The relocation of residents living along the Cooum River is just one of a gamut of problems plaguing the waterway.

For the eco-restoration of the river, abuse to it — letting in of untreated sewage and dumping garbage — has to be prevented.

See infographic at left.

Several residents and representatives of various NGOs, who voiced their views at a public consultation on the restoration of Chennai’s waterways held on Thursday, said that if residents are relocated, their new homes must be close to where they are presently living.

Venugopal, a resident of Kannagi Nagar said: “I was evicted from Pudupet in 2009. Now, six of us live in a small flat. There are no water facilities, schools or health posts. Many of us travel several kilometres to go to work in the city.”

Instead of mass relocation of residents to distant places that lack basic amenities, the government must either plan for the provision of alternative housing in the same area or relocate people within a 5-km radius, said residents.

The meeting was organised by the Chennai River Restoration Trust for suggestions to prepare a master plan for the Integrated Cooum River Eco Restoration Plan. Participants raised objections over the project description, saying it was sketchy and lacked information on surveys. The description was provided by LKS India Private Limited, the consultant appointed to prepare the master plan.

Participants also said the work to clean up Cooum River had been shoddy and that silt had not been removed from the river banks. The river continued to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, said Saraswathi of Pallavan Nagar.

Many previous projects suggested over the last few decades have not taken off, and the river remains polluted despite the government having spent several crores in efforts to restore it. Former IAS officer L.M. Menezes recalled a programme devised for national rivers in which most funds were siphoned off. Chennai Metrowater continues to be one of the major polluters by letting in sewage, he said. He also pointed to the absence of representatives of government agencies involved such as the Chennai Corporation.

Participants like Singaram charged that the funds sanctioned for the Chennai City River Conservation project were not used properly.

Representatives of various NGOs suggested that the details of the draft master plan for restoring the river be made available at public places too.

Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman said the project must focus on providing proper housing for residents instead of more footpaths and cycle tracks. They must also be involved in the monitoring mechanism of the cleaning up of the river. Large institutions encroaching upon the river must also be surveyed, he said.

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