People need to chip in with govt to save Cooum, say experts

Chennai: The polluted and contaminated state of the seasonal Cooum river in Chennai cannot be ignored by anyone living here.

This river that was once as clean and useful as any other river, is now nothing but a sewage carrier and filled with garbage.

While Chennaiites cannot ignore the condition of the river and the slums on its banks, the history of how communities started developing along the river and how it first started getting polluted remains a mystery to many.

This river started getting polluted in the 17th century when Francis Day, known as the founder of Madras and associated with the British East India Company, first settled the workers of the textile industry on the banks of the Cooum to facilitate the easy transportation of raw materials.

These settlements were first set up on the Chintadripet bank. It was from here that the dyers of the textile industry let out chemical waste into the Cooum.

Though not immediately, the chemicals used for dyeing mixed with the Cooum water and contaminated it over time. In due course, various other waste was also let out into the river, damaging it permanently in the late 20th century.

Today, nearly 25,000 illegal drainage connections are let out into the Cooum. The appalling condition of the river is a hindrance to the people living on its banks as it causes a number of problems, including poor ventilation, lack of safe drinking water, flooding during rain, absence of toilet facilities and non-availability of basic physical and social services.

“We are more prone to diseases because of the presence of mosquitoes. Cleaning up the river seems a far-fetched project and I don’t think that will be possible,” said Dileep, who lives along the bank.
“It is for us to live with this polluted river as people hardly have time to tend to our needs and concerns. The government does initiate a cleaning process but it is extremely slow,” he added.

Restoration of the Cooum has been a top objective of the Tamilnadu government for many decades now. The government and NGOs have taken various steps towards the restoration of the river. The most significant one is the ecological restoration.

In 2014, the State government, through the Chennai River Restoration Trust, started a project for the restoration of the ecology of the city in three phases – phase I: Adyar Ecological Park; phase II: Eco-Restoration of Adyar Creek and Estuary; and phase III: Integrated Cooum river eco-restoration plan.
Phase III is now under implementation and they are working towards the formation of a baby canal. The most recent plan of the government is to introduce ferry service in the rivers. However, this plan is still to be executed.

Considering the high pollution levels of the river, these initiatives are not sufficient, say experts. Hence, the only possible solution is for people to coordinate and cooperate among themselves and understand the ultimate consequences that they will face owing to a contaminated Cooum.

Down centuries
In the early 1850s, the then State officials wrote letters to the government expressing their concern about the river that had just started losing its charm. These letters were compiled and a book was published in 1852 under the title ‘Correspondence relative to the improvement of the course and bed of the Cooum River’.

Article by Sharmada V & Suha Nisviya S A

NT Bureau