Retteri lake has been one of the biggest blessings for many households in the areas around Madhavaram and Kolathur and provides a cooling effect to these surroundings during Chennai’s scorching summers. But the neglect of the lake during recent times has residents of these areas seriously worried about the future. While many other lakes have got a facelift and revived focus on maintenance, this, despite being one of Chennai’s largest lakes, has not got the attention that it deserves. The residents of these areas have been fighting against the encroachment of the lake and for better maintenance over the past few years.
Importance of the lake
The Retteri lake, a key water body in the area, is maintained by the Public Works Department. The lake has come to the city’s rescue on several occasions, including during the severe drought faced by the city, even helping residents in other areas through supply of water from the lake. The health of the lake is important for groundwater recharge and availability in the region.
It is also a haven for many species of birds which make the lake its home. The Asian Open Bill, Common Tailor Bird, the Purple Rumped Sunbird and Storks are some of the birds you will see if you just take a leisurely stroll around the lake.
Problems of encroachment and dumping
The lake which once spanned 700 acres has lost at least 100 acres in recent times to encroachments. The land has been swallowed indiscriminately by growing real estate. This has actually taken place over many years, through the inclusion of small parcels of the lake bed in new layouts in its surroundings, that were eventually built up on. This has persisted despite protests from citizens in the area. The buffer area, which is usually left untouched around the lakes in order to carry out maintenance work, known as ‘kudimaramathu’, has also been occupied in the case of Retteri Lake.
As the value of land has risen in these parts in recent times, the encroached land is worth crores at present. Despite various representations made by the residential associations against the slow occupation of land around the lake, there has been no concrete action against the encroachers.
There is also the issue of dumping of sewage into Retteri Lake. Many sewage treatment tankers that traverse the two arterial roads of 200 Feet Ring Road and Grand Trunk Road have been found dumping their loads into the lake, in gross violation of law. Dumping causes marked deterioration in the quality of the water in the lake and affects the recharge of groundwater due to pollution.
Suggestions to improve Retteri Lake
The promises of the past must be kept by the authorities and those in power. As citizens, we are hopeful that the encroachment around the lake will be checked and measures to reclaim the land will be taken.
There is no better time than now when a new government is in place to act on this long-pending issue. We have received a positive response from our local MLA from Madhavaram. We hope that the fact that Kolathur is the Chief Minister’s constituency, and the past support we have received for our efforts to improve the area, would help restore Retteri Lake.
As it is there are very few open spaces for kids to play in the area. With COVID-19, many have realised the importance of open, public and accessible spaces. Development of small parks around the lake area is feasible and will greatly help in providing safe spaces for children of the locality to play in. Improvements to the walking and joggers’ path around the lake will draw more people and lead to enhancement of overall safety in the area.
Creating a boating spot, as promised initially during the tenure of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, would also help the area. It could be developed along the lines of Muttukadu. This would bring tourism and some revenue to the area and help local business.
Any efforts to rejuvenate the lake’s surroundings will have a domino effect. Desilting and deepening the lake would improve its holding capacity and this would serve as insurance against water scarcity in the future.
We have seen the slow loss of many lakes in the city, but undertaking such measures here on priority can save the Retteri Lake, that is an integral part of the life of people in this community. Lakhs of people in Kolathur, Madhavaram, Kallikuppam, Vinayakapuram, Ponniyammanpuram all consider the Retteri lake as the heart of the community. It is absolutely imperative to save it from further encroachment and degradation.