Bengaluru: The Chetpet Lake in Chennai has always been a pretty sight—a seemingly placid pool of water bang in the centre of a concrete jungle. Until you smelled it, that is.
The 15-acre lake, which has been heavily encroached upon and inevitably turned into a dumping ground, was a cesspool of sorts for many years.
“It really was in a bad shape,” says Chennai-based engineer Anieesh Krishna. “Filthy, full of garbage, completely unhealthy to hang out around that area.”
According to the Centre for Science and Environment’s website on rainwater harvesting and lake revival, the environmental department of the state identified the lake, along with 12 others, for ecological restoration in 2005.
“The lake was full of sewage; huts had encroached all around it; hospital waste was being discharged into it; it was clogged with weeds,” said T. Sundaramoorthy of the CPR Environment Education Survey, which undertook the first survey in 2005.
A detailed study was commissioned, which was followed by the state government appointing the Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Finance Services Limited to prepare a detailed project report.The 2007 report envisaged a very different lake—a clean one with boating and angling facilities, a food court for seafood and a walkway around it for fitness enthusiasts.
Nothing came out of it until April 2013 when chief minister J. Jayalalithaa mentioned the ecological restoration of the lake in a statement in the assembly, and then went on to sanction Rs.42 crore for it.
On 28 February, nearly a decade after talk of restoring it started, the CM inaugurated the newly refurbished lake and threw it open to the public.
“This is a very positive message,” said Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmentalist Foundation of India, a Chennai-based non-government organization best known for cleaning up 17 lakes in the country, “They have been a lot of things here that are ecologically significant.”
The ecological park that abuts the water body will definitely end up becoming a crowd-puller. It has three angling decks, fishing equipment, a boat-riding option, a play area for children, a walking/jogging track, multi-level parking and food facilities.
“We are really fortunate to have something like this now,” said Krishna. “This is right in the centre of the city.”
But can this model work across Chennai and other Indian cities such as Bengaluru, which has seen many of its lakes turn into sewage tanks in recent years?
“I don’t think all water bodies should be commercialized this way,” said Krishnamurthy, who is now gearing up to clean up Hebbal Lake in Bengaluru. “It doesn’t matter so much in this case as Chetpet is a commercial area and it is unlikely to have great biodiversity, but we can’t use this same model on the other lakes in this city.”
According to him, every lake is an entity in itself and needs to be looked at differently.
“To do it scientifically, we need to understand that every lake is a different ecosystem,” he said, adding that large scale community-led initiatives are the best way to tackle the lake crisis.
“Local participation really helps. Most of our projects are driven by this. Also, today’s youth are more aware and ready to contribute to the environment: I’m sure the cities’ water-bodies will be better in 15 years.”