Published: 18th November 2017
How Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is getting IIT students to clean up Chennai's water bodies
With a six-step process in place, this initiative wants to engage volunteers and the community to revive the water bodies of Chennai
Either droughts or floods have plagued Chennai in the recent past and the key to solving both problems lies in the management of its 423 water bodies, which include lakes and temple ponds. They have been polluted, encroached upon, silted, turned into sewage disposal bodies and what not.
With this belief, Namma Ooru Namma Kulam, an initiative under the Art of Living Foundation was kickstarted on May 28 this year by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. "But the preparation to acquire the required approvals had started last year itself," says Sekar Satagopan, who is the Head of Social Projects in the districts of Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram. While in talks with the Corporation Commissioner and Chief Engineer of the State, the four-member core team conducted a survey of 70 ponds and found that 63 needed attention. After procuring the approval letter in April, they started their work with full gusto.
Before vs after: Picture depicting the difference after cleaning
We try and get local, influential people to form pond conservation groups, which helps in sustaining this programme
Sekar Satagopan, Project Head
The group follows a six-step process to clean the pond, which they achieve with the help of a 400-member-strong volunteer base, which sometimes even pulls in the money, like in the case of Nalla Neer Kurram in Madhavaram. The pond, which literally translates to ‘good water’, was a drinking water point about 20 years ago, Satagopan informs us and until recently, it was full of silt. The corporation too threw its hands up and cited lack of funds as the reason. That was when the volunteers stepped in. "After all the treatment processes, the pond looks like an infinity pool itself," says an emotional Satagopan, who found the gesture very heartwarming.
Cleaned up: Madhavaram Pond is now a sight to behold
But the buck does not stop at just cleaning. Unlike beach clean-up drives, where volunteers clean the beach weekly and come back the next week to possibly an even dirtier beach, their vision is sustenance. "We don't only want to transform the city, but also transform people, to sensitise them," says Satagopan, which is why one of their steps also involves community awareness and stakeholder participation. Not only do they plan on performing street plays and folk songs to spread the word (he tells us that a theme song is underway too), but they constantly try to innovate as well. A few ways they've done this is by creating small islands in between larger ponds, "which helps with maintaining the biodiversity," fencing, creating walkways, planting trees around the lakes - all so that "people can start using the ponds for the right reasons once again," establishes Satagopan.
Go green: The type of trees that are planted around the ponds are Neer Maruthu Palm, Redwood Pungai and Naval
They seem to be taking all the right steps as not only do they have 35 dedicated volunteers from IIT Madras, more than 50 from SRM and many more, and the word is spreading to other states too. The districts of Thanjavur, Hyderabad and Bengaluru have already approached them. And again, Satagopan reiterates that the reason behind this initiative is because it has the potential to solve a number of water problems.
The six-step process
To improve the water quality the use an eco-enzyme prepared from fermentation of vegetable and fruit peels with jaggery and water over 90 days
To increase groundwater storage and and groundwater recharge
Physical cleaning and fencing
To clean ponds which are otherwise full of plastic waste and more, and secure the water bodies
After desilting and more, to increase the green cover and reduce soil erosion trees are planted
To help with sustenance and community care
To help in the seamless execution and scaling up the process
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