13 tanks declared abandoned are puddles of stagnant water where garbage is dumped daily

Scroll down the Facebook page “Namma Madurai” and you will see it is filled with posts and pictures from its 10,000-odd members highlighting what the city has to offer.

While some members have uploaded pictures of monumental wonders and various sights and sounds, there are also posts about upcoming events and newspaper clippings of civic issues and general happenings.

An online petition to the Collector titled “To restore water bodies in and around Madurai” has been doing the rounds over the last few days.

“After coming to know about the online petition provision and the reach that it would have, we started spreading the word about many water bodies in the city which need to be revived,” says Christopher Pandian, one of the members of the group who initiated the petition.

With just about 100 signatures at present, the petition is slowly drawing public attention. “This is a common cause and we want to create an impact,” he adds.

Despite around 800-ft bore wells having been dug at Anna Nagar and Gomathipuram, there has been no sign of water. Most residents have been forced to shell out a sizeable amount for water tankers despite the presence of water bodies in the surrounding areas.

“The water bodies should have a good retaining capacity. This can be done by increasing the depth by de-silting them and maintaining the length, breadth and height in the case of a pond, which is critical” says S. Rajamohan, Managing Director of Enviro Care, an environmental organisation. None of the water bodies has its original capacity to retain water due to poor maintenance, he adds.

“This will help in groundwater augmentation which, in turn, will recharge the water table and help reduce scarcity in areas around a water body,” he points out.

The Vandiyur lake, one of the few sources for drinking water, now lies dry, which is visible from the Vandiyur Lake Walker’s Association Park. No de-silting has been carried out at the lake since 1994. It is a source of water for the surrounding areas, including Tahsildar Nagar, Gomathipuram, Thendral Nagar, Anbu Nagar and VOC Nagar.

“Growing grass for cattle feed has become very common here,” says Sheik Dawood, president of the Federation for Vandiyur Tank Water Development.

“In the mornings, it isn’t unusual to see around 20 people cutting grass here. This is encroachment since it is not allowed, but we haven’t been able to stop these people from cultivating on the lakebed,” he adds.

Many tanks that include the ones at Bibikulam and Sellur have now become dumping grounds for garbage.

“While nearly 13 tanks have been declared abandoned, they have become puddles of stagnant water where garbage is dumped daily,” says J. Kanagavalli, programme head with the Dhan Foundation, who has worked on projects involving the preservation and restoration of water bodies.

“This allows mosquitoes to breed, leading to the spread of disease in areas around these tanks,” she says. Officials and experts call for proper maintenance of the channels that lead both in and out of these water bodies, especially during the monsoons.

“For groundwater augmentation, the inlet and outlet channels need to be maintained well and work is under way both by us and the corporation for the upkeep of these channels,” said a Public Works Department official.

“We can further help maintain tanks that are used for irrigation. Bigger tanks like the one in Madakulam are still providing water to farmers in that area and we are working to periodically keep these tanks free of encroachments,” he adds

While stormwater drains, which act as carriers of rainwater to these tanks, carry a fair share of garbage that is dumped in them, sewage lines too find their way to channels leading to the water bodies.

“If you look at the colour of the water in most of these tanks, it shows a gradual change over the years which indicates that the water is polluted,” Ms. Kanagavalli says.

“The residents of areas which have tanks should make sure that they don’t pollute the lake in any way,” she adds. While strict measures need to be adopted to cordon off tanks that have been declared abandoned and keep the channels functioning, the onus is on conservation of the bigger ones like the Vandiyur and Sellur water bodies.

The recent protests by the residents of Sellur to de-silt the tank and get rid of encroachments on its banks show that awareness of the need to protect the water bodies is growing.

“There should be a strong initiative by the Government and the community to come forward to save these water bodies,” says Mr. Rajamohan and adds that people should take a leaf out of the Coimbatore-based NGO Siruthuli’s initiative, which mobilised nearly 8000 people who saved the Periyakulam lake in Ukkadam.

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