Chembarampakkam Lake is at risk since the proposed site lies on the head of the lake on the flood plains, say residents

This frail man can barely get up from his bed. Visitors need to use a hand sanitizer so they don’t give him an infection. He had a bypass operation last year, he explains, and since then, has had post-operative complications. Until 10 days ago, he was unable to even sit down. R. Elango’s main concern however is whether he would be able to continue the battle against the solid waste management facility proposed to be set up in his village — Kuthambakkam. “The fight is not just about saving grazing lands but about saving Chembarampakkam Lake, which supplies one-fourth of Chennai’s water needs,” says Mr. Elango.

The lake is at risk since the proposed site lies on the head of the lake on the flood plains, which means that water from there will flow directly into the lake. Since the lake is so close to the proposed site, the Corporation may not be able to ensure that the run-off from the plant will not reach the lake, especially if there are heavy rains, Mr. Elango insists.

When the Government’s own expert committee — the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board — has rejected the proposal, why is the government going ahead with it, he wonders. The TNPCB in its report notes that the habitations of Paravatharajapuram and Kuthambakkam Samathuvapuram are 250 m from the proposed site. There’s a small pond, 600m away, which is the drinking water source for Mullakattai village. Rainwater collected over this area reaches Chembarampakkam Lake. “In view of this, the site may not be a suitable location for establishing a Municipal Solid Waste management facility,” the TNPCB report says.

The report also states that access to the site is narrow and 2.5 km from the National Highway.

Though the Corporation insists the site will not be just a dumping yard but a scientific waste management facility, Mr. Elango is not convinced. He says that considering the factors that have to be in place for such a mammoth project — source segregation, organic waste disposal, plastic recycling, ban on thin plastics, e-waste and biomedical waste separation and disposal — he does not think the civic body can pull off what it is promising.

The Madras High Court in 2009 issued a stay on the project stating that State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) had to clear it and said that people’s opinions must be taken into account. In case the SEIAA dismissed the proposal, the Kuthambakkam panchayat could approach the government to cancel the proposal.

A chemical engineer by training, Mr. Elango says that the fight at that time was a scientific and a legal one. If the proposal was reopened and the SEIAA gave environmental clearance, he was unsure if anyone would be willing to take up the fight with the same gusto.

“Fighting the government is a big issue and I don’t know if it is even possible now. Instead, the panchayat should plead with the government to dismiss the project,” he says.

Following the stay, the villagers dug trenches on the approach road and pulled out the fence and pillars that marked the construction site so that the lorries would not come in to the area, one of the villagers Koti said, pointing to some trenches in the path.

The Anna University Institute of Remote Sensing is conducting a study to test the yield of water from the area. According to Professor Ramalingam, director of the Institute, they were still conducting field tests and the results of the report would be published in the next couple of months.

Corporation officials say they are still in the process of identifying a company which will undertake the project and a concrete proposal can be finalised only after that.

Workshops:

Pdfs of presentations made at Clean Chennai @ Home workshops in Adyar (Sep 7) and Nungambakkam (Sep 8)

Composting by Navneeth Raghavan

Garbage segregation by Navneeth Raghavan

Managing garbage effectively by Srinivas Krishnaswamy & Preethi Sukumaran

Here is a quick guide to start composting and recycling: http://thne.ws/cc-fridgesheet

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