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Vol. XXXIII No. 21, February 16-29, 2024

Learning lessons the hard way at Pallikaranai

-- by Sriram V.

It was only last fortnight that we wrote about how the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had come down heavily on all kinds of encroachments at the Pallikaranai marsh. In brief, around 38 percent of the natural formation is heavily built upon, all in violation of the law. This fortnight, attention has shifted to the eco-park that the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) plans to develop on the huge dumping yard that it has been operating in Perungudi. This is also a part of Pallikaranai and the Corporation has been under pressure to close the space and leave. Discussions are ongoing as to how to rejuvenate the area occupied by the dump yard and for once we are happy to note that residents of the neighbourhood have asserted themselves.

Mind you, being a resident of the area probably means a violator, for many housing colonies in the vicinity are on marshland. There is every likelihood that these residences may also face the crowbar and axe, not to forget the bulldozer, if the NGT has its way. Each time it rains heavily, these people have been flooded in or flooded out, depending on which way you like to look at it. It is therefore no surprise that these residents have not only participated in public consultations on the future of the dump yard but have also in all probability forced a change of plan by the GCC.

The GCC, which has for years been tipping the rubbish of the city on a 225-acre plot here, has committed to the closure of the yard and has initiated biomining in it. Around 35 lakh tonnes of waste had accumulated there and much of it is being bio-mined and sent to various industrial facilities that can utilise what is extracted. The GCC had in the meanwhile asked a consultant to come up with plans for the space. And this is what was discussed at the public consultation.

In what is a sure sign of the GCC trying to change its ways, the civic body had itself rejected a plan that was based on recreational spaces and urban forestry. It claimed that it had wanted a plan that could maximise water absorption from the neighbourhood but what it presented to the public was a scheme where only 25 percent of the reclaimed marsh could be used for water, the rest being green cover. The residents have however refused to countenance such an idea, demanding that the entire space needs to be made over for water. It is learnt that the GCC has bowed to public opinion and asked the consultant to come up with fresh plans.

It seems that both residents and the GCC have learnt lessons the hard way. Repeated floods and the hardship that followed has made everyone aware of what lack of or faulty planning can do to entire neighbourhoods and there seems to be an awakening of civic sense even though it is rather belated. But are these lessons that will last for long? The GCC seems to only be keen on shifting its dump yard to a less contentious place and not bother with any better plans for handling the city’s garbage. Its plan to prevent flooding in Velachery for instance is only to dip raise arterial roads thereby endangering side streets. As for the residents of the city, awareness in Pallikaranai does not necessarily mean changes in attitude in other areas and so encroaching on wetlands, illegal constructions and cutting of trees keep happening. It is a long way before we change as a city as a whole but yes, Pallikaranai seems to be the harbinger of transformation.

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