நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி

by Aswin Sankar

சென்னை சென்ட்ரல் ரயில் நிலையத்திலிருந்து செங்கல்பட்டு நோக்கி பயணிக்கும் போது வண்டலூர் உயிரியல் பூங்காவை கடந்த ஓரிரண்டு கிலோமீட்டரில் “கூடுவாஞ்சேரி பேரூராட்சி தங்களை அன்புடன் வரவேற்கிறது” என்ற வரவேற்புப் பலகையை காண இயலும். கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என தமிழகம் முழுவதும் அழைக்கப்பட்டாலும் இன்றும் இப்பகுதி வாசிகளும், அரசு ஆவணங்களும் “நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி” என்றே குறிப்பிடுகின்றன. இப்பகுதி ஏன் அவ்வாறு குறிப்பிடப்படுகிறது என்பதை அறிய நாம் ஓர் சிறு வரலாற்று பயணம் செல்வோம்.

வரலாறு:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி இன்று பல அடையாளங்களைக் கொண்டிருந்தாலும் 1500 ஆண்டுகளாக இப்பகுதிக்கு அடையாளமாக நின்று கொண்டிருப்பது நந்தீஸ்வரர் கோயில் தான். இக்கோயில் பல்லவ காலத்தில் கட்டப்பட்டது என்றும் அக்காலத்தில் வாணிபக் கூடமாகவும் இருந்ததற்கான ஆதாரங்கள் பல கல்வெட்டுகளில் உள்ளன. இக்கோவிலின் பெயரே மறுவி இப்பகுதிக்கு “நந்திவரம்” என்று பெயர் வரக் காரணமாயிற்று.

பொருளாதார வளர்ச்சி:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என்று அழைக்கப்படும் இப்பகுதி தெற்கிலிருந்து சென்னையை வந்தடையும் தேசிய நெடுஞ்சாலை 45யில் (NH45) அமைந்துள்ளதால் இப்பகுதி சென்னையின் நுழைவாயிலாகவே கருதப்படுகிறது. இக்காரணத்தினாலும் சென்னைக்கு மிக அருகில் இருப்பதினாலும் இப்பகுதி குறைந்த காலகட்டத்தில் பொருளாதார அளவில் அசுர வளர்ச்சியை அடைந்தது. கடந்த மூன்று தசாப்தத்தில் இப்பகுதி ஊராட்சியில் இருந்து ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியம், மாவட்ட ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியங்கள் போன்ற வளர்ச்சிகளைக் கண்டு தற்போது பேரூராட்சியாக உள்ளது.

நந்திவரம் ஏரி:

ஊர் பகுதி நகரத்தின் அருகாமையில் இருந்து அனைத்து வசதிகளை பெற்றிருந்தாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வளம் இல்லையேல் அப்பகுதியின் வளர்ச்சி கேள்விக்குறியாகவே இருக்கும். நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி அசுர வளர்ச்சி அடைந்ததற்கு பல காரணங்கள் இருப்பினும் அப்பகுதி பெற்றிருந்த நீர்வளம் ஒரு முக்கிய காரணமாக இருந்தது. நந்திவரம் ஏரி சுமார் 304 ஏக்கர் பரப்பளவில் கிட்டத்தட்ட 6.1 கிலோமீட்டர் சுற்றளவுடன் 10 அடி ஆழம் உடையது. இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வளத்தை சார்ந்தே நந்திவரம், கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, சீனிவாசபுரம், விஸ்வநாதபுரம், ஊரப்பாக்கம் என பல ஊர்களும் இவ்வூர்களில் இருக்கும் நீர்நிலைகளும் உள்ளன. அருகில் இருக்கும் சிறு நீர் நிலைகளின் வடிகால் நீரும் பருவமழையும் தான் இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வரத்து காரணம். இந்த ஏரியின் நீர் ஏரிக்கு வழக்கிலிருக்கும் கால்வாய் வழியாக கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, ஊரப்பாக்கம், ஆதனூர், மண்ணிவாக்கம் போன்ற ஊர்களை கடந்து முடிச்சூரில் அடையாறுடன் கலக்கிறது.

முந்தைய காலகட்டத்தில் விவசாய நிலங்களாக இருந்த இந்த ஏரியின் வடக்குப்பகுதி இன்று மக்கள் வாழ்விடமாக மாறியிருப்பதால் இந்த ஏரியில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் நீர் பயணிக்க அமைக்கப்பட்ட கால்வாய்கள் சுருக்கப்பட்டும் ஒரு சில இடங்களில் வழி மாற்றப்படும் காணப்படுகின்றன. மக்கள் குடியிருப்பில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் கழிவுநீர் ஏரியில் கலப்பதால் ஏரியில் பல களைச்செடிகள் வளர்ந்துள்ளன. அதுமட்டுமின்றி ஏரி பலவருடங்களாக தூர் வாராமல் இருப்பதாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வெளியேற்றம் செய்ய கால்வாய்கள் இல்லாததாலும் ஏரியின் வடக்கில் அமைந்திருக்கும் குடியிருப்புகள் வெள்ளத்தால் சூழப்படுகின்றன.

இவ்வாறான வெள்ள அபாயங்களிலிருந்து மீளவும் பகுதி நிலத்தடி நீரை பாதுகாக்கவும் இந்த ஏரி தூர்வாரி சுத்திகரிப்பு படுத்துவது மட்டுமின்றி ஏரியின் நீர் வெளியேறும் கால்வாய்களும் சரி செய்யப்பட வேண்டும்.

The Neem and the Nomad snail

by Srivatsan R

I am a nomad here. I am not sure how I came here. My ancestors traveled all across the world from our native land in Africa and somehow we ended up here. 

However, I don’t feel safe here. I have heard stories and seen my kind being trampled to death and even torture us for eating their food supply. You know, these overpopulated species of Primates call me an invasive pest! The irony!

After crawling slowly all night without getting into the sight of these humans, I came to this place. The Neem tree. I have a special relationship with this tree in Kollappanchery Lake.

This Neem tree is a loner on this place, standing tall and dancing to the rhythm of the wind, giving shelter to many birds. Spiders use this as a hunting ground, as a lot of insects are attracted to the flowers it blooms.

This is a wonderful place to be under the sun and enjoy the scenery. Here I am peaceful. I can sleep all day long and go hunt for food at night. There is no place for ego or judgment. Although I must live in fear of these humans to survive.

We, Humans, are not like this nomad snail! When threatened, we use our minds, assess the problem, and find a solution. We are capable of growing our own food, to heal ourselves and survive even deadly diseases.

The largest threat to us, the human race, is now Climate Change. Our needs and self-centered actions have disrupted the balance of the natural world.

We are no different from the Giant African snails. We have conquered foreign lands and spread in numbers, thus exploiting the available resources. Being part of a highly intelligent race, we must find solutions to reduce the exploitation of our resources for our survival. Implementing sustainable practices is the need of the hour for a safe future.

We could learn a thing or two from the Giant African snail by not causing harm to others for our own needs. It is our responsibility to conserve and protect our planet and its beings for a green future.

Story of a Holy River that became a Sewage

by Aswin Sankar

Cooum which had several names in history like Pali River, Thames of South India, Triplicane River, etc. has got another name ‘Sewage’ in the 21st century and also it has been declared as a dead river. Tamil literature and Saivite Puranas say Cooum is a holy river. Even Cooum has its own holy book called Koova Puranam. Let’s see the journey of this holy river and how it has become sewage.

It is said that Cooum had its origin in Dharmapuri district and due to changes in earth crust its origin has been changed. Now Cooum is a tributary of Kosasthalaiyar which flows for 72km from Kesavaram Dam to the Bay of Bengal. Cooum river has a lot of historical stories to say. A song by Saiva saint, Thirugnanasambandar wrote in the 7th century has references to Cooum and villages in its bank. Being named after the village Koovam, inscriptions in a temple at koovam talk about the Battle of Takkolam (949CE) in which Chola prince Rajaditya was defeated by Rashtrakuta king Krishna III. Another inscription says a huge resource and land has been used at the time of Chola king Rajendra II (11th century) to construct a canal that brings water from the river to the Koovam water tank. Inscriptions at the same site say in 1112CE during the period of Chola king Kulothunga I funds has been allocated for maintenance of Koovam tank.

Fast-forwarding to the arrival of Europeans, Britishers are the last to visit Madras. Britishers want to build a fort in Madras and all the European forts are built only to the northern bank of a river joining ocean whether its Pulicat, Pondicherry, Santhome, or Nagapattinam, so the only option Britishers had was Cooum. British Built a fort at the bank of Cooum river mouth in the year 1639 which still stands in the name of “Fort St. George”.  In the year 1734, then British governor of Madras George Morton Pitt created a village with 230 weavers in the bank of Cooum called “Chinna Thari Pettai” which became Chintadripet now.  

Since Madras has become a city and trade hub, Nawab of Arcot, Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII wants to build a palace in Madras, that too within the limit of Fort St. George. As Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII became an ally of the British, with the help of the British in 1768 he built a palace for 117acres in the southern bank of Cooum which is called Chepauk Palace.

In the last three decades of the 18th century, a ferocious series of wars happened which is known as Anglo-Mysore Wars. On 10th September 1780 as a part of the second Anglo-Mysore war, a battle between Tipu Sultan and the British happened at a village called Pullalur which is near the starting point of river Cooum.  Tipu Sultan made history at the Battle of Pollilur that Britishers were defeated decisively and no other Indian kingdom has ever thrashed Britishers like he did. But at the end of the Anglo-Mysore Wars Tipu Sultan was defeated and the treaty was signed called the Treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1792. As per the treaty Tipu Sultan has to pay 33million Indian rupees as indemnity. Since Tipu Sultan couldn’t pay the indemnity, two of his three sons were taken and kept as war hostages in the southern bank of Cooum. On 2nd February of 1835 one of the iconic buildings in Chennai was established at the bank of Cooum by then Governor of Madras, Sir Fredrick Adams which is the first institution in the world to allow women to pursue MBBS. It is Madras Medical College and it has a record of women students in 1875. Even women from western countries sail to Madras for pursuing MBBS.

India’s first-ever zoological park was established in the bank of Cooum as Madras Zoo where today’s Egmore Museum is located. It was established in the year 1855 and it had around 300 animals which include mammals, birds, and reptiles. After several complaints from the locals on untimely roars and unpleasant smells, it was shifted to another place called People’s Park by 1863 which is also in the bank of Cooum.

Madras was on a strong empire built by the British and during the second world war, the British had a fear that the Japanese might bomb the city. They are scared that a bomb on Zoo would set all the animals free which will put all the city resident’s life in danger. So the British decided to vacate the Zoo on People’s Park which unfortunately became impossible and on 12th April 1942 at the bank of Cooum it resulted in one of the cruel acts in world history. All the carnivorous in the zoo were shot dead within one hour. There were three lions, six lionesses, four tigers, eight leopards, four bears, and a black panther. Later the Zoo was shifted to Vandalur in 1985.

In 1876-1878 India faced a great famine which also affected the Madras Province. To save people in and around Madras, then governor of Madras “The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos” came up with an idea to employ people. He decided to join the Cooum river with the Adyar river by building an 8 km-long canal. With a budget of 3million rupee, he successfully completed the canal. This 8km canal is known as the Buckingham canal which was later renamed the entire 796km long canal from Cochrane’s canal to the Buckingham canal. In the northern bank of Cooum lies Egmore Child and Women Hospital at which, on 7th March 1886 a Burmese Princess, Myat Phaya was born.

The entire world knows that The Wright Brothers invented and flew their first Aeroplane in 1903, the first-ever flight of airplanes in Asia and India was at Madras. In 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, an Italian chef named Giacomo Maria De Angelis who is a friend of Madras’s governor, built a biplane in Madras and made it take off from the island ground in Cooum which flew over Cooum. De Angelis tested it before and arranged a public viewing at island ground.

Madras which is now known as Chennai is one of India’s metropolitan cities. The headquarters of this city’s corporation is called Greater Chennai Corporation. But in history, this headquarters has another name called “Ripon Building”. Ripon Building which is also located on the bank of Cooum is one of those iconic buildings in Chennai. With a budget of 7.5lakh rupees, Ripon Building was constructed in the year 1913 and since then it functioning as headquarters of Chennai corporation. Kesavaram Dam which was built around the 1940s in the origin of Cooum is one of the major for saving Chennai from becoming day zero. This dam diverts the water to Poondi lake instead of flowing to the sea. In 1953, after several struggles and disputes, the Indian government has decided to bifurcate Madras province and create a state called Andhra. But dispute arises on drawing a border between Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

Both the states wanted Madras to be on their side and after almost a year-long debate Andhra came up with an idea to have Cooum as a border, whichever in the north belongs to Andhra and in the south belongs to Tamil Nadu which also failed for Andhra. This idea of Andhra proves how the river Cooum played a major role in history. Naduvankarai is a small village in the northern bank of Cooum where India’s first industry-oriented International Trade Fair was held in 1968. The Anna Nagar Tower Park was actually built for this trade fair.

With these many historical stories, Cooum is running through our Chennai but we have never lent our ears to hear these stories, instead, we gave the never a new name “Sewage”. Is Cooum really sewage? Is that how it runs from the origin?    Cooum which starts in Kesavaram Dam has around 66 urban and rural areas in its bank. Cooum which flows like fresh water in rural areas has been used for agriculture.

Areas in the bank of Cooum

NorthSouth
TakkolamUriyur R.F.
Uriyur R.F.
AnaikattuputhurAnaikattuputhur
KalambakkamKottur
Kalambakkam
PerambakkamPerambakkam
KavankolathurKavankolathur
SatharaiSatharai
PuthumavilangaiPuthumavilangai
Pinjivakkam
KasavanallathurThandalam
KadambathurAthigathur
EgatturEgattur
ManavalanagarManavalanagar
Periyakuppam
KakkalurDevi nagar
PuthurAronvoyal
TirurTirur
Kovil KuppamMurukancheri
PerumalpattuPerumalpattu
PonniammanmeduPuduchatram
Korattur
AgraharamelAgraharamel
KarunakaracheriKarunakaracheri
AmudurmeduAmudurmedu
ThanduraiAnaikattucherry
AvadiSorancheri
PallipattuAyalcheri
ParuthipattuKannampalayam
ThiruverkaduViraraghavapuram
Thiruverkadu
VadanoombalVelappanchavadi
MaduravoyalVanagaram
Chinna NolamburMaduravoyal
MogappairNerkundram
ThirumangalamKoyambedu
Anna NagarArumbakkam
Shenoy NagarAminjikarai
AminjikaraiChoolaimedu
ChetpetNungambakkam
EgmoreThousand lights
Anna Salai
Park TownChintadripet
Anna Salai
Fort St. GeorgeTriplicane
Chennai Port TrustMarina Beach

All these areas in the bank of Cooum had a massive development which resulted in building several bridges across it. Cooum has around 45-48 bridges out of which few are not in use. Within the city limit, there are some major bridges like Chennai ORR bridge, Maduravoyal bridge, Koyambedu bridge, Periyar bridge, and Napier bridge. Cooum also has two railway bridges, a metro bridge, and a metro track 30m below the river.

Sl.No.Bridge name
1.Uriyur R.F. bridge
2.Anaikattuputhur bridge
3.Narasingapuram road bridge
4.Perambakkam old bridge
5.Perambakkam new bridge
6.Kondanchery road bridge
7.Satharai bridge
8.Pudhumavilangai bridge
9.Kodambattur-Athigathur bridge
10.Cooum river bridge, Thiruvallur high road
11.Railway station road bridge
12.Thiruvur bridge
13.Perumalpattu-Kottamedu road bridge
14.Chennai ORR bridge
15.Poonamalle-Pattabiram road bridge
16.Kannapalayam road bridge
17.Kamaraj nagar-Kannapalayam road bridge
18.Paruthipattu bridge
19.Thiruverkadu bus depot road bridge
20.Velappanchavadi bridge
21.Vanagaram-Ambattur road bridge
22.Union road-Mumbai highway bridge
23.Maduravoyal bridge
24.Chinna Nolambur bridge
25.Golden George Rathnam salai bridge
26.Golden George Rathnam bridge
27.Rail nagar bridge
28.CMRL bridge, Koyambedu
29.Koyambedu bridge
30.Arumbakkam bridge
31.Anna nagar bridge
32.Aminjikarai bridge
33.Choolaimedu bridge
34.Choolaimedu high road bridge
35.Nungambakkam railway bridge
36.Nungambakkam bridge
37.Egmore bridge
38.Ethiraj road bridge
39.Cooum bridge, Anna salai
40.Chintadripet bridge
41.Park town railway bridge
42.Park town flyover bridge
43.Periyar Bridge
44.Anna salai-Muthuswamy road bridge
45.Napier bridge
46.Underground Metro track

Cooum has four check dams and another check dam under construction.

Dams in Cooum

Sl.No.Dam name
1.Kesavaram Dam
2.Pudhumavilangai check Dam (under construction)
3.Putlur Water havering Dam
4.Koratur check Dam
5.Viraraghavapuram check Dam

These check dams are one of the major reasons for Cooum becoming sewage. By these check dams, Cooum water has been stopped before entering the city and it has been consumed by the whole city. Since water has been stopped, the drainage and industrial waste which were released in Cooum are getting exposed. These untreated drainage and industrial waste are another major reason for Cooum being sewage. Cooum which starts its journey as a holy river takes a massive transformation as sewage when it enters the city. Cooum which used to be a boon for the city has been slowly converted into bane by the same city itself.

Source: Wikipedia, TheMadrasMinutes, The Hindu, Google Earth

Ashtamudi Lake: The Gateway to Kerala Backwaters

by Goutham Krishna

Ashtamudi lake which is called as the gateway to Kerala backwaters is one among the most visited back water lake in the country. It is situated in Kollam district of Southern Kerala with surface area about 61.4 Km square. Kallada river is the major source of water for Ashtamdui lake. The lake has an opening to the Arabian sea in the west at Neendakara and Sakthikulangara which is accountable for the brackish water present in the lake. It is also the deepest and second largest estuary in Kerala with a maximum depth of 21 feat at its confluence.

Google satellite map of Ashtamudi lake

The word Ashtamudi means Eight braids in Malayalam which can be explained by the palm-shaped topography of the lake with multiple branches. The Ashtamudi wetlands are included as one of the 42 Ramsar sites of international importance in India.

The historical significance of Ashtamudi lake date back to the 14th century when the lake surroundings were the important port connecting the ancient city of Quilon to the rest of the world. Historical records of the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta highlights Quilon city, in the banks of Ashtamudi lake as one of the major trading centers in the ancient period. Kollam aka Quilon still is one of the important cities in Kerala and is considered as the entry city towards the lake. A 1000-year-old temple and a 200-year-old church situated in the lakeside also highlight the socio-cultural importance of the lake and its premises in the ancient periods.

The presence of various populated islands in the lake is also a specialty of Ashtamudi lake. The Chavara South Island in the lake premises is widely known for its high titanium and other mineral deposits in the soil. Several factories and industries functioning for mineral extraction and their commercialization are present on this island. Munroe islands are another famous group of islands present in the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River. It is a famous tourist spot in the lakeside where rare migratory birds can be spotted on a seasonal basis. Boating is the major mode of transportation interconnecting these groups of islands together. The Ashtamudi estuary is famous for its diverse biodiversity and ecological peculiarities. The presence of 43 different species of marshy mangroves was reported in the region, including two endangered species called Syzygium travancoricum and Calamus rotang. Moreover, the lake system hosted rare and diverse aquatic fauna including migratory species. About 40 wetland-dependant bird species, 45 insect species, and 9 phytoplankton were reported in the area according to different studies. Apart from these, the scenic villages in the lakeside are abundant with coconut and palm trees which are also considered as an economic resource for the local communities.

Mangrove species in Munroe island, Ashtamudi- source:tripadvisor

Even though the lake and its ecosystem are very much important in the socio-economic sphere of Kerala, presently it is facing the threat of environmental degradation. The ever-increasing population pressure on the lake, disposal of sewage, pollutants, and even human excreta into the water along with the oil spilling from fishing boats lack spawning facilities in the lake premises, etc. are seriously deteriorating the lake environment. The extinction of Kanjirakode creek in the lake due to uncontrolled dumping of waste and clay is a scary example of the threats faced by Ashtamudi lake. In this context restoration plans and actions in the affected areas are mandatory for the conservation of the lake environment. Already studies have been conducted by national and international bodies regarding the environmental damage of the Ashtamudi lake eco-system and the possible redressal mechanisms that can be adopted to tackle the same. All of these studies are suggesting to bring about changes in the waste treatment methodology practiced in the locality and to reduce the practice of encroachment and reclamation of land for varied reasons. Sustainable and conservation-oriented approaches in sectors like tourism, coir production, mineral extraction, etc. should also be ensured so as to maintain the natural serenity and tranquillity of Ashtamudi lake and associated ecosystem.

Vembanad: The Paradise

by Goutham Krishna

Vembanad lake is a backwater lake situated in central Kerala Coast, covering an area of 2033 Km square and a maximum length of 96.5 Km, which makes it the longest lake in India. The lake is fed by source water from four rivers – Meenachil, Achan kovil, Pampa, and Manimala and has an outlet to the Arabian Sea in the west. The lake is separated from the Arabian sea by a narrow reef of islands, hence making it a popular backwater stretch in the country.  It is also known as Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad area and as Kochi Lake. The lake is directly or indirectly linked to the livelihood and economy of about 1.6 million people who are living on the banks of Vembanad lake. The scenic beauty of Vembanadu lake and its backwaters are major tourist spot in the country and hence is of high economic importance.

A mix of historical and mythical records suggests that the name Vembanad is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vempoli Nadu, through which the holy river Pampa was flowing. In the 12th century AD, Vempoli Nadu, along with a part of Pampa was sunk into Earth’s interior. It is believed that Vembanad lake is formed as a result of these geomorphological changes. There is a portion beneath the lake, called “Kappal Chal” which is believed as a continuation of Pampa by many of the local residents.

The lake and associated Vembanad wetlands host a rich biodiverse ecosystem having birds, fishes, aquatic vegetation, and various other life forms. A recent study conducted by experts identified 90 different fish species in the lake and surrounding ecosystem. But comparing it with the figures of the 1980s, the disappearance of 40% of species from the ecosystem was reported. Due to their high ecological importance, the Vembanad wetlands were included in the list of wetlands of international importance, defined by the Ramsar convention. It is the second-largest Ramsar site in the country and is also recognized by the Government of India under its National Wetlands Conservation Program. The people living on the shores of Vembanad are highly dependent on the lake and its ecosystem for their lives and livelihoods. The Kumarakom bird sanctuary, situated on the east coast of Vembanad lake hosts many migratory birds on a seasonal basis and is a favorite spot for birding enthusiasts.

Kuttanad, the lowest-lying geographical region of India is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The geographical region is well known for its paddy production and geographical peculiarities. A major part of Kuttanad is situated below sea level and is one of the rare places in the world where farming is carried on below sea level. The large paddy fields in the Kuttanad area are reclaimed from the shallow parts of Vembanad lake and the agriculture in the area is highly dependent on the water availability from Vembanad lake. Water transport through Vembanad lake is a common site in Kuttanad villages and different types of boat structures ranging from snake boats to houseboats are tourist attractions. Kochi- the biggest city and economic hub of Kerala is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The Willington Island in the city is an artificial construction carved out in Vembanad lake during the British regime.

The famous Nehru trophy boat race is held in Vembanad lake attracts national and international sports enthusiasts to the lake every second Saturday of the month of August. This fiercely fought boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who inaugurated the first edition of the annual event in 1952. The Chundan vallam (Snake boat) race is the major attraction of the event and the winners of the same is awarded a trophy named after Jawaharlal Nehru. The cultural and social significance of the Nehru trophy race for the people residing near the banks of Vembanad lake is paramount, and it is considered as a festival for the lake. Apart from the Nehru trophy, various other small and large boat races are common in the lake and their importance in the cultural context of the region is unparallel.

Image from the Nehru trophy boat race- source: Kerala Kaumudi

Thanneermukkom bund and Thottapalli spillway are some other distinct features of Vembanad lake. The former is a 1252-meter-long barrier constructed across the Vembanad lake in 1974 to prevent the entry of saltwater and tidal action into the low-lying Kuttanad areas. The bund divides the lake into two parts where one is brackish due to the presence of the sea and the other is of fresh water draining from the nearby rivers. Thanneermukkom bund is key in ensuring agricultural activities in Kuttanad but on the other side, it has created ecological disturbances in the lake and its surroundings including the increasing presence of water hyacinths and the disappearance of several fishes from the freshwater part of the lake. Thottapalli spillway is another artificial construction for enhancing agricultural activities in the Kuttanad region. The spillway drains excess fresh water in the lake into the Arabian sea and thereby helps to maintain the water levels and prevent flooding in the low-lying agricultural areas. The spillway started functioning in 1955 and has a capacity to spell out 600 cubic meters of water per second.

Even though the Vembanad lake has this much ecological and social importance, unregulated human actions have resulted in posing various threats towards the lake and its surrounding ecosystem. Land encroachments for agricultural and infrastructural processes are the primary issue present in the region and it has shrunk the area of the lake into manifolds. Various resorts that were constructed in the lakeside illegally were demolished recently but still, the practice of encroachment for human greed is still ongoing. Apart from that the entry of industrial pollutants into the water, the presence of water hyacinths and weeds in the lake, etc. have resulted in a huge decline in the water quality of the lake. A recent study constituted by Cochin University of Science and Technology found that the level of contamination in lake water in premises of Kochi area is alarming due to the disposal of pollutants and garbage. Being a Ramsar site with this much socio-ecological and economic significance, Vembanad lake deserves better. Hence sustainable conservation of Vembanad lake needs to be considered as an urgent priority and long-term actions for the same need to be taken immediately at an individual, social and institutional levels.

Time to ‘cool’ down

The harsh reality of climate change is our Earth moving from being hot, hotter to hottest. Demand for cooling is rapidly increasing and as incomes and standards of living increase, people want to buy and use air conditioners to keep cool for health, well-being, and economic productivity.

So, why is this topic of global energy cooling demand of utmost importance? There are only two ways to achieve our temperature goals:

i) Reduce and ii) Remove Green House Gases (GHG) that deplete the protective ozone layer and allows for harmful solar radiations to impact our health. One of the biggest opportunities in reducing GHG emissions is by optimizing the energy demand for space cooling/air conditioners (ACs). Today, the electricity required to power ACs give rise to huge carbon emissions (mainly from fossil fuels like coal and gas) and leakage of refrigerants from ACs traps heat leading to extreme hot conditions.

Here are some facts to know:

  • Of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8% currently possess ACs, compared to 90% ownership in the United States and Japan.
  • Global sales of ACs have been growing steadily: since 1990, annual sales of ACs more than tripled to 135 million units. There are now about 2 billion ACs in use that consumes over 2000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity every year, which is two and a half times the total electricity usage of Africa.
  • 10 ACs to be sold every second for the next 30 years.
  • The highest demand in energy use for space cooling by 2050 comes from the emerging economies, with just three countries – India, China, and Indonesia contributing half of global cooling energy demand growth.

Sustainable ‘cooling’:

The most practical and effective methods of residential cooling are ‘Active’ cooling using household fans, packaged air-conditioners (ACs), split ACs, large chillers that need electricity from the power grid to function.

‘Passive’ cooling requires no electricity and use sustainable methods to cool. Learning from both ancient as well as modern ideas, passive cooling techniques are increasing being used to keep buildings cool. One such example is ‘cool roofs’ method that coats roofs with materials and products that strongly reflects sunlight and cools itself by efficiently emitting heat and resulting in the roof literally staying cooler thereby reducing amount of heat conducted to the building below.

In North India where temperatures become scorching in summer, in shaded courtyards, traditional Indian stepwells lead to pools of collected water that absorbs heat and circulates fresh cool air. Evaporative cooling that provides an air flow together with circulation of dripping water such as ‘bee-hive’ systems using terracotta pots have been cost effective as well as requiring low maintenance.

Wind-catcher designs: Another example is in Iran (also known as a ‘windcatcher’ city) that uses an ancient Persian method to keep houses cool. Towers on top of flat-roofed buildings catch the breeze and channels down air, with the cooler and more dense air flowing through the interiors of the building.

Left pic: Bee-hive pattern of terracotta water cooling in Delhi;                                                             Right pic: Natural wind catchers in Iran

Active Cooling using District Cooling Systems (DCS):

The latest technologies that will become the backbone of cities transition to sustainable cooling and reduce reliance on power grids and usage of more renewable power (such as solar and wind) are DCS (District Cooling Systems). A DCS can serve a wide variety of loads for commercial offices, hotels, residential, industry units, data centers, cold chain, sports arenas, malls, schools, institutional buildings, and hospitals. DCS distributes (supplies and collects back) cooling energy in the form of chilled water from a central district cooling plant to multiple buildings through a distribution network of insulated, underground pipes for space cooling.

India is taking inspiration from leading district energy cities and countries such as Dubai where 40% of all buildings (residential and commercial) will be connected to DCS by 2030 and Denmark where almost all buildings in large cities are connected to district heating systems and customers enjoy some of the lowest heat prices in Europe showing it is possible and affordable but requires strong government support to reach such levels. Look at the chart below that shows how other countries are leveraging district cooling systems (DCS) to keep their cities cool.

With India’s water scarcity, where is the water for running the cooling systems?

India is the 13th most water-stressed country globally with several of its cities, including the industrial hub Chennai, are at “extreme risk” of experiencing water shortages. Water for cooling can be sourced in multiple ways:

a) Municipal or borewell water, which is a precious commodity that could rather be used for drinking purposes

b) Ground water or treated sewage water recycled from sewage treatment plants

c) Sea water or brackish water treated using reverse osmosis (RO), forward osmosis (FO) or other technologies

Over 90% of industrial wastewater generated every day across India is untreated when discharged and flows into rivers (As an example Ganga river alone receives around 1.3 billion liters of raw sewage and 250 million liters of industrial effluents daily). There are tremendous opportunities to re-use wastewater and is a win-win for tackling extreme heat conditions with cooling systems that can use treated wastewater.

In conclusion:

India (and South Asia in general) is already seeing the dangers of extreme heat waves among other weather-related calamities and rapid migration to cities is expected in the coming decade. It is of utmost importance to improve energy efficiency in our country by providing sustainable energy/cooling and investing in the right infrastructure for smart cities to function. As we learn from developed countries : Public sector, private sector, city, and state administrations to collaborate with technology companies, financial institutions, and industries (such as real estate and utilities) to bring in change and make life in cities bearable for all.

Chennai’s Water Paradox and the Solution

by Goutham Krishna

It’s been a few weeks since Chennai went through another November of Heavy downpour!

The average annual rainfall of Chennai city is about 10 times greater than the national average. North-East and South-West monsoons are the major contributing factors to the total rainfall of the city. The city is also blessed with 3 major rivers and numerous large and small water bodies which all point towards the high-water storage potential of the city.

But it’s ironic to find that a large section of the population in the city; mostly the underprivileged, suffers from water scarcity and drought in the summers. The major factor behind this paradox is the lack of water security and management mechanism followed in the city.

In this context, this article is a hypothetical attempt to quantify and understand the relation between annual rainfall and the annual water requirement of the city and to check whether any feasible mechanism is suitable to improve the water security of Chennai city.

The table given below visualizes annual rainfall received by Chennai city from the year 2015 to 2021 (For 2021, data till 3rd December is considered)

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Table 1 Annual rainfall statistics in Chennai Source: IMD

From definitions, any location with 1 mm rainfall recorded will receive 1 liter of rainwater per square meter.  i.e. If a geographical area of 1 square Kilometre receives a steady rainfall of 1 mm, 100,00,00 liter of rainfall is precipitated there.

The geographical area of Chennai city is 426 square kilometers; That means 426*100,00,00 liter of rainwater will be received in the city if it receives rainfall of 1 mm.

Now, the total of annual rainwater received by the city can be easily calculated with the above data.

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Table 2: Total rainwater received in Chennai

An estimate of average rainwater received in Chennai on a daily basis can be inferred from the above data (by dividing total rainwater by 365).

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Table 3 Average rainwater received per day in Chennai

Considering 150 litres as the average water requirement per head per day, we can derive into the following findings. (Population of Chennai is approximated to 1,00,00,000)

Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Maximum number of people can be benefited1,77,79,644.976,04,975.31,12,60,405.572,62,883.796,96,683.81,36,18,849.31,57,73,720.5
% Of Chennai population178761137397136158

From the above findings, it is crystal clear that proper conservation of rainwater alone can account for a good share of the water requirement of Chennai city. Hence actions to store and harvest maximum rainwater is an optimal solution to address the water scarcity faced by the city. Chennai is blessed with numerous water bodies, major canal systems, and three lakes which all can be managed properly for sustainable water conservation and management.

Hence an integrated framework, encompassing maximum storage of rainwater, proper conservation of water bodies, and sustainable consumption of water should be implemented which will definitely improve the water security statistics of the city for the long term.

Gem in the River – Ganges River Dolphins

by Arun M.

What comes to our mind when we say dolphin? A bunch of dolphins chase a fast-moving boat in an ocean, isn’t it?

Are you heard about a Dolphin in a river, this article is about one such.

Ganges River Dolphins are not the average everyone known dolphin. These are found only in freshwater-like rivers that too in South Asia. These were once seen in many countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. But it has become extinct in many places. Now it can only be seen in the river Ganges.

Curious about how it looks, they are chocolate brown at birth, and then as an adult, they have hairless skin and grey-brown smooth. They won’t travel in groups you can see at a maximum of a mother and a calf together. They prefer to travel single. Male look smaller than the female. Such Female dolphins only give birth to a calf once every two to three years.

Ganges river dolphins are now on the endangered list. Can you guess what made it so? You were right if you thought of pollution. Yes, pollution is one of the major contributors to the decrease in the population of such dolphins. Human, industrial and agricultural wastes are directed to rivers causes pollution, and destroys the habitat of species and dolphins. These made river dolphins have high toxic chemicals in the bodies

Construction of dams and irrigation-related projects along the river is also a reason for the decrease in population. How? Such constructions divided the dolphins into groups, these affected their inbreeding process and the food chain.

The main threat is hunting. Dolphins are hunted for meat and oil which are said to have medical benefits. But many dolphins are accidentally got into fishing nets cause a higher number of dolphin deaths.

Such activities for a long time pushed Ganges river dolphins on the endangered list. In 1991, a protected area for endangered Gangetic dolphins of Asia was created in Bihar and named as Vikramshila Gangetic dolphin sanctuary which stretches 60 km. At present, there are only 41 Ganges river dolphins.

Let’s join our hands to save such Gems. Volunteer for India and her Environment with E.F.I!

Fun Fact Ganges River dolphin is our national aquatic animal and also the official animal of Guwahati city

Inter-linking of rivers

Why do countries embark on mega water projects that interlink river basins? The answer is simple: address the dual problem of droughts and floods. Interlinking involves the process of diverting surplus river water through a network of canals to relatively drier areas either within a state or among two or more states.

Conceptualized in the 1980s, the interlinking of rivers program was designed with the following benefits: improving irrigation potential for famers in India, generation of hydropower from the dams constructed and additional benefits of flood control, water supply, fisheries, pollution control etc.

So, why is progress dead-slow on these projects? The environmental risks that impact the surrounding ecosystems, the economic risks due to huge cost overruns in such mega projects, the social risks associated with dislocation of people plus an important thought: the very idea of surplus water flowing into the sea is not a loss but an essential part of the hydrological cycle.

Ken-Betwa project:

India’s major river-linking project ‘Ken-Betwa’ connecting Ken river in Madhya Pradesh with Betwa in Uttar Pradesh(see map above) is facing all sorts of challenges. The meandering Ken river flows through the Panna Tiger Reserve. The river is the lifeline of the reserve and sustains an elaborate ecosystem with the tiger as focus. In 2009 due to years of systemic poaching, the Panna reserve had almost no tigers left. But ten years later, the best conservation efforts have paid off and today Panna is a thriving habitat with a growing density of around 50 tigers , several elusive species such as leopards, jungle cats, sloth bears, hyenas and wolves, around 300 migratory bird species to name a few. The river-interlinking project proposes a 77-meter high (250 feet), 2-km long dam on the Ken River and this is expected to submerge 9,000 hectares of mostly forest land in the Panna Tiger Reserve, near the UNESCO world heritage site of Khajuraho Temple in Madhya Pradesh. There is a huge disagreement in getting ahead with this project with political as well as social overtones.

International comparisons:

Interlinking of rivers projects have been rolled out in several parts of the world, but are most rivers in India fit to be linked? If we compare our rivers with North American or European rivers, the average precipitation of Indian rivers is only for around 60-70 days in a year and being a tropical country that is very thirsty, water is never enough. Several countries tackle drought management instead to secure their water resources. Let us look at China, Israel, and Australia as drought management in these countries are based on the principles of self-reliance, proactive risk management, and an understanding that drought is an inherent feature of their environment.

China has made significant improvement in water management practices in the past few decades. Both India and China share many similarities, for instance—large population size to feed, huge share of drought prone areas, small landholding size in agriculture, etc. But besides these resemblances, China’s agriculture system has done well for themselves leveraging the PPP (Public Private Partnership) model where the private sector can bring in latest technologies and construct, operate water facilities more efficiently that the public sector. The table below highlights key lessons that India can learn and adapt from.

Sustainable alternatives?

Environmentalists and the scientific community recommend improving water efficiency, conservation and better drought management over large infrastructure/ interlinking projects that disrupt a river’s flow, damage ecosystems and flood vast areas.

Also, majority of India’s groundwater, around 90%, is consumed by water-guzzling wheat, rice, and sugarcane crops. By crop rotation towards pulses, oilseeds, diverse farming and regenerative agriculture methods, such decentralized solutions could help rather than building large-scale new dams and reservoirs.

Local solutions such as usage of bio-pesticides and microbial, organic fertilizers to reduce excess nitrogen and phosphorous that makes the soil toxic; employing drip-irrigation to reduce water usage ; using biochar as a soil amendment; and intermingling existing reservoir areas with check dams and filtration ponds with rainwater harvesting and recharging of groundwater aquifers are examples of small scale proposals that benefit local communities and when rolled-out to drought prone areas are shown to improve the water table.

In conclusion:

India’s water problem is massive, and faces multiple deaths due to droughts, famines, and water shortages every single year. Are local solutions effective enough and can they tackle the global scale of this issue? Environmentalists are looking at the huge social, environmental, and economic impacts as a whole and are questioning the viability of the large-scale river interlinking projects.

Is there a right answer? a very tough call for countries, governments trying to mitigate water crisis because what seems like a workable plan today might be impractical tomorrow as the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss are most acutely expressed though WATER impacting the most vulnerable sections of our population. Looking at the potential risks that need to be mitigated, drastic infrastructure projects seem to best avoided due to the unprecedented scale of the nature crisis.