Hundreds of dedicated volunteers have taken up the task of desilting Vandiyur tank. It is a big leap towards addressing water scarcity in the city.

At the Vandiyur tank bund on Sunday morning, it was inspiration at work. Peering into the water body one could see a freshly dug furrow and a towering mound of wet clay. Beelines of men and women carried the clay in plastic baskets till the bank. They seemed to be enjoying the work they were doing. They also sang and joked but underlining it all there was enthusiasm and determination among the hundreds of students and citizens gathered on the lake bed to desilt one of the largest tanks in the city.

School going teenagers, young collegians, officers, NGOs, members of residents associations and elderly people participated in the shramdan that looked like a silent revolution to safeguard the 600-acres-Vandiyur tank which is said to be second in size only to Madakulam in Madurai district. The drive is a week old.

“The idea is to dig a channel within the tank running along its bund to connect the main inlets. In the first phase, a four-km stretch will be dug,” informed, A.C.Kamaraj, founder of National Water Department Technology (NAWAD Tech) and a member of the Vandiyur tank conservation programme. The channel that’s being dug is 10 metres wide and two metres deep and runs from Walkers’ Club to the sluice on the other side. It would connect the two main inlets from the Sathaiyar dam and Periyar Channel No.9. The tank also has several other small inflows and two big drains that culminate in the Vaigai River.

Over 18 residents associations, youth clubs and NGOs have formed The Federation for Vandiyur Tank Water Development (FVTWD) to take up the task of desilting and deepening the tank. They have pooled in money and hired JCBs to expedite the work. “For digging 100 metres of the channel, it costs almost Rs.One lakh and we have so far done half-a-kilometre length. Residents associations have donated the major chunk of the expense,” said Baburaj, a retired professor.

K.Karuppaiya of Walkers’ Club, says, “This was a long standing demand. Such a big tank in the middle of the city is a boon to the residents. But unfortunately, encroachments and neglect has lead to its sorry state.” Areas like Tahsildar Nagar, Melamadai, Gomathipuram and parts of Anna Nagar that are situated around the tank have been facing water problems for the past few years. Mohammed, a resident of Gomathipuram, says, “In the last decade, the water table has gone down by 70 to 100 feet. Almost every bore well in our area is running dry and we buy water at exorbitant rates.”

The federation aims to make the tank a water recharge source from just being a structure for water retention. “A number of percolation ponds are also being dug within the newly done channel. We have removed the clay above and there is porous soil underneath. When it rains, water can now easily seep in and the ground water table will be recharged,” says, Krishnaswamy, retired PWD engineer.

However, the dugout clay is being dumped on the tank bed itself. “This is to create an island within the lake. Also, since the government doesn’t allow the tank mud to be taken elsewhere, this is the best choice available,” says Sheik Dawood, a member of the federation. “But now we are dumping the clay on the bank so that the bund can be strengthened. The government should consider giving a hand in desilting so that the process can be speeded up. At least before the monsoon sets in, all the city water tanks should be deepened and cleared of encroachments.”

Dr.R.Muthulakshmi, NSS Coordinator of MKU, says, “We have brought in 300 volunteers from 12 colleges and we hope to bring them every week. This is a hands-on learning for students on environmental issues and solutions.” Thangam, an economics student of Meenakshi College, said she was glad that her weekend was eventful. “I am satisfied to have done something worthwhile for the society,” she said. For Venkatesh, a B.Com student of Thiagarajar Arts College, the Sunday shramdan was a kind of exercise and fitness activity and for Akash, a class IX school boy, it was a clay play under the sun!

“The Vandiyur tank is just a start. We plan to do similar work in other prominent tanks like the Sellur kanmaai and the Vaigai in future,” said Prasanna, belonging to an informal students group ‘Wake up Madurai’. “We have brought in over 50 students for the work. Our job is to speak in classrooms and sensitize young minds to the pressing issues of the society.” Tamil Dasan of Naanal Nanbargal Kuzhu, a youth organization, says, “We hope this will bring some relief to the water scarcity in the neighbourhood. We are trying to set an example so that people emulate such initiatives in their respective localities”

The Vandiyur tank desilting is a purely voluntary programme. Interested people can take part in the shramdan everyday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and on Sundays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.