People living around Porur Lake, located on the
southwest outskirts of Chennai, are up in arms over their rightful share of
water from the lake.
Severe water scarcity and deteriorating ground water
quality compelled them to take this step, as uptil now they were using groundwater only.
However, over the years, the unregulated release of sewage and garbage both by the locals
and the city has adversely affected the water quality.
The lake is under the Metro Water Boards
jurisdiction. So, the locals suggested that treated water from the lake could be supplied
to their two overhead tanks, constructed by the board a few years back, at the cost of
five crore to store Krishna water -a scheme that never materialised. The board has turned
down their demand arguing that "Porur residents can be supplied water from the lake
only after the city has received its share." Ironically, the very existence of the
lake is a non-issue for the moment.
F Ahmed 2002, Porur Residents Claim Rightful Share From Their Lake, The Hindu,
Guardians of lakes
As state bodies in West Bengal battle over the need to protect urban water bodies (see box: The Clash), it is the
members of the civil society who have actually emerged as the guardians of these urban
waterbodies. Their mechanisms vary from mobilising community-led action to seeking the
Vasundhara, a non-governmental organisation is actively encouraging and mobilising the
local communities to protect 3,000 urban water bodies. (for details:
ww.vasundhara.cjb. net). All these waterbodies are under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata
municipal corporation. Their major achievement is not only removing the encroachments from
the 8,500-sq m of the water body at Jheel Road, near Jadavpur railway station in south
Kolkata, but reviving it. It all happened when in March 1999, the concerned residents
formed the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti that generated a huge public support for the
ponds protection. Later, the municipal authority also extended their support.
Together, they not only brought the pond back to life, but 13 affected families were also
For past three years, Vasundhara has been celebrating June 16 as the wetlands day to
generate awareness among the people. Impressed by their efforts, the Central Pollution
Control Board has entrusted Vasundhara with the task of developing a management plan for
protecting the ponds of Kolkata.
In May 2002, the state environment department proposed a West Bengal Protection
of Large Ponds Act that would allow the filling up of urban water bodies for
development. To counter this proposal, which negated the provisions of the existing
Fisheries Act disallowing their killing, the Fisheries Department, proposed a
third amendment to this Act. To resolve the conflict, the chief minister intervened, and
announced the drafting of an umberalla act, which would protect all urban waterbodies.
On the other hand, the Howarh Gantantrik Nagarik Samiti
(HGNS), an NGO, approached courts for readdressal, when their protests (198084)
failed to make an impact on the state. After fighting a six years long legal battle, in
September 2001, the High Court banned the filling of ponds in Howarh region. The
responsibility of enforcing the order was given to the respective police officers. Another
public interest litigation to protect Rabindra Sarobar is still going on.
In West Bengal, the people are on guard, protecting their
waterbodies from any imminent danger.
Rescuing isolated wetlands
A report released by the US Fish and Wildlife Services
(USFWS) in June 2002 reflects the efforts of several state governments to protect isolated
wetlands (IWs), which had lost federal support following a January 2001 Supreme Court
directive. In May 2001, Wisconsin was the first state to pass the state law for preventing
the filling and dredging of IWs.
The problem surfaced when the court ruled in favour of a
group of northern Illinois communities, who wanted to build a solid waste facility on a
533-acre site comprising a number of ponds used by migratory birds. As a result of
this decision, both the US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal authority in charge and
the federal states, lost the authority to protect million of acres of IWs, nationwide. The
courts decision was based on the utility perspective of the IWs, as these water
bodies have no apparent perennial surface water connection. However, they are crucial in
maintaining the regions ecology.
In Wisconsin, a number of such water bodies were filled
within the first five months of the ruling. The citizens and lawmakers decided to act by
transferring the responsibility of protecting one million acres of IWs in the state from
Corps to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Thus, effectively restricting the
impact of the ruling.
The USFWS report has come to the rescue of the IWs, by
emphasising their role in countrys ecosystem and issuing an urgent call for their
protection,at the national level.