Editor’s note: Youth Ki Awaaz and Environmentalist Foundation of India have joined hands to help save India’s water bodies. Watch this space for stories, photo galleries and ideas on what you can do to be a part of this growing movement.
My life in Chennai had always been dominated by coffee, movies and beaches. Chennai’s rivers, lakes and animals didn’t matter to me, just like it didn’t to the vast majority in the city. However, the encroachment of a pond in my neighbourhood and the aftermath has changed my life forever. An eight-year-long journey to understand my hometown’s ecology better coupled with a fascinating turn of events every day ensures the excitement to conserve what is left.
Chennai with her three rivers, 300+ lakes, marshlands, hills, coastline and scrub jungles awe-inspires me and makes me question, why we are not sensitised on the ecological significance of our cities. We have been waiting for that ‘somebody’ to be the change. I believe each one of us need to become that ‘somebody’ in conserving India’s environment; thus started my journey in the form of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) to volunteer for result-oriented conservation projects. But more on that later.
First, let me ask you a question. When was the last time any one of us, in our cities, could walk up to a natural freshwater body, and drink water from it? We have lake-view structures being built on our lakes, without a lake to be viewed. Cities like Chennai, Delhi, Coimbatore, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are fine examples of how we have exploited our urban lakes. With close to 300+ lakes, Chennai could very well be the global leader in Urban Lake Management, however, we chose otherwise. Sadly, we have ruined our freshwater sources to the point of no return. The Keezhkattalai Lake in Chennai is subject to roadside dumping of trash, Perumbakkam Lake is exploited by tankers that dump septic tank waste, Kapra Lake in Hyderabad was taken over for religious dumping and the Gangaram Cheruvu is a drain point for neighbourhood liquid waste. Bengaluru has seen instances of burning lakes. The Sanjay Lake in Mayur Vihar, in the National Capital Region is a neglected ecology right under the supervision of influential policy makers. The story ain’t different in Thane, Vadodara, Jamshedpur or Thiruvananthapuram.
The untreated and unregulated flow of sewage into our lakes, ponds and rivers is an accepted crime, committed by every single one of us. Large amounts of trash, generated by our cities, are dumped indiscriminately into water bodies, thereby creating multiple levels of land, water and air pollution. Leachate, which leaks from our landfills is polluting our groundwater sources and the permanent layer of dust cloud spread across South Asia, in the form of the Asian Brown Cloud, is congesting our lives.
In 2015, many parts of the city of the city of Chennai was wrecked havoc by floods. There were instances when the entire neighbourhood was under sheets of water and the lake in the area was bone dry. Why is this? Because all inlets leading to the lake have been built upon, thus wasting precious rainwater. It is a methodical plan to take over a water body; it looks spontaneous, however, it’s not. First comes domestic waste from a few houses, then trash on a truck, followed by construction debris. Following this, is the illegal parking of large vehicles atop the trash and construction debris. This is paired with a real estate board advertising for a property at drowning prices. Within the span of a few years, lakes that stood for thousands of years have vanished into the ugly concrete jungle.
There is, of course, one more culprit in the scheme of things – religious and spiritual debris are a major cause of concern, however, environmental voices are tagged as ‘anti-religion’. The voice is not ‘anti’ anything, it’s ‘pro’ environment. From sacrifices to plaster of Paris, idols and polythene wrapped dump, are choking our freshwater habitats. Personally, I believe that nature worship is the greatest spiritual experience and that the public needs to be sensitised on the same.
Poor urban planning has led to the concretisation and commercialisation of our water bodies. It is also a recipe for broad-daylight looting. These lakes are home to several species, ranging from amphibians, aquatics, reptiles, birds and more. Development of these freshwater bodies should be based purely on logic and science, not just on aesthetic appeal that doesn’t suit the ecology. A human-centric development is detrimental to all life forms.
Is there something we can do? Yes! In fact, several like-minded citizens in Chennai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Delhi have taken it upon themselves to restore these habitats. They are tirelessly volunteering with EFI to clean over 39 lakes in this country. The idea is to ensure real-time, result-oriented environment conservation of the lakes. Scientific restoration of India’s freshwater habitats needs to be our top priority, a common goal beyond any division.
Cause is the real hero and we are racing against time to revive these water bodies. A positive approach to cleaning and reviving these lakes is vital for a future India. Environment conservation is not just about protecting the forests, tigers and sea turtles. If we need to continue to walk on the face of this planet, we have to live by the rules of nature. You can know more about what you can do, here.
Editor’s note: Watch this space for more stories on India’s lakes and what we can do to restore them to their former glory!
Read more about Arun’s work: Meet Arun Krishnamurthy, The Rockstar Activist Working For Environmental Conservation
Featured image source: Getty