Curb encroachments to avert flooding: experts

CHENNAI Nov. 13. If the Government is serious about preventing flooding of areas in Chennai and other key Tamil Nadu towns, it will have to initiate firms steps to stop encroachments on lakes, tanks and ponds; utilise the Geographical Information Systems, satellite imagery and other technology tools to study the natural drain systems, and then involve the people, including encroachers, for removal of structures which choke canals and drains, say planners and urban experts.

Officials should review the method by which the revenue officials, including tahsildars, issue land titles without a public scrutiny of the process.

The ability of encroachers, who enjoy political patronage, to obtain `pattas', only points to lack of vigilance in revenue offices, especially in bigger towns.

As for Chennai, the experts say the metropolis first needs a city government, which can be made accountable for civic problems. Right now, Chennai has civic governance only on paper. Unless the city council, as mandated by the people, is activated, and all executive agencies including the police and revenue machinery are brought under its full control, nothing can alleviate the people's woes, note the experts.

A senior academician in the Anna University's School of Planning says the State Government should follow the example of the Salem Corporation, which is considering buying high resolution contour maps of the city from Indian Space Research Organisation to improve its water and sewerage plans. Thus the Government will have to incur only a small portion of what it spends now on flood relief and alleviation.

Another academic notes that over a year ago, an official agency wanted to build a shopping complex near the lake at Turaiyur (Tiruchi district), but the Public Works Department raised objections, despite the planners telling it that the lake would not be affected. But the same department remains blind to this day, to groups putting up lorry cleaning sheds in the lake. In Chennai, a similar situation occurs with thousands of squatters sitting along the Cooum.

As the Town and Country Planning Act is not seriously enforced, including civic infrastructure, the drains and sewers, crumbles, leaving the poor at the mercy of rain and floods. Prof. Arunachalam, who has nearly 30 years in urban planning in Delhi, says the only solution seems to be convincing the encroachers to give up some space to provide for flood flows.

A flood alleviation project for Chennai, costing over Rs.250 crores, is in limbo due to bureaucratic and legal tangles. The money sanctioned remains unutilised, because in mid-2000 the then Government said the project was being stopped ``temporarily'' to give time for Metrowater to arrest the flow of sullage into the city water systems. In effect, the multicrore project has only helped to desilt a few kilometres of the Buckingham Canal. The project, started after a public outcry against constant flooding of Mylapore, has not been taken to its logical conclusion.

M. G. Devasahayam, managing trustee of SUSTAIN (an NGO), says angrily: For a city with nearly 70 million residents, no governance exists.

In all democratic countries worldwide, the city council, with the directly elected Mayor as the head, is in charge of all administrative wings and agencies including the police.

Here, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, Metrowater and the Corporation function independently, and are under Government control.

The only way out is revitalising the city council, with an elected Mayor, who can control all line agencies and thus can be made accountable for civic issues.

Another step he suggests is to bring all nearby municipalities, town and village panchayats in the metropolitan area under a Greater Chennai Municipal Corporation, so that major problems of the so-called suburbs can be attended to scientifically.

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