Chennai: Spl wing to protect water bodies, remove encroachments

The areas of 19 major lakes have shrunk from 1,130 hectares to just 645 hectares, reducing the storage capacity.

Chennai: Observing that our grandfathers saw water in rivers, our fathers in wells, the present generation in taps and our children only in bottles, the Madras high court said "we should not make our grandchildren see it in capsules."

Coming down heavily on the poor utilisation of water resources and neglect of water bodies in the state, the court directed the state government to constitute a special wing in the public works department, with the chief secretary as chairman, to remove all encroachments in water bodies etc with the assistance of the police and of the military if assistance is not provided by the police.

The court was hearing a petition by V B R Menon, an advocate of the high court, which sought direction from the court for installing appropriate water management systems based on standard specifications, modern technology and GPS-based instruments to achieve optimum utilisation of all water bodies situated within the city of Chennai and its suburban areas.

The bench noted that there are 116 dams in Tamil Nadu but after 1993, only five or six dams were constructed. In 1965, Singapore, an island, started concentrating on rainwater collection with big projects in catchment areas and currently the city gets 20 per cent of its water from rainwater collected in reservoirs and catchments.

Directing the government to constitute a special wing, the bench said the chairman of the wing shall make arrangements for staff for this purpose and provide adequate staff support to concerned officials to achieve the Herculean task of removal of encroachments on water bodies. The chairman shall convene a meeting with other members once a month to review the action taken by the members in their respective districts in removing the encroachments.

It is open to the wing to evict all encroachments with the assistance of the police by citing the present order and thereby restore all the water bodies, water ways and canal throughout Tamil Nadu and if there is no proper assistance from the police, appropriate assistance can be taken from the military forces to remove the encroachments, the court said. The court said it is of the view that this could have been the first and best method instead of last resort and many of the court's orders are only on paper without proper implementation.

Unless drastic measures are taken to minimise water usage, the day may not be far off when the Government authorities will be forced to ration water in cities and there may be legislation for rationing of water, so also oxygen on account of cutting of trees, the court noted.

It was noticed in many places that bore-wells are dug by residents on the streets instead of within their respective areas and therefore, the local bodies must ensure that sufficient space is allotted for storage of rain water, digging bore-wells, etc., at the time of giving planning permission, the bench observed.

A study conducted by IIT-Madras, nearly two decades ago, estimated that Chennai had about 650 water bodies and more than half of them were located south of the river Adyar and at present, only a fraction of them exist and most of the water bodies within the city have vanished. All these menaces had happened on account of encroachments on water bodies, water ways, water courses and drainage channels and the Government has not shown much interest in preservation of water bodies in order to preserve its vote bank, the court said.

Unless stringent action or conducive measures are taken, the day is not far off for a "Day Zero" in our state too, as has happened in Cape Town, in South Africa, the bench said.

"Though we have all resources in our state, lack of their proper utilisation has led us to convert fertile lands into an impotent one by way of 'encroachment', dumping of solid waste etc," the court said.

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