Kenatha Kanom! Kenatha Kanom! Who can forget actor Vadivel’s comic sequence in the film Kannum Kannum, where he lodges a false complaint about the disappearance of his open well. The joke soon became a rage because, again, how can a waterbody go missing?
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Shockingly, it can.
Just like the seven ponds that have disappeared on the Chennai Tiruvallur Highway (CTH) Road. Over the years, these ponds have been steadily encroached upon by citizens and various government departments, including the Greater Chennai Corporation and Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB). There was a time when children along with adults fished at the water lily-filled ponds here; women drew water and lit lamps during festivals, many spent their leisure time sighting birds and senior citizens walked around the ponds every evening. These scenes from 30 years ago remain vivid memories for the locals, but the water bodies are now largely barren lands with small scattered pools of water.
“Land values have skyrocketed at this part of North Chennai; a square feet costs Rs 9000. All the big names in real estate are eyeing the land here. So naturally, like in other parts of the city, encroachments are rife on the water bodies,” said Doraiswamy R, a long-time resident of Mogappair, off CTH Road.
Tracking the destruction
Based on records from the revenue department, this is a list of the ponds that are fast disappearing:
1. Nameless pond, Survey no: 28 near Sirupillai Cemetery at Padi — The 0.47-acre pond is encroached by many establishments including a marriage hall. The Madras High Court, in 2015, had ordered the Tamil Nadu government to evict the encroachers and despite the court issuing two more orders to the effect, nothing has changed. “The encroachers also enjoy a Metro water connection. The court had ordered the concerned departments (Chennai Corporation and Revenue Department among others) to desilt the pond. The officials have not yet worked on the restoration plan,” said Padi N Shanmugam, a senior citizen, who has been fighting the cause for more than three decades.
2. Mettukulam, Survey no: 306/2 — Of the 2.72 acres of the pond located at Padi, over 1.5 acres have been encroached. It may be noted that the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board has allocated houses to 10 families with a clause stating, “If the district collector doesn’t give the permit, the notice stands cancelled.” But despite the absence of the Collector’s permission, an unauthorised two-storied building is in the final stages of construction; it was sealed by officials of Zone 7 (of Chennai Corporation) after citizens opposed the move unanimously.
3. Nameless pond, that lies within 200 metres from Mettukulam, Survey no: 322 — The nine-acre pond is encroached by none other than the Corporation, which constructed a fish market. The fish market, inaugurated by Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami, remains closed now, following orders from the Madras High Court.
4. Nameless pond, Survey no: 99/1 — Located in Mogappair, half of this 1.2-acre pond has fallen victim to encroachments. Recently, a builder was arrested for trying to close the existing pocket-sized pool with sand. However, a lot of small and big encroachments can still be witnessed around the pond area.
5. Nameless pond, Survey no: 34 — Among the encroachers here is the famous retail showroom, Saravana Stores in Padi. The showroom has allocated parking space for its customers in the lake area. What is most shocking is that the Revenue department issued patta to Saravana Stores to do so. The Madras High Court ruled in citizens’ favour and ordered eviction. However, Saravana Stores has applied for conversion of land with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority ( CMDA).
6. Bhajana Koil street pond, Survey no: 337 — Only half-acre of the 1.5-acre pond remains untouched. Residents living in the vicinity have encroached the pond space over a period of 30 years.
7. Nameless pond, Survey no: 227/2 — This two-acre pond at Ambattur has been encroached by citizens and institutions such as Maniammai Trust.
Only a motley team of citizens such as Padi N Shanmugam are fighting it out, having made it their goal to restore the ponds at CTH Road. “These areas have a floating population, who are not concerned about local issues. A few residents who took up the matter were either bribed or threatened by the goons and police,” said Shanmugam.
The results of encroachment are profound and amply evident: Ambattur and Korattur off CTH Road are highly vulnerable, roads get inundated even after a brief spell. “It doesn’t require a scientist to confirm the interlink between the destruction of ponds and floods,” added Shanmugam.
Yet, the destruction continues with impunity. “The former Deputy Tahsildar of Ambattur Taluk has collected a bribe of about 50 lakh to let people encroach the pond space at will,” Shanmugam alleged, adding that the official still continues in service.
“It is a critical issue that requires cooperation from other government departments. We will look into the issue,” said G Prakash, Commissioner, Greater Chennai Corporation.
A close look into the pattern of encroachment raises little hope for the revival of these water bodies. But Shanmugam is optimistic. “It will be restored. If not now, in the future, for the next generation.”