Open spaces to be the greatest casualty
The dwindling of Chennai’s open spaces may well be among the top performance criteria that will pull down Chennai’s rating in the ‘Liveability Index’ study to be conducted by the Centre for 140 Indian cities this month.
Chennai’s land-use patterns have changed over the years. There is more built-up area now. “Chennai’s green cover has reduced by 36% between 2001 and 2017,” says Prem V., a researcher with Care Earth Trust.
Open spaces such as barren land, crop land and fallow land have taken a beating. The main reason is that legally, fallow land that has not been cultivated for more than five years can be sold as real estate, says Mr. Prem.
“In the Greater Chennai Corporation, there is no crop land left; and only very small patches are left in the Chennai Metropolitan Authority, such as Pazhaverkaadu,” he says. Crop lands often act as natural wetlands and can support fauna.
That urban ecology is not factored into the city’s planning is a huge problem, says Jayshree Vencatesan, managing trustee of Care Earth. “Generic templates are used in urban constructions and these don’t work well everywhere,” she says, adding that the need of the hour is for the state to engage with trained urban planning experts. “Chennai does not have a biodiversity profile,” says Ms. Vencatesan. “Ecological characterisation has not been done, which is why buildings are permitted on river banks and beaches,” she adds.
The results of such permissions are evident. A. Gnanavel who has lived on the banks of the Velachery lake all his life, says he has seen steady deterioration in the state of the lake. “The water was sweet and we could drink it. Now, the lake is filled with plastic and sewage,” he adds.
A few kilometres away, a dry patch of the Pallikaranai marsh opposite Kamatchi Hospital on the Thoraipakkam-Pallavaram Road is devoid of birds and this worries avid bird-watcher Sherjin Joel. “The pelicans and the flamingoes have moved to another side. The number of buildings that have come up in even a protected area like Pallikaranai is shocking. The government should take this more seriously because this could also affect groundwater levels and in turn, water availability in the city,” says Mr. Joel.