Few Canals of Chennai

Deemed the water capital of India by many, Chennai is at crossroads. Significant urbanization and industrialization has taken place at the cost of rising pollution. The city’s tales of beautiful water bodies have become distant memories as sewage, effluents, and plastics choke their lungs and kill the beings within. It’s only a matter of time before the remaining few of them disappear.

1. Buckingham Canal

The Buckingham Canal – one of India’s largest canals sprawling over an area of 796 kilometers – struggles to live today. Though once a source of livelihood and the primary means of transportation for the people of Chennai, the canal is succumbing to a slow death with increased drainage of sewage and pollutants into it.

It was 1806 when Chennai was called Madras, and when the excavation of the first section of the canal between Madras and Ennore had been completed, leading to the present-day Basin Bridge Junction. This section was called the Cochrane’s Canal – named after its major financer, Basil Cochrane. Over time, Cochrane’s Canal was extended both northwards and southwards, section by section, and eventually came to be called the Buckingham Canal – named after the then Governor, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos – around the time of the Great Famine of Madras.


The condition of the historic Buckingham Canal is miserable today. Plastic strewn all over the canal, sewage blackening the little water that remains, and a nauseating stench are unfortunately the things what characterize this historical wonder. It is however possible for the canal to witness a brighter future with increasing governmental measures to revamp the water channel.

2. Pappan Canal

The Pappan Canal, a lesser known canal of Chennai, lies dilapidated. It slithers across areas of MGR Nagar and Tambaram, and serves as a feeder channel to the Adyar River. Whilst earlier the canal’s banks were around 13 meters wide, they are less than 4 meters wide today. Urban settlements and encroachments are believed to be the principal reason behind this.

Shrinking banks have led to lesser drainage of water into the Adyar River, increasing the chances of flooding of several localities during heavy rains.

3. Mambalam Canal

Once a beautiful, well-known water channel brimming with life, the Mambalam Canal today remains forgotten and ignored amidst the hustle-bustle of a developing city. Originating near the Valluvar Kottam and draining into the Adyar River, this canal is struggling desperately to breathe. With waste and sewage being dumped into it, the canal is a mosquito-breeding site and a source of various diseases. However, the measures being undertaken by civic bodies to revamp the polluted canal creates chances for an optimistic tomorrow for it.

4. Korattur Eri Canal

Draining excess water from the Korattur Lake to the Retteri Lake, this canal too has been victimized by pollution. Sewage discharge by industries and dumping of wastes into the Korattur Lake has negatively impacted the surrounding verdure, as well as the organisms that live within. And the parallel consequence of this has been the contamination of the narrow north-bound canal. With EFI’s restoration efforts, the Korattur Eri Canal has received a significant impetus for reverting to what it once used to be.

5. Okkiyam Maduvu

A crucial flood-prevention system that drains excess water from the Pallikaranai wetland into the Buckingham Canal, the Okkiyam Maduvu Canal is a lesser-known channel that gurgles in the southern suburbs of Chennai. This canal is even called the “aorta” of the Pallikaranai marshland because of its ecological significance as a flood-prevention system.  However, with settlements being constructed over the marshland, the canal’s drainage is slowly being blocked. This may result in flooding of neighborhoods during monsoons.

It’s deeply disheartening that such is the condition of canals in Chennai. Polluted and ignored, they are a constant reminder of our wrongdoings. Yet, these canals also show us that our mistakes can be corrected and we can start afresh. With civic bodies trying to restore these water channels and organizations like the EFI striving to see them flow again, a better future is imminent.

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