Over the past few weeks, motorists on the Velachery bypass have been witness to a curious sight.
A machine that resembles a farm harvester, fitted on a catamaran, has been removing massive mounds of water hyacinth from Velachery lake.
The ‘Kiran Cleaning Machine,’ as the contraption is called, is the brainchild of N. Devaraj of Erode and marks a radical shift from the usual way of removing water hyacinth from lakes — pulling the floating mass of vegetation by ropes and hooks to the shore. A college dropout, Mr. Devaraj spent months researching, designing and fabricating the device. Government officials, who were intrigued by the potential of the machine, decided to deploy it on a trial basis and for the past 50 days, the machine has been removing the vegetation without a hitch, Devaraj said.
Mr. Devaraj runs a ‘lathe pattarai’ (traditional workshop) and also owned a fish farm. It is while operating the latter that he first encountered the problems caused by water hyacinth. “It chokes reservoirs and dams. The hyacinth covers the entire water spread of lakes and rivers and even comes in the way of power generation as it blocks the pipes and turbines,” Mr. Devaraj said. The hyacinth also speeds up evaporation of water.
But it was the death of a couple of tourists last year that spurred him to work in earnest on the device. On January 9, 2012, the tourists were washed away when water was suddenly released from Bhavani Kattalai Barrage on the Cauvery at the border of Namakkal and Erode districts. The water was released in order to flush out the hyacinth that had choked the sluice gates of the barrage.
Mr. Devaraj said he had spent nearly Rs. 25 lakh on the machine. “I spent several months working on it. A few of my friends also helped. Once the machine was ready, I approached officials and gave a video presentation. They were impressed and sought a live demonstration,” he said.
PWD officials said that they were meeting day-to-day expenses for fuel and manpower for the machine. A final call on using this machine elsewhere or creating a prototype could be taken only by the State government. Officials added that the lake, whose original expanse was over 200 acres, was now reduced to a patch of 75 acres.