Cloud of 2015 over vulnerable localities

Haunted by their suffering, many residents vacate houses and move to ‘safe’ places even as they complain about government inaction

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:57 pm IST

Published - November 04, 2017 11:52 pm IST

Precautionary measure: The bund of the brimming Narayanapuram lake was broken on Saturday to permit water to drain into the Pallikaranai marshland, nearly 3 km away.

Precautionary measure: The bund of the brimming Narayanapuram lake was broken on Saturday to permit water to drain into the Pallikaranai marshland, nearly 3 km away.

As P.V.V.S.N. Reddy stood outside his rented house at Goodwill Nagar in Tambaram’s Bharathi Nagar, overseeing the loading of his belongings onto the back of a truck on an overcast Saturday morning, he was not bidding goodbyes to neighbours.

Mr. Reddy’s ground floor neighbours had locked up and left the locality at the first sign of the northeast monsoon coming to town. He was not going far: it would be a short trip to an apartment on the adjoining street. Someone on a bike waved casually as he went past and said, “See you soon.” Presumably, that person was living on the higher floors. Mr. Reddy was to join the first-floor-club later in the day.


Parts of Goodwill Nagar could be accessed only by wading through water that almost reached the knees. Mr. Reddy’s street itself had no standing water; yet he was moving. “I cannot take risks anymore. They say heavy rain is coming during November 4-5. I’m not sure if it will, but I do not want to suffer like I did in 2015,” he said. He pointed to a faint line under the most recent coat of paint on his apartment’s outer wall: it is over seven feet above the level of the road. “That’s how high the water rose two years ago. We had to leave by boat and my losses amounted to ₹5 lakh,” he said

As the rain came down and the water crept up, hearts sank in localities which were inundated two years ago. The Hindu visited three such localities to find that people’s reactions based on the memories of 2015 and their refusal to trust the government were common.

Problem areas

In another part of Goodwill Nagar, Veeraprabha Saravanan playfully chided her neighbours: “You should have told me the locality had this problem when we moved in.” She craned her neck to see past the two submerged streets that separated her from her apartment.


Her husband had dropped her and their daughter off at the last dry spot before going to examine their ground floor apartment. “We moved to my mother’s house the first day it rained. Now, I am worried water has entered our house again,” she said. A neighbour joined in. “The residents pooled in money and constructed one drain, but we clearly need more. We could also do with an insurance scheme; after 2015, some claims were approved,” she said. Mr. Reddy, an insurance agent himself, does not have a flood protection policy. “It can really be useful. I keep putting off taking one out for myself,” he said sheepishly.

In Narayanapuram nearKeelkattalai, along the 200 Feet Road, former AIADMK MLA K.P. Kandan stood over a newly-created embankment as earthmovers scooped out the last of the mud obstructing the flow of water out of the Narayanapuram Lake, which was brimming and leading to flooding elsewhere. Water, its destination being the Pallikaranai marshland 3 km away, began gushing into a pipe. Encroachments had blocked the pipe and they had been removed.

“The pipe is too narrow,” said Siva, who was afraid water wouldn’t drain out fast enough.

Mr. Siva and family, residents of adjoining Sunnambu Kolathur, had just come back from a tour of Gandhinagar. “This time, it is worse for our locality as water levels show no sign of receding. They have not desilted this canal and encroachments continue to exist,” Mr. Siva said, as swimmers in the canal pushed clumps of water hyacinth towards an earthmover to be scooped up.

At the trijunction of Gandhinagar, a canal and Sri Nagar stood J. Raja. Like the unnamed boy in Hans Brinker’s novel who plugged the leak in a dike with his finger, Mr. Raja stood, feet sinking into the clay, rearranging sackfuls of sand on a dam of piled-up rubble.

The resident of Sri Nagar bristles when asked if the day had gone better than in 2015. Sri Nagar has only knee-deep water this time. “What has the government done? They destroyed the road and used the rubble to stop water flowing into the locality. I am a software engineer and I am reduced to this,” he said.

Source of disaster

With less than a quarter of its capacity filled, Chembarambakkam Reservoir — one of the main actors of the 2015 deluge — remained on the periphery of the day’s happenings. Large groups of people visited the site; some even walked up the water’s edge to click selfies. There was enough dry land for them to stand on.

Media spotlight

“Stop, stop, stop!” shouted the news channel crew to the seven people wading out of PTC quarters in Varadharajapuram. They obliged — among them a boy on his father’s shoulders, women carrying blankets and bags and suitcases — waiting in knee-deep water while the reporter paused for his feed to go live. “This is the third consecutive year in which water has entered our homes,” said S. Yuvaraj as his neighbours were interviewed. They — living at the end of the street — were all moving to their relatives’ homes. B. Balaji and family, though, have decided to stay put, at least for now. Unlike houses down the road, water splashed at the base of the ramp leading up to Mr. Balaji’s gate. “I would like to leave like most of my neighbours, but there was a theft in a locked house two days back,” he said.

At that point, sparks flew from a utility pole nearby and everyone scrambled to get out of the water . The TV reporter, who was live on air, continued his piece-to-camera and waded out only after he was done.

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