There is no amphibian vehicle whirring under one’s nose, but the smell of raked-up earth, soaked in murky waters for an eternity, hangs heavily in the air.
Two conservancy workers going about their workaday tasks on Nerkundram Road observe desilting work was carried out on this section of Virugambakkam Canal.
The Virugambakkam Canal is under the PWD’s watch. Diametrically opposite the entrance of Lion’s Chinmaya Medical Centre, a JCB bearing Greater Chennai Corporation’s name is parked, its engine kept idling. The machine’s giant rake faces a small mound of earth, deposited on the road. The smelly mound carries offscourings. Strands of water hyacinth are stuck to the rake.
This JCB reportedly would scoop the earth on to a lorry tasked with ferrying the muck away, one of the conservancy workers volunteers the information.
Later, a Greater Chennai Corpation (GCC) official reveals that the civic body is carrying out a de-weeding exercise on the major sections of the Virugambakkam Canal, ahead of the PWD’s routine annual desilting exercise.
The GCC official notes the PWD had worked out an estimation of the desilting work which would likely be executed soon.
“Using a robotic excavator, the Corporation is carrying out the de-weeding exercise proactively as in the event of any flooding of surrounding areas, it only would suffer,” says the Corporation source.
While this prominent section of Virugambakkam canal, which flows through what is called the Chinmaya Nagar bridge on Kalliamman Koil Street, seems to be benefitting from a desilting exercise, parts of the canal tucked away from the glare of attention seem to be waiting peevishly for their turn.
It is eons since the Virugambakkam Canal flowed clean as an agricultural canal. Even the desilted section wears the unmistakable colour of sewage, only a bit lighter. Sections of the Canal meandering through the interiors wear darker shades of black-grey. Taking the section of Chithirai Street as a representational case, the official explains the canal in the interior sections have been found to move water quickly, and so those sections can be left alone.
“On Chithirai Street, there could be flooding only when the canal overflows through a gate where the robotic excavator can enter it. Based on inputs from our our higher official, a small brick wall has been raised to check any overflow. There are two other gates for entry of robotic excavators, where we plan to try out the same measure,” the official says.
From time to time, residents of neighbourhoods rubbing shoulders with the canal have raised their voice for a cleaner canal. They have also been invested to the point of forming monitoring committees, as in the past they have faced the issue of murky waters flowing on to the roads running along the canal. Virugambakkam canal covers a larger surface area and services more areas (as a stormwater carrier) than its name would suggest. It is sometimes used in conjunction with another locality — Virugambakkam-Arumbakkam Canal — which does greater justice to its significance.
S Arumainathan, president, Virugambakkam Residents Welfare Association, weighs in with an observation. He says the Chinmaya Nagar bridge was widened as part of the larger work on Kaliamamman Koil Street, but one wonders if the bridge could have been widened further.