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Setting a dream afloat

BRINGING A LAKE ALIVE Volunteers at work. Photo: G. Krishnaswamy

BRINGING A LAKE ALIVE Volunteers at work. Photo: G. Krishnaswamy  

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School and college students joined members of Environmentalist Foundation of India to clean up the Madambakkam Lake this Independence Day

The lake has more garbage than water. It is littered with shards of glass, plastic, poultry waste, and construction debris; there are no birds in sight; buffaloes wallow in a strip of water at a far corner. The Madambakkam Lake in Tambaram teeters towards becoming a lifeless mass of land where water is a mere mirage. But a group of youngsters in the city are determined to save it. This Independence Day, the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) organised a 12-hour clean-up of the lake. Members of the NGO and volunteers slogged at the water body from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Madambakkam Lake is not new to EFI. They first took it up for restoration in September 2012. “We are cleaning it for the 15th time ,” smiles Arun Krishnamurthy, the founder. The lake has been divided into various patches for the clean-up. “We are working on patch 69 now,” he adds. Tucked away inside Tambaram, the lake would’ve been killed by garbage and disregard had it not been for people such as Arun.

“The Madambakkam Lake is a natural water body; it used to be an irrigation tank,” he explains. EFI found dead birds chocked by plastic in the lake’s vicinity. “We don’t understand the impact of garbage. It could penetrate ground water and come back through our pipes,” he warns.

“This lake is emotionally close to my heart,” Arun observes. “It has given me a lot of optimism.” When they came back after their initial clean-ups, they found that the patches they worked on had come to life. “We saw a lot of birds…grass started to grow and life-forms such as frogs came back.” It’s with this aim that EFI members and volunteers clean the lake — to enliven it with its life-forms and improve the groundwater level of the surrounding areas. Almost 250 school and college students sink their feet into the dried-up lake with rubber gloves, rakes and plastic buckets. They have clear-cut plans for the clean-up: the biodegradable waste, such as wood is left behind while the non-biodegradable waste is collected in trucks and taken to a landfill in the area.

There is no shade in sight, except for that provided by a patch of trees at a distance. The kids rake the loose earth; make a small mound of waste, and chuck the lot into a plastic bucket. All this as the sun beats down on them ruthlessly. Seventeen-year-olds Adithya, Hayagreev, Suraj, and Sri Ram are passing bucketfuls of garbage to be tipped into the waiting truck. “I thought I’d do something good for the environment rather than sit at home today,” says a sweat-drenched Adithya.

“What better way to celebrate Independence Day?” asks 18-year-old Vignesh, the photographer in the team. He says he “can’t just walk past a polluted lake” without doing something about it. Shankar Narayanan, an EFI member says “this is our environment. It is we who have to clean it up.” Earlier in the day, the team went around inviting the people in the locality to join them. “We announced in a loudspeaker that we were cleaning up the lake in view of Independence Day,” says Arun. But none turned up, except for two boys.

Nine-year-old Praveen is one of them. “The stench from the lake reaches my home,” he says. “This can make us sick. I’m cleaning up the lake to prevent it from affecting us.” It’s almost 2.30 p.m. when the team breaks for lunch. Seated on a log under a tree, Arun points to the ground. “If all goes well, this place will be filled with water a few years from now.”

EFI has given itself a seven-year deadline to scientifically restore the lake. They have planned to create islands inside the lake and percolation trenches will ensure that water is retained all through the year. It’s a mammoth project; one that Arun says will require the support of the government, universities, and most importantly, the people.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 7:53:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/environmentalist-foundation-of-india-cleans-up-the-madambakkam-lake/article6328857.ece

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