Sulur Lake, 18 km from here, is known for the myriad birds which nest in its marshes.

There are fears that due to pollution and tourism, the numbers of these birds may decline. There are allegations that untreated effluent is let into the lake.

Sulur Town secretary of the CPI (M) S.V. Palanisamy says that the effluent treatment plant (ETP), in operation since 2003, has not been functioning since early this year. “About six months ago more than 1000 kg of fish washed up dead on the banks of the lake.”

Sulur Town Panchayat Chairman S.S. Ponmudi (DMK) explains that small fish had died when the state highway was widened, before the World Classical Tamil Conference in June. “The water level had to be reduced while the walls beside the road were reinforced. The heat and lack of water killed some small fish, but the big fish are still thriving,” he explains.

He adds that 10 lakh fish were brought to the lake last year, to promote fishing. Their population is now stable. Regarding the ETP, he says, that the Public Works Department (PWD) has been asked to repair it.

“We are introducing underground drainage for which a second ETP is needed. I was told by R. Ilangovan, Executive Engineer of the Water Resources Organisation (WRO), PWD, that the latest equipment costing Rs. 5 lakh is available. We've submitted a proposal to the Collector and expect the ETPs in a month,” he adds.

“I had orally complained to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), a month ago, about industries dumping effluents in the lake. We are advising units not to dump,” he stated.

Environmentalist C. R. Jayaprakash, an Assistant Professor in a private college, says that near- threatened species like Spot billed Pelicans, Painted Storks and the Oriental Ibis, come to the lake. They nest on the islets in the lake or the palms on its perimeter.

“Two islets were destroyed to facilitate boating activity in the western part of the lake. There are fewer pelicans now, compared to last year,” he says. He adds that after palms were felled for widening the state highway between the eastern and western parts of the lake, Little Cormorants too have decreased.

Former chairman of the town panchayat S. R. Thangavelu says that the seasonal migration of certain birds to the lake reduces when the water level is high. “It is easier for them to fish in shallow waters. Birds now flock to some of the lakes in Coimbatore which have been cleaned up.”

He adds that for the last 30 years, agriculturists of the area have voluntarily given up using lake water for irrigation. This has kept the groundwater levels high. No one hunts birds here either.

“We need to de-silt the lake. This will raise water levels which will improve boating and benefit 1000 acres of agricultural land around the lake. We will request the Chief Minister to grant this,” states Mr. Ponmudi.

According to District Forest Officer I. Anwardeen, the lake is not the best place for wildlife. “Fishing and lotus cultivation disturb the wildlife. The lake is polluted, but the situation is usually better when it rains,” he explains. He adds that migration of birds varies across years and, any shortfall in bird numbers cannot be linked to boating alone.

Rains have been good this year and tourists are coming for boating. Only time will tell if this holds true for the birds too.

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