Water story

The Perungudi Lake – nature vs. economic growth?

It was about two years ago that I moved from my home of 9 years in Egmore to the Kandanchavadi area in Perungudi. As I left my old house with my family, looking intently out of the window, I was amazed at the sight of the Perungudi Lake. Having lived on a main road in the centre of the city, a few hundred from Egmore railway station, I enjoyed the relative stillness of the lake and the calm and quiet atmosphere it gave to the area around it. 

Upon a quick google search, one may find that Perungudi lake is one of the few protected lakes in Chennai. Through initiatives by local organisations in our area, most notably the Perungudi Lake Area Neighbourhood Environmental Transformation (PLANET) Association and the Kamaraj Nagar Residents Welfare Association (RWA), Perungudi Lake has a path laid around it, along with a net, which covers most areas around the lake. Unfortunately, this is a measure that has not been duplicated around most lakes in our city and reflects a laudable effort by the various groups that develop the area.

This said, to a resident of Perungudi it is clear that these efforts are not reflected in the construction of the barrier and the pathway. As someone who enjoys the occasional run, I often found myself confronting a large gap in the path, wherein the pavement had to be broken to allow for the proper functioning and maintenance of the system draining water out of the lake, for household usage. Moreover, the fencing around the lake, though an impressive measure, fails to be effective in preventing people from entering the water body as it has some large gaps through it, making these measures not matching up with their intention of preventing novice diving and swimming – an issue, which has led to multiple deaths over the years. Moreover, the development of the area of the lake has led to significant gentrification in the area. With the development of various ‘lake view’ apartment complexes, which are left significantly empty, the preservation of the lake may, in fact, be a bane rather than a boon. 

Yet, this seems to be an equilibrium that is highly effective for the area. The open areas of the fencing, given shade by the trees that line the lake, act as an effective spot for taxi and auto drivers to wash their vehicles and have their lunch, such that residents seldom find any issues in hailing Olas or Ubers. Moreover, the small stretch which leaves the lake area accessible to all, leaves a comfortable spot for people to rest at the end of the day or simply talk to their friends. This ‘fault’ makes the lake an integral part of not only the ecology, but the community, in this locale. Further, the jobs that it creates makes the lake vital to the economy – the various street cleaners, food stands and stores, which have opened around the lake, act as proof of this.

Having survived the rapid commercialisation and urbanisation, which has destroyed so much of our city’s ecology, Perungudi Lake shows that economic growth and nature may develop hand-in-hand so as to promote social welfare in a type of symbiotic relationship, wherein the preservation of the lake and its biodiversity is promoted by economic development of the area and the various businesses surrounding the lake depend on it for their sales.

After having spent time at a friend’s house or having left late from school and walking along the paved pathways laid around Perungudi Lake, I see all the stalls and shops, which depend on the central location of the water body. Among these shops lies a small temple, with a single idol, where people pray in. Neighbouring the temple, around a hundred meters away, I watch a large swatch of mosquitoes, all doing their evening deep-breathing exercises upon the cows resting on the streets. As I walk past this mess and greet the nearby shop-keeper with a gentle handwave, I find it glad to live near Perungudi Lake.

The above is a guest write-up by Hrsh Venket, one of our interns and a resident of Perungudi.

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