Why Chennai’s rivers are still so polluted

Remember the Chennai City River Conservation Project that was launched with much fan fare? What has been the progress? Why are the rivers still in such a bad state? Why are there many thousands of people still living on its edges adding to the filth that flows into them from the sewers? This article from the Deccan Chronicle of June fourth makes it very clear why this is so:”Lack of coordination among various government departments appears to be one of the main reasons for little headway made in containing pollution of the city’s waterways. This is because at least 18 different departments are responsible for the maintenance of the city’s waterways! Of which the main are the Chennai Corporation, Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, the Public Works Department and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board which monitors their pollution levels.

While the Public Works department is responsible for overall maintenance of the five main rivers Cooum, Adyar, the Buckingham Canal, Otteri Nullah and Virugambakkam Canal over a length of 65.92 kilometres, the Chennai Corporation maintains 16 smaller waterbodies over a length of 27.92kilometres which lead to the city’s main rivers. The Chennai Metro Water Supply & Sewarage Board (CMWSSB) is responsible for letting treated sewage into the rivers.

“When garbage is dumped or sewage is let into one of the rivers, which government department should we complain to?. Every time we call up one department they say it is not part of their jurisdiction,” said Mr T Murali, a resident of Virugambakkam. The CAG report for 2005-2006 gave lack of coordination between various departments as the main reason for the failure of the Chennai City River Conservation Project to clean up the rivers. Experts and concerned residents recommend an independent body that will be responsible for periodical monitoring of the level of pollution and plugging their source.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has failed to pull up the departments concerned for the pollution of the water bodies which continues despite several schemes. So an independent monitoring body must be set up which will include citizens groups among its members. They should periodically check the waterways for the quantity of sewage they carry.

A reporting system through which any resident can call up officials and complain of pollution through garbage or sewage at any particular spot could ensure transparency in the process,” said Ms Karen Coelho, assistant professor of Madras Institute of Development Studies. Ms Coelho also pointed out that the recent urban development plan also did not spell out any plans to improve infrastructure or capacity of the treatment plants and said the state government was not serious about dealing with the pollution of the waterways.

Environmentalists note that city’s polluted waterways have become a ‘cash cow’ for the state government to invite Central and foreign funding. “There is no dearth of money or technology. Crores of rupees have been pumped into cleaning the waterways and there has been no improvement”, they say”.

That’s because the civic bodies in Chennai are so divided that not much development of the city can get done.
For development of our roads, rivers, electricity, buses, water, sewers and telephones, the plans have to pass through a bureaucratic web called Chennai. And Chennai is made up of 16 municipalities, 20 Town Panchayats, 214 villages comprised in 10 Panchayat Unions, 1 Cantonment and the Chennai Corporation which has 155 wards divided up into 10 zones. Officials in these administrative offices can often not work together and therefore progress slows down. Or doesn’t move at all!

Most alarming, the Master Development Plan doesn’t seem to have any provision to improve infrastructure or the capacity of the treatment plants! Where does that leave us hapless citizens?

8 Comments so far

  1. Nivas (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

    Every time I cross couvam or Adyar river i really feel bad for their sad state…nobody cares about this…i still can’t digest the fact that Government is not taking a single step to clean the rivers…and this is being goin on for many years…
    How can a government be so irresponsible…for so many years…


  2. tsk tsk (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

    If u cant clean it up, or desilt it… then atleast make it into a 8 lane intra city expressway

  3. Kokki Jacobus (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 8:59 am

    Well, obviously our government allots a higher priority to giving away free colour TVs than this.

  4. Anonymous Ruler (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

    Hey david,
    Your question is like hitting us below the belt. It is unfair. The cooum river cleaning project is our cash cow. Every year we allot some amount to clean the cooum. If it is clean how can spend money on cleaning it. We have to keep it polluted to clean it. So that’s the game.
    We also pollute and destroy the lakes around chennai, so that chennai has acute water shortage. Then we will try to solve the problem of water scarcity by building grandiose projects like Veeranam and Moon Water Desalination. We will try and choose the most costliest way to serve the citizen so that our earnings will be high and we can figure in Forbes billionaires list every year.

  5. JoeV (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 3:00 am

    How dare you question the people working for this govt on this issue.
    Its up to the ‘Supreme being’ to care of pollution.
    Those govt people are there in those offices just to pass time.

  6. Anand Palaniswamy (unregistered) on July 13th, 2007 @ 5:58 am

    It is extremely sad and depressing to see the Cooum and Adyar in its current state and David’s article only makes me even more pessimestic.
    It would be such great pride for Chennai if the two rivers which run right through the heart of the city were made clean and if efforts were made to develop the banks of the rivers too, so people can actually appreciate the riverside.
    There are so many great and beautiful cities in Europe on the banks of rivers. We (or should I say our politicians) should take a leaf out of their book. The Adyar and Cooum rivers should be transformed so as to enhance Chennai rather than be an eyesore and a garbage dump.

  7. SUNIL (unregistered) on July 21st, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

    I agree with the views expressed. Seems like the people in power (the Govt.) is not wholly interested in actually finding a solution. ONLY NEWSPAPER ADVERTISEMENTS AND PROJECT PROPOSALS… continue. LET’S BUILD A NETWORK OF HIGHWAYS OR TOLL ROADS ALONG THE RIVER BANKS CRISSCROSSING THE CITY.

  8. S Harish (unregistered) on July 29th, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

    The slum dwellers who live on the banks of the river constitute a major vote bank. The politicians won’t take any effort to evict them or improve their standard of living. Even if the slum dwellers are allotted a house by the housing board, they rent it out and return back to the slums on the river-side. I wonder how they live in such filth and stench. Their living condions are so pathetic and even basic amenities are lacking. Ironically almost every one of them possesses cellphone and TV (with cable connection) and some even DVD player and each slum area has a fan club!
    How shall this problem be addressed?

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