It is no secret that water bodies in the southern suburbs of Chennai and the rest of the neighbouring districts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur are affected by the onslaught of land grabbers and real estate sharks.

Water bodies in the city’s immediate suburbs have fallen prey to the twin problems of pollution and encroachments. A case in point is Gowrivakkam Lake, a water body that is crucial to recharging the ground water table for the benefit of the residential localities around it.

The lake’s original expanse was nearly 10.4 hectares or around 27 acres. Encroachments that began about two decades ago, have considerably shrunk the lake to just about 15 acres, according to long-time residents of Gowrivakkam, an ancient hamlet and now a constituent of the Sembakkam town panchayat of Kancheepuram district.

 Residents said the lake was the principal source of irrigation for farmers principally cultivating paddy, other cash crops and vegetables. The first encroachments began about 20 years ago. Since then, hundreds of unauthorised structures have come up, in the water spread area apart from on the lake bunds.

 Reporters, who visited the lake on Tuesday following complaints from residents of new encroachments, were told that in the past couple of weeks there were attempts to create housing plots in the dry bed of the lake. The residents, who did not want to be named for fear of vindictive action from land sharks, pointed to the construction rubble being dumped in the water spread area.

 According to them, the rubble was being dumped by lorries in the early hours. Attempts by residents to stop the activity had proved futile, they said. Elaborating, the residents said that gullible families paid anywhere between Rs. 2 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh for a piece of land from about 430 square feet (one cent) and 2,400 square feet (one ground).

 Elected representatives of the Sembakkam town panchayat said they did not have the power to pull up the land sharks as the lake, measuring less than 30 acres, was classified as a ‘minor lake’ and was hence under the maintenance of St. Thomas Mount panchayat union (also called St. Thomas Mount development block).

 Officials at the panchayat union said the issue was raised during the monthly meeting for the review of encroachments in water bodies under the Kancheepuram district administration. Staff at the Sembakkam village administrative office said no enumeration had been done so far to identify unauthorised structures on the lake.

 Some of the occupants of the unauthorised structures said they had been living in rented huts on the lake bunds for the past 10 years, after they had shifted from other areas of Chennai, especially Saidapet, during the State government’s drive against encroachments, especially along water courses.

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