None to stem the tide

A canal that can carry floodwaters across seven kilometres is blocked due to neglect in Virugambakkam.

A canal that can carry floodwaters across seven kilometres is blocked due to neglect in Virugambakkam.  

"We have lost faith in the civic authorities. They squander the tax-payers' money for populist projects."

THE FLOODING after a single spell of rain has made Chennai residents look at their immediate neighbourhood with greater interest. Some of the badly hit areas are dry again, and they would tend to forget the problem until the rains come again.

Others, who have been working for long-term solutions, don't have much to cheer about. Such as the residents of Sayee Nagar and adjoining areas. Sewer lines, which would have otherwise emptied the sullage into the nearby Virugambakkam canal, are overflowing as the canal is in spate and there is hardly any movement of water.

While the authorities blame the rain for the severe water logging in the city, residents of the affected areas point accusing fingers at the civic authorities for their plight. The Chennai Corporation and the PWD did not clean the city waterways and drains in time which could have, to a great extent, prevented large-scale flooding, they contend.

Those living along the banks have reduced the canal to a garbage dump. Moreover, wild growth all along the stretch has made free movement of water impossible. Encroachments on both sides in the form of huts as well as concrete houses have further compounded the problem - a telltale sign of years of neglect by the civic authorities.

For about 14 years now, the Virugambakkam canal has not been desilted or cleared of wild growth. Efforts by the residents of Sayee Nagar and the adjoining areas did not lead anywhere as the authorities were indifferent. "We have been running between the CMDA, the PWD and the Corporation for getting the canal cleaned. Every time, we are given hope but told categorically that the work can be done only when there are funds available," says S. Punitha, president of Sayee Nagar Women's Civic Exnora.

Sayee Nagar, Natesan Nagar, Venkatesa Nagar, Chinmaya Nagar, Vedha Nagar and the adjoining areas have suffered one of the worst flooding during the rains. Many of the residents had to shift to some other locality as the rainwater mixed with sewage entered their houses. To drain the water out, the residents of Sayee Nagar Annexe employed cleaners on Sunday to remove garbage and wild growth from the canal, which have been deposited on the roadside. "We have lost faith in the civic authorities. Devoid of any accountability, they squander the tax-payers' money for populist projects," said a resident of Sayee Nagar Extension.

The seven kilometre long canal originates from the Virugambakkam Tank and passes through Nerkundram, Saligramam, Virugambakkam and Arumbakkam before emptying into the Cooum near the Chetpet causeway. The Rs. 300-crore city waterways cleaning project of the PWD had included the Virugambakkam canal in its fifth package which also covered Velachery canal and other drains at a total cost of Rs. 9.6 crores. Tenders for the work were released globally and a Malaysian concern was awarded the contract. But the work had to be postponed by 18 months as the Metrowater had to redirect its sewage network which was connected to the canal after the Kulasekarapuram pumping station broke down. The Malaysian firm refused to take up the work after 18 months and hence, work is yet to begin.

The PWD officials said after a directive from the Chief Minister, a proposal for a loan was sent to HUDCO and the sanction is awaited.

The delay in execution of work will only further enrage the residents of the city who are directly affected by it. With Mayoral elections coming up, the question is, will the government take such projects forward, though it may be late to generate a flood of goodwill?

By Saptarshi Bhattacharya

Photo: K. Pichumani

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