Sewage from scores of households flow directly into canals that were once part of an irrigation network

Once an irrigation course that spawned lush green fields, the Irattai Vaical that runs across the densely populated areas of Varaganeri and Tharanallur in the city now permeates squalor and stench along its course.

Reduced to an ill-maintained drainage in recent years, Irattai Vaical, the twin canal that takes its name from Tharanallur and Devadhanam channels flowing side by side, is fast turning into the city’s very own Cooum.

The two canals were part of an irrigation network comprising eight different channels feeding several acres of agricultural fields many years ago.

Although the Public Works Department had the eight canals under its control, they are now under the maintenance of the Corporation.

As agricultural fields have given way to urbanisation none of the canals have any fields to irrigate. But in a city that woefully lacks a storm water disposal system, they have come to serve as drainages.

The Tharanallur and Devadhanam canals branch off from Uyyakondan River and traverse for about six to eight km in the city before running off into the Cauvery River. Their entire course stand polluted now. The brackish and foul smelling sewage meanders close to houses built right on their banks. Heavy silt accumulation, garbage and plastic wastes clog their course at several places. The canal banks also serve as open air toilets for slum dwellers.

For years now, thousands of residents along the banks of the canals have been suffering in silence. Sporadic attempts to clear the silt by the Corporation do not give much relief.

“The situation is only going from bad to worse. We have no option but to put up with the stench and unhygienic conditions as we cannot afford to move out,” says Anandan, a daily wage labourer of Tharanallur.

Many of the residents living along the canals are also to blame for the situation. Scores of households along the canals let out their sewage directly into them. Sewage could be seen flowing directly into the canals from pipes put up brazenly at the rear of the houses, especially at Varaganeri.

A majority of these houses are not connected to the underground drain and the Corporation continues to turn a blind eye to the problem.

The Corporation has for long been planning to build retaining walls along the canals but has been finding it difficult to raise the resources.

The civic body is now hoping to get funds for such a project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, if the city is taken up under the II phase of the project.

A former PWD official, who had worked in the area, observes that there were a large number of encroachments along the canal. Each of the canals were about 20 feet in width decades back, but they have shrunk to just six to eight feet at several stretches in recent years, as many houses have been built on their banks.

A joint inspection should be conducted to identify the encroachments and all of them should be removed impartially. If left to the Corporation, the encroachers will only manage to get their houses assessed for taxes and get away with minor penalties, he says.