The state of lakes and waterbodies of southern India: Threats, Challenges and Opportunities

Date: February, 29, 2016

Venue: Alliance Francaise, Puducherry

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in collaboration with ‘All for WATER for All’ jointly organised a one day meeting on ‘The state of Lakes and Waterbodies of Southern India: Threats, Challenges and Opportunities’ on 29 February, 2016. The objective was to discuss the poor state of lakes and waterbodies of India which are dying due to threat of urbanization. ‘All for WATER for All’ includes local NGO like Pondycan, UNESCO, Governments of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Auroville, French Consulate in Puducherry, media etc. This forum brought together around seventy participants from different genera-academicians, researchers, government officials, activists, advocates and journalists. People have come from Madurai, Nagercoli, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bengaluru to be a part of the event.


Experts from different parts of south India came together to discuss the reasons of major urban floods in India. The meeting was divided into two parts – in the first part, experts presented case studies from cities of south India which are affected by urban floods. The second part had panel discussion where the panelists discussed the reasons of urban floods, the threats of urbanization and probable solutions. 

The speakers and panelist include Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment; Dr. A Vaidyanathan Former Member, Planning Commission; Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai; Dr. Jasveen Jairath, Save our Urban Lakes, Hyderabad; Dr. T. V. Ramachandra, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru; N. Venkatesan, Dhan Foundation, Madurai; Aravindan Govindassamy, Sebadugai Nanneeragam, Puducherry; Dr. R. S. Lal Mohan, Conservation of Nature Trust, Nagercoil; Leo F. Saldanha and Bhargavi S. Rao, Environment Support Group, Bengaluru; V. Radhakrishnan, Puducherry Water Resources Organisation; T. K. Ram Kumar, Advocate, Chennai; Probir Banerjee, PondyCAN, Puducherry and Architect Suhasini Ayer, Auroville Design Architect, Auroville. 

The meeting started with a welcome note by Probir Banerjee and an overview presented by Chandra Bhushan. Dr. A Vaidyanathan briefed about the current problems faced by water bodies nationwide. CSE had analysed the effect of urbanistion on the waterbodies in India and its consequences; the output of the analysis has been documented. The document will be released as E-book soon by CSE. The copy of this E-book called “Why Urban India Floods”, which is a joint effort of Down to Earth and Water Policy Team got released during this event by Chandra Bhushan, Dr. A. Vaidyanathan and Probir Banerjee. The CSE analysis was presented in the meeting by Sushmita Sengupta, Deputy Programme Manager, Water (Policy) Unit, CSE. The main concern was shown on the detailed mapping of waterbodies, natural drainage and flood-prone areas in cities using remote sensing; and enforcement of laws strongly. Various issues were discussed and insight was given by renowned spokespersons. 

Dr Indumathi M Nambi stated about the data crisis and need of systemic hydrological and geological studies and brought into focus the engineering interventions for surface water bodies and ground water. Dr Jasveen Jairath discussed about the poor state of waterbodies in Hyderabad and lack of government interest in resolving the issue. Dr T V Ramachandra talked about the close association of urbanization and human population with the flood events in Bengaluru. The talk gave a very intense overview about the involvement of human in creating urban floods. N Venkatesan gave an overview about the status of waterbodies in Madurai and focused on the lost wetlands and lakes due to urban expansion, delinked network, pollution and catchment loss. He also talked about the river walks organized by local NGOs as an initiative to sensitize citizens. The future water demand in Pondicherry was discussed by G Aravindan. 

In the post lunch session, the legal frameworks in protection of waterbodies were discussed. Leo F. Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao gave an insight over the existing laws and the drawbacks and loopholes in the existing laws. They stated the more focused involvement of government and quick enforcement of protection acts and reforms in bureaucratic system. V Radhakrishnan said that the groundwater resource in Puducherry is over-exploited and emphasize over the proper water resources management. T K Ramkumar speculated the details of Wetland protection laws and other ground water legislations and stressed on the urgent focus over the legislation on construction/repairs/maintenance of irrigation in Tamil Nadu. 

The panel discussion which took place in the last part of the session took into account all the relevant points of the day long discussion. The panellists were Chandra Bhushan, Suhasini Ayer, Dr A Vaidhyanathan, Leo F. Saldanha and T K Ramkumar. The point that came out in the discussion was that the urban planners cannot see beyond land and the urban waterbodies are only regarded as holes on the ground, lucrative real estate for builders or the last resort for slum dwellers or garbage dumps. The other panelists talked about the judicial interventions and citizen movement to upgrade the status of lakes, wetlands and waterbodies in India. The workshop ended on the positive note to sensitize the people about the very important component of nature and come up with a lot more participation from the government machinery and local people.