“The total area of the Vandiyur lake has shrunk from 640 acres to 577 because of encroachment”

Inadequate maintenance has resulted in heavy siltation of the 640-acre Vandiyur lake here and the lake is no more able to store water. People in that area say that the situation has forced them to spend extra money to buy water from outside.

“Nearly five lakh people living in Gomathipuram, Thendral Nagar, Anbu Nagar, VOC Nagar, Vandiyur, Melamadai and Tahsildar Nagar depend on the lake water. With the dwindling water supply from the lake, we spend at least Rs.4,000 for water every month,” said D. Raghavan, an employee of Canara Bank and a resident of Gomathipuram.

Mr. Raghavan said, “In 1996, the lake was desilted by the Public Works Department following a flood. From then, several residential associations made representations to desilt the lake periodically but no action has been taken. Community management of the lake can only revive it. The lake should be desilted on a war-footing,” he said.

In a bid to redress the grievances of the public to the Government and to restore the lake, around 15 residential associations from the surrounding areas of the lake have converged under the recently formed Federation for Vandiyur Tank Water Development (FVTWD).

“We want the lake to be declared as a water storage point. There is an acute shortage of water in Madurai. Madurai Corporation does not supply water to most of the areas surrounding the lake. Ironically, people who moved near the lake hoping to have better supply of water are facing the worse crisis now”, said M. Sheik Dawood, president of FVTWD.

“The Centre has allocated Rs.15 crore and the State has allocated Rs.50 crore in the budget to rehabilitate water bodies. We hope the Vandiyur lake is rehabilitated and made to meet the basic water requirement of the public in Madurai,” he added.

According to him, the total area of the lake has shrunk from 640 acres to 577 acres because of encroachment.

“The depth of the lake was originally 24 feet. Now it might be only around 3 to 4 feet. In a few places, the lake is higher than the road level,” he rued.

Citing the proposal of the corporation to declare the lake as a tourism development water body at a cost of Rs.60 crore, Mr. Sheik said fulfilling the basic requirements of the public is more essential than beautification of the lake.

A study published in the Asian Waterfowl Census of India-2007 states that nearly 500 species of birds, including a few endangered species, visit the lake every year.

Spot-billed Pelican, Darter, Painted Stork and Greater Flamingo are a few endangered species published in the study. The others include Little Grebe, Grey Hereon, Yellow Bitter, Chestnut Bittern and Comb Duck.

“This year, we have only three months time to desilt the lake before it rains. Apart from enhancing the water storage capacity of the lake, we can also declare the lake as a bird sanctuary considering the huge number of bird species that visit the lake,” said M. Tamildasan, an employee of Cipla and a resident of Melamadai.

Youth show interest

Besides the involvement of residential associations, the youth living around the lake show keen interest to rehabilitate the lake. Around 50 youth, including Mr Tamildasan, went on a cleaning drive in the lake last month and removed a vast extent of hyacinths

“We are planning to conduct such activities more frequently in order to create awareness among the public. Our next activity will be to clean the plastic waste”, he said.

The discharge of effluents from hospitals and commercial establishments around the lake was stopped following a High Court judgment in 2004. However, open defecation and urination continue to pollute the lake.

“People living in Melamadai and areas such as Gomathipuram defecate in the lake. This has to be stopped”, said Mr. Tamildasan.

A study by academicians published in the Journal of Chemical, Biological and Physical Sciences in 2012 showed the amount of ammonia, phosphate and nitrate in the lake was higher than the standards of the World Health Organisation. The higher level of ammonia and phosphate indicated sewage pollution, whereas the level of nitrate indicated pollution caused by chemical fertilizer, said the study.

“We are aiming to take our grievances to the government and get them addressed. If that does not work, the government should give us the liberty to rehabilitate the lake with the help of the public. Workers under MNREGS scheme could be roped in to desilt the lake. Or they can impose guidelines based on which, the public could mobilise funds and rehabilitate the lake ourselves”, said Mr Sheik.