Focus on official apathy

Print edition : December 11, 2015

OPPOSITION parties in Tamil Nadu lambasted the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government for its failure to desilt the rivers and other waterbodies and strengthen their banks and bunds, which they said was the primary reason for the devastation caused by the recent floods in many districts.

K. Balakrishnan, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of the Legislative Assembly representing the Chidambaram constituency, said both the present government and the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government had failed to pay attention to the development of basic infrastructure and were “interested only in distributing freebies to the people”. He said, “Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced in the Assembly in 2014 that Rs.40 crore would be allotted for desilting the Veeranam lake, but the process has not even begun.” Veeranam irrigates 44,856 acres (one acre = 0.4 hectare) in Cuddalore district and supplies drinking water to Chennai. The lake’s storage capacity is 1.45 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft). “But now its storage capacity has been reduced to 0.935 tmc ft because of heavy silt formation and amorphous growth of weeds and plants on the waterspread. Nobody remembers when it was desilted last,” he said.

The police lathicharged farmers who staged a demonstration in early November demanding the release of Veeranam water for irrigation. Officials declined to release water as they did not have the permission from the higher authorities to do so. However, when the lake reached its full reservoir level (FRL) of 47.5 feet on November 8 after torrential rains hit the district, 4,000 cusecs of water were released into the Velliyankaal canal without sounding an alert. The gushing waters engulfed villages and farmlands in the vicinity leading to massive damage to property and crops, Balakrishnan said.

He pointed out that when Jayalalithaa, during her previous term in office, laid the foundation for the Chennai Water Supply Augmentation Project-1 in Cuddalore on February 2, 2003, to bring Veeranam water to Chennai, she had assured the ayacutdars that only part of the surplus water, to be made available by raising the storage level of the lake, would be taken to Chennai. She promised the farmers that the lake would be desilted and its storage capacity stepped up, and that they would get more water. “The truth is that not only did the farmers not get extra water but irrigating the farmlands has become a big problem now,” he said.

Balakrishnan said the Chidambaram-Kattumannarkovil canal was also not desilted. “The flood channels of various rivers in Cuddalore district have silted up, lake bunds are found breached and sluices are in disrepair.” The Veeranam Ayacut Farmers’ Association leader Ilankeeran said although the government had allotted Rs.44 crore more than three years ago for desilting the lake, no steps had been taken to begin the process. Had the lake been desilted, the inflow into it could have been stored and water wastage could have been avoided. He blamed official apathy for the recent flooding.

Dr. S. Ramadoss, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder, said it was “irresponsible” to let out water from the Veeranam lake when the flood waters from the previous spell of rain in early November had not receded.

M.K. Stalin, DMK treasurer, fired salvos at the Jayalalithaa government. The government was on record that it had spent Rs.600 crore towards flood prevention. “Where did these works take place? If they had taken place, why is there so much of damage from the floods?” he asked. He demanded a white paper on the Rs.600 crore said to have been spent on flood prevention projects.

Tamilisai Soundararajan, president of the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said, “It is painful that the government, which fixes the target for sale of liquor by TASMAC [Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation] outlets, failed to devise methods to prevent flooding,” she said.

Encroachment of waterbodies had led to a situation where rainwater was no more beneficial to the people.

G.K. Vasan, Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) chief, said since the banks of the Sri Vaikundam dam in Tuticorin district had not been desilted, only 25 per cent of the water flowed down the channels. This resulted in several lakhs of cubic feet of water ending up in the sea. He said the government should appoint a committee to find out how much surplus water from the Cauvery, the Vaigai, the Kundaru and other rivers was draining into the sea and take action on the basis of its report. Vasan said the government should remove all encroachments around waterbodies after the monsoon ended. Water should be conserved by desilting, deepening and widening rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies.

Rivers in the State should be linked. More reservoirs should be built. Check dams should be built wherever necessary and the State government should take proactive measures and ensure that residential houses, schools, colleges, government offices, and industrial establishments had rain-harvesting systems in place, he said. E.V.K.S. Ilangovan, president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC), and Ela. Pugazhendi, students’ wing secretary of the DMK, also blamed the Jayalalithaa government for the rain havoc.

T.S. Subramanian