous effluents. This is made worse by the unavailability of reliable data on the pollution levels and probable chemicals that are discharged into the lake. The gravity of the situation can be understood from the fact that some months before the monsoon, parts of the lake bed appeared crimson, which might well be due to deposition of heavy metal contaminants. So, a rigorous and dependable chemical test needs to be commissioned to identify the level of contamination and to forecast future pollution.

The water body has shrunk to a portion of its original size due to encroachments on almost all the sides. About 2,500 encroachments have been identified by the PWD, according to newspaper reports. Travelling through time in the Google Earth software, one can see the formation of a sizeable neighbourhood through incursion into the lake on its western side, between 2003 and 2018. Even on the side where the bunds stand strong, concrete buildings have been built on the banks which penetrate straight into the lake. Although technically not encroachments, apartments and gated communities that are up and coming close, pose grave dangers to the future of the lake.

A petition has been filed in the Southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on behalf of Korattur People’s Welfare and Awareness Trust, for the restoration of the lake. The case, in which about seven industries in the Ambattur industrial estate, including Aavin factory, have been included as respondents, has seen the tribunal issue several orders against discharge of untreated industrial effluents into the lake, which have ostensibly fallen on deaf ears.

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Figure 4: Crimson Deposit in the Lake Bed in August 2017

Lake - SludgeFigure 5: Sludge and a Part of Encroachment in the Lake

Solution and Resolution :

The need of the hour is to block off the hazardous sewage from industries, which can go a long way in saving the lake bed from permanent and large-scale contamination. Another major aspect is to reclaim lost area of the lake and at least, to save the existing area by undertaking proper measurement of the total land area, demarcation of the existing borders and developing/strengthening bunds on all sides. Long-time residents of the area have no memories of any measure attempted to deepen the lake and so, it’s imperative to dredge and deepen the lake to increase the water holding capacity of the water body. As the work needs to be started somewhere, it can be started by physically removing the plastic waste that floats along the banks and removal of invasive water plants to decrease the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) for the fishes and other aquatic species to thrive. An attempt by volunteers from different NGOs and neighbouring schools last year to clean the lake can be taken as a model to reproduce in the near future.

In the year 2015, the Government of Tamilnadu announced that the lake will be converted into an eco-tourism spot with boating facilities and funds have been allotted for the same. Keeping in mind the haste with which people beckon pollution in the lake, this fund can be used to completely restore the lake and plant native trees along the eater body, through public-private partnerships (PPPs) with registered NGOs. On the whole, the residents of Korattur can resolve to make the Korattur lake healthy in 2018 – a resolution to make their neighbourhood liveable.

Glimmer of Hope:

Unlike some other lakes in the southern suburbs of Chennai, where the water bodies are fragmented or are virtually non-existent, Korattur lake still stands mighty and holds the hope of getting restored and rejuvenated. But that doesn’t mean it should get less attention than the other water bodies. In fact, these lakes which are large and comparatively less damaged, need to be restored first as it will inspire restoration of other more deteriorated ones. The primary task is to get the local populace educated about the need for the restoration of the lake and get them involved in the same. The sewage discharge and encroachments need to be dealt effectively through the law courts. Civilians need to take part in building a constructive environment to live in and hence, the mantra should be – lake restoration is for and by the people!

Lake 2Figure 6: The Sprawling Korattur Lake During 2017 Monsoon

Courtesy: Daily Newspapers (The Hindu, The Times of India, The New Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle, Dinakaran, Dinamani, Dinamalar)

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