Puducherry’s major lakes suffer from neglect, exploitation

Spectrum of apathy: From left, untreated sewage flowing into Kanakan lake; the Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Research Institute on the lake shore is a key polluter; and, the dry Ossudu lake on the outskirts of Puducherry.

Spectrum of apathy: From left, untreated sewage flowing into Kanakan lake; the Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Research Institute on the lake shore is a key polluter; and, the dry Ossudu lake on the outskirts of Puducherry.  

While silt deposits are the bane of Oussudu lake, Kanakan lake suffers on account of untreated sewage and industrial effluents

While the Oussudu lake, an important waterbody located on the city’s outskirts is bone-dry due to lack of desilting, water in the Kanakan lake, which is brimming with storage, has become unfit for use, thanks to the indiscriminate release of effluents and untreated sewage into it.

Both lakes present a sorry spectacle as the government has shown a very discouraging neglect in maintaining them.

For the first time in 80 years, the Oussudu lake has gone dry. Large dry-patches have appeared on the lake and all major channels that feed the lake, which has a water spread of over 820 hectares, both in Puducherry and the neighbouring Villupuram district remains heavily silted.

Feeder channels

“The government has not done anything to make Oussudu live again. For any lake system, the first priority should be to clear and desilt the feeder canals and allow rainwater falling in the catchment area reach the lake. Priority should have also been accorded to removing encroachments in the “Varathu Vaickals” or channels that bring water to the lake.

Encroachments in the feeder canals have not been looked into and most of the major channels have been heavily silted. Desilting of the lake is a bit of a tricky affair and should be taken up only by those having a fair and deep understanding of the lake. Too much of desilting could puncture the lake bed but selective desilting to create dead storages would support birds and fish to a great extent,” said T.P. Raghunath of Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry.

“Oussudu lake is a hallmark of Puducherry and such a vast waterbody was maintained during the French regime with utmost care and caution. In fact the Puducherry government gave importance to proper maintenance of the lake from the point of tourism development but over the years the lake has been left high and dry much to the embarrassment of the local residents. The lake can be utilised as a source of drinking water for the whole town. But the formation of silt in this lake is an eyesore and the neglect on the government’s part is heart rending,” said S. Nadarajan, a senior citizen.

The Kanakan Lake has become a depository of pollution as untreated waste water from IGMCRI and effluents from industries in Mettupalayam are directly released into the lake. Spread over an expanse of 12 hectares, the lake has a total capacity of 4.85 million cubic feet (mcft). Though the lake still has water, it remains heavily polluted.

Untreated waste water from the medical college is being released through three concrete canals while the waste from industries directly flow into the “Oora Vaickal” before mixing into the lake.

According to K. Ramamoorthy, president of Sembadugai Naneeragam, a Puducherry-based environment organisation, “The lake’s total area has already shrunk to half its original size. The medical college was built on the lake and a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) has also come up on the waterbody despite stiff resistance from the locals.”

Despite protests by various organisations, the Pubic Works Department went ahead and finalised the lake as the ideal location for setting up the STP in 2010. With the growth in population and urbanisation, the STP will be further expanded. The lake has now become a stinking cesspool of sewage and is slowly dying, Mr. Ramamoorthy added.

The government’s plan to promote eco-tourism in the lake by introducing boating is only a ploy to divert attention from its pathetic state.

The pedestrian friendly pavements and plantation of trees at the periphery of the lake would serve no purpose as the waterbody is polluted, he said.

Community conservation

“PWD has a large army of daily-rated labourers who are all paid with public money. But still PWD does not make use of them. The complete alienation of the community organisations like the registered tank user associations is another big mistake though the PWD is fully aware that it is only the communities who can take care of these issues in a sustainable manner,” Mr. Raghunath said.

At Kanakan Lake, the tank user association has been taking efforts to clean up the water hyacinth. But the strangest case of locating an STP within the water body can be found only in Puducherry. There are only few options if the government is serious about saving these waterbodies. It should bring back the water user associations and by all means stop the dumping of wastes. Creation of decentralized and reed-based bio-filtration systems to filter sewage water is the need of the hour, Mr. Raghunath added.

According to V. Chandrasekhar, president, Bangaaru Vaickal Neeraadhara Koottamaippu, Puducherry had 87 irrigation tanks and 1,000 ponds when the French handed over the territory to the Government of India. “Modelled on the historical Kudimaramathu scheme, the French had an efficient management system which was subsequently institutionalised as the Syndicate Agricole and Caisse Commune system carried out through participatory processes.

“However, in the 40 years since the management of the waterbodies was entrusted to the Local Administration Department and the Public Works Department, three tanks have been completely encroached and urbanised beyond retrieval,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said.

Puducherry has 84 tanks and more than half of the ponds had been encroached and the land gobbled up by realtors, thanks to a nexus among politicians, realtors and officials. The city now has only 500 ponds left and it is time the upkeep of these waterbodies was handed over to the Eri Sangams to protect them, he added.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 1:30:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/puducherrys-major-lakes-suffer-from-neglect-exploitation-oussudu-kanakan/article28090648.ece

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