The Government and NGOs initiated a movement, but the people made it theirs. The author finds out what went into the desilting of the 320-acre Ukkadam Periyakulam in Coimbatore

The history

The Ukkadam Periyakulam or Coimbatore Big Tank is part of the Coimbatore Anicut Channel. It belongs to The Noyyal River system, which has 20 anicuts and 28 tanks in Coimbatore District.

The Big Tank receives surplus water from the Selvachinthamani tank located in the upstream. It has a tank bed area of 320 acres and a storage capacity of 70 mcft. This tank used to brim with water, but silting, dumping of garbage and the proliferation of shrubs reduced its water capacity by a third.

Public Drive

The Coimbatore Corporation, district administration, Siruthuli, Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC) and the Vijayalakshmi Charitable Trust joined hands for the desilting initiative at the Big Tank. They decided to involve the public in the drive. And, how they came! For four Sundays, at the crack of dawn, people trickled in by the hundreds, lined up, shovelled mud into chattis and carried them to the designated bunds.

Students, defence personnel, entire families, retired folks… they all came in to do their bit for a city they loved. A lady sang, drummers kept the energy levels up and others supplied refreshments. They were doing just a part of the job; the machines did the rest. But, those Sunday morning sessions left them with a deep sense of responsibility and ownership for the lake.

Work on the tank started on May 7, 2013 and got over on June 9. The karseva started on May 20 and went on for four consecutive Sundays.

While work on the Big Tank was going on, the 1.5-km-long canal from the Noyyal in Perur to Periyakulam was also de-silted. This was why the tank filled up when the rains lashed the city in July and August.

Corporation Commissioner G. Latha says that public participation in any activity will lead to positive results. “They will understand its importance better,” she says.

Logistics

The Vijayalakshmi Charitable Trust deployed six Poclains, 11 tipper lorries and three bulldozers to desilt the tank, to create four islands for planting saplings, and to strengthen the bund. Hundreds of labourers spent two months on the job.

The result? A clean lake bed and a smooth 5.5 km-long and 30-ft-wide earthen walking track around the newly desilted lake. The rains lashed the city soon after this effort, and the lake shimmered with water again. The fishes were back; so were the birds.

What Next?

Fencing of the entire 5.5-km-long bund. The NGOs involved with the project have told the Corporation they are willing to fence the northern side of the Periyakulam. Clearance is pending because of the proposed Ukkadam flyover project. Ultimately, they want to create a walkers’ path around the scenic tank. R. Raveendran of RAAC says they also plan to plant around 300 saplings on the bund. Once the logistics (esp watering) are in place, work will begin, possibly in January.