The air hangs heavy over a neighbourhood

As sandbar removal at the Adyar river mouth is now subject to clearance, Gandhi Nagar residents are up against stench and mosquitoes

Updated - April 01, 2023 06:45 pm IST

Published - March 25, 2023 08:27 pm IST

In an age when roads carrying the prefix ‘River View” invariably overlook a tiresome piece of barren land, or worse still, a row of grouchy buildings, KP Balakumar is domiciled on one that does overlook a river. With a home staked into the extreme end of First Crescent Park Road in Gandhi Nagar (next to St. Patrick’s school), he can have an unhindered view of the Adyar river every waking hour. That however places him in a paradoxical situation where a blessing sometimes functions like a curse.

A stroll along the Adyar river is just a footstep from his living room. A neatly-carved pathway girdles the river and it is lined with flowering plants — a part of the river restoration initiative that has received many congratulatory pats on the back from Gandhi Nagar residents. However, in recent times, during the walks, Balakumar has been unable to smell the flowers as his nostrils are pierced by a more overpowering smell, one emanating from the river.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the stench was hanging heavy and nauseatingy in the air, notes Balakumar. From what he had observed, and according to his lights, the water was flowing perceptibly slowly and was also at a level lower than usual, causing the muck in the river to assume a semi-solid state.

Strong tidal action is all it takes to dilute the filth, Balakumar continues, but even during high tide, the water level has not been high enough, and the water has not been moving at a sufficient speed. Balakumar notes the riverine stench is a recurring problem, with just brief respites to look forward to.

Official clearances

Clearing the sandbars at the Adyar river mouth and thereby widening it would restore normal tidal action. But the Water Resources Department (a wing of the Public Works Department) is currently unable to carry out this regular exercise, as it is now locked in pending environment-related clearances.

“CRZ clearance for desilting the Adyar river from Thiru-Vi-Ka bridge to the mouth has been obtained. However, at the time of obtaining this clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) appointed by the MoEF said that WRD had to specifically spell out what it would do at the river mouth. Based on that, NIOT would carry out a study (pertaining to the river mouth) and present a report (on river-mouth management). NIOT has presented the report to us, and we in turn have submitted it to MoEF. The river mouth and its management have now become a separate project (based on the NIOT report), which would get off the the ground only after it receives clearance,” says a WRD official.

The WRD official notes that one of the conditions laid down by the EAC is that sand removal from the river mouth should not be carried out during the active Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting season (January to May).

A free-floating issue

KP Balakumar spotlights a related issue: Untrammelled growth and accumulation of water hyacinth close to the banks of the Adyar around Gandhi Nagar, from time to time.

Having found a gracious ally in the water hyacinth, mosquitoes are reportedly buzzing out of control. He reveals that on March 21, from Kottur bridge to Mallipoo Nagar, the waters close to the river banks was carpeted in green. On that day, the water hyacinth was being cleared with an amphibian vehicle. Reportedly, the exercise was being carried out by Greater Chennai Corporation, as it had been receiving complaints about mosquito menace from residents of streets close to that patch.

In the morning of March 25, Balakumar shared: “Around 80% of the water hyacinth has been removed. One big patch halfway towards Malipoo Nagar remains. If this is not removed, the whole thing will grow back rapidly.” Free-floating, water hyacinth can be pushed around by wind and water.

“If such clearing of water hyacinth is carried out proactively, we would not have the mosquito issue.”

As revealed by a WRD official, the government agency is unable to clear the sandbars in the river mouth, as that and related actions are subject to an approaval from an Expert Appraisal Committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Dredging work at the river mouth would improve the tidal action, and during high tide, there would be natural flushing that can noticeably take care of the mosquito breeding problem, and also prevent water hyacinth from accumulating in one place.

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