World Water Day 2020 Life & Style

How a Mamallapuram lake is being revived by 23 locals

A snapshot of the revived Chozhipoigai

A snapshot of the revived Chozhipoigai   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

How 23 locals are spearheading the restoration of the 11-acre Chozhipoigai at the UNESCO World Heritage Site

When Seethalakshmi, a cashier at the Indian Overseas Bank’s branch in Mamallapuram, was approached by a group of people to open an account last year, she was pleasantly surprised. The group represented the Mallai Water Bodies Protection and Preservation Association, who are working towards reviving the coastal town’s 11-acre fresh water body, Chozhipoigai. “When I went through their documents, I decided to do my bit for the project and donated ₹10,000. I have been drinking water from this land for decades and it was time I gave back. Having worked in Mamallapuram for the last 30 years, I have seen the lake deteriorate. This project is for the betterment of our future generations and it is important we support such causes,” says Seethalakshmi, who has seen positive changes since the restoration started. “It is much cleaner now. We can finally see water in the lake and it looks ‘healthier’.”

Seethalakshmi is among several others (mainly locals) who have come forward to contribute to the project’s initial ₹23 lakh fund. The initiative began when hotelier Krishnaraj T decided to work towards garnering local support for its restoration in late 2018. By early 2019, the Association (comprising 20 members and three office bearers) was formed, and V Kittu, the secretary, was instrumental in getting everyone on board. Krishnaraj tells me that until three decades ago, Chozhipoigai was serving close to 15,000 residents and 60 acres of farmland in the region. “A majority of agricultural practices in Mamallapuram stopped by the mid 90s. My father too belonged to the agricultural community and I have seen the lake shrink. For over 30 years, it wasn’t cleaned and water has not been drawn from it either. It had turned into a marsh — covered with bushes and cacti,” says the owner of Mamalla Beach Resort.

At Siruthuli, Coimbatore
  • Over the last 10 years, founder Vanitha Mohan’s Coimbatore-based organisation has set up close to 750 rainwater harvesting systems across public places in the city. “We are working on setting up several more, especially in panchayat and corporation schools. Coimbatore has grown exponentially and rapid concretisation has reduced spaces for water to percolate into,” says Mohan, who is now gearing up to launch the Planting Partnerships project.
  • “We aim at tying up with local industries to set up a Miyawaki forest on their premises with rainwater harvesting and garbage disposal systems.” Plans are also afoot to look into greywater recycling. “We have been researching on low-cost solutions to treat sewage and use it for agricultural purposes,” says Mohan.

Timely intervention

The project also came at a time when Chennai was reeling under its worst water crisis in years. “During the monsoons, excess water drains into the Chozhipoigai,” says Krishnaraj. The committee received permission from the collector and then started the tough part: fundraising. “We approached several corporates, but none agreed to fund us. We collected ₹23 lakh — all from Mamallapuram residents — and work started in July 2019,” he says.

A 2019 image of the restoration work

A 2019 image of the restoration work   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The first steps involved clearing the marsh. “We then hired machines and deepened the lake (by eight feet) by desilting it. Between July and November, we have strengthened the banks and planted over 200 local tree varieties: nagapalam (jamun), athimaram (cluster fig), puliyamaram (tamarind), neem trees, etc.”

The long-term vision for the restoration includes constructing inlets/outlets, a toe wall (to prevent the shoreline’s erosion), a paved walkway, bringing in fish and also smaller islands within the lake. “We want to create a natural ecosystem,” says Krishnaraj, adding “We are already seeing changes on ground with many birds returning to their habitat.”

A look at Environmentalist Foundation of India, Chennai
  • Known for restoring water bodies in urban and peri-urban areas across the country, the voluntary organisation founded by Arun Krishnamurthy will kickstart their work in rural districts this month.
  • Over 20 water bodies have been identified in Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Chengalpet districts, and 21 others across Cuddalore, Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli. “Work on the 45-acre Andipalayam lake in Chidambaram began this week and will be followed by the project at Thattankulam in Ayapakkam today. Work on Ambattur’s Selliamman Pond will begin next week,” says Krishnamurthy, who has completed 108 projects across 14 States.
  • His most recent restoration projects include Alli Kulam on ECR, Chennai, Karimadom Colony Pond in Thiruvananthapuram, Nehru Nagar Pond in Chennai, and Chinna Cheruvu in Vijayawada. To volunteer, visit indiaenvironment.org

Call for funds

To ensure the project is completed, the Association requires a funding of ₹2.70 crore. “The preliminary job is done and we now need government and public support to complete it and help make this another tourist attraction in Mamallapuram. During the initial funding round, people were unaware that it has potable water, and we were questioned as to why we need to put in money for a lake that is not being used for agriculture. But now people are looking at work on-ground and understanding why such projects are important. There are about eight to nine other water bodies in Mamallapuram and if we launch similar restoration plans for them, we will be water sufficient,” concludes Krishnaraj.

Details: mallaineernilaigal @gmail.com

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 5:57:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/how-23-locals-are-spearheading-the-restoration-of-the-11-acre-chozhipoigai-in-mamallapuram/article31117748.ece

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