Dedicated development plan must for Vaigai rejuvenation

Widening of the road on the northern bank of the Vaigai in progress at Thathaneri in Madurai.

Widening of the road on the northern bank of the Vaigai in progress at Thathaneri in Madurai.   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK


Several works of ancient Tamil literature have described the Vaigai as a perennial river which used to flow through the vast expanse of the Pandya kingdom.

But now, the river is slowly giving up to the onslaught of urbanisation in the forms of encroachments, mixing of sewage, dumping of solid waste and excess sedimentation after losing its link with tanks and channels.

Currently, Madurai Corporation is executing Vaigai Riverfront Development Project under the Central government’s Smart Cities Mission at a cost of ₹81.41 crore. Under the project, two check dams have been built across the river near A.V. Bridge to help in groundwater recharge.

As part of the beautification works along the riverbanks, the civic body has also proposed development of parks with walkways and bright lights at two spots. To decongest traffic in the core city, the Corporation and the State Highways Department are constructing a two-lane road on either side of the river from Arapalayam to Viraganoor.

Concerned residents, however, say these are additional projects aimed to supplement the exponential urbanisation at the cost of the river, rather than rejuvenating and restoring its natural ecology. They say there is a need for a dedicated development plan to revive the Vaigai and sustain its functional and cultural integrity.

Although officials promise that widening of roads on either side of the Vaigai will decongest traffic, environmentalists say it will lead to shrinking of the river.

A senior Corporation official says they are extending the width of the bund roads to 16 metres from the existing 7 metres after constructing a retaining wall. “We have received a ‘No-Objection Certificate’ from the Public Works Department and as the order, we are ensuring that a minimum river width of 220 metres is maintained. Also, the retaining wall will prevent the release of untreated sewage into the Vaigai – a problem that plagues the Corporation. The wall will also help in avoiding erosion along the riverbanks,” says the official.

A PWD official, however, says in the name of economic development and urbanisation, the width of the river has been reduced from 400 metres once to 280 metres now. This can increase the velocity of the water that flows in the river and can potentially lead to flooding of low-lying areas during heavy rains, says former PWD Executive Engineer S. Suthanthira Amalraj. In this context, he cites the case of the Kiruthumal, which shrank in width at several places because of intervention in the form of a development project and encroachments. Now it has changed from a ‘river’ to a ‘sewage channel’, he adds.

The construction of check dams, which is another component of the project, has helped in increasing the groundwater level in several areas, including Sellur, Ismailpuram, and Alwarpuram, says PWD Executive Engineer (Periyar-Vaigai division) T. Subramanian. “The construction of check dams has also enabled to divert water from the river to Mariamman Teppakulam through Panaiyur channel,” he says.

In a few years, the check dams will also help in improving the deposit of sand along the river, says Mr. Amalraj. “However, the non-perennial Vaigai is currently plagued because of sewage being discharged through tanks and channels. As a result, sewage stagnates and leads to mosquito breeding,” he adds.

With the dearth of open spaces in the city, construction of parks along the Vaigai is definitely a welcome move, says S. Ganesan, a resident of Narayanapuram. “It will help in restoring the lost link that people had with the Vaigai,” he says.

However, this project does not aid the task of resurrecting the river, say environmentalists.

S. Praveen Kumar, Project Executive, Water Knowledge Centre, Dhan Academy, says there is a need to follow the wisdom of our forefathers by restoring the traditional water systems. “It is important to understand that other than the Moola Vaigai, the river receives water from a chain of interconnected tanks and channels. Hence, maintenance of these tanks is important to ensure the flow of water into the Vaigai,” he says.

At many places indiscriminate sand mining has lowered the riverbed, while the supply channels remained at a higher elevation, says former Superintending Engineer of Agricultural Engineering Department R. Venkatasamy. “This issue also has to be addressed as supply channels become dysfunctional even when there is normal flow of water,” he says.

For a non-perennial river like the Vaigai, measures must be adopted to completely arrest mixing of sewage, says Mr. Amalraj.

Mr. Praveen Kumar says there is also a need to focus on developing and regulating land use on the riverbanks and restore the riparian rights to ensure continuous flow in the river.

Corporation Commissioner S. Visakan says the civic body is taking all possible measures to arrest flow of sewage into the river. “We are constructing underground drainage (UGD) for 15 wards in the north of Vaigai river. Similarly, we are proposing to lay UGD pipelines in wards situated south of Vaigai. We are also building a sewage treatment plant near Panthalkudi channel, which drains into the Vaigai. These measures will prevent pollution of the Vaigai and help in its revival,” he says.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 10:20:19 PM |

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