Can Pallikaranai Wetland be a useful resource to face Chennai water crisis?

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Swamplands! Yes, we would have most probably encountered these sloughy wetlands through the gap between grills of the train window. These wetlands remind us of their stinky odour. The household garbage and other industrial wastes are dumped here. Pretty much, all these years they served as a dustbin. Back then, almost none of us would have known that the swamplands could actually be a water resource. Wetlands have a major role in the purification of polluted water and recharging groundwater. They also play a vital role in recycling nutrients and attenuating floods. In fact, they serve as a natural home for many species.

By the time, we understood its environmental benefits, most of the swamplands were gone already due to the concretisation, possession of lands and dumping of wastes. Now, the only existing marshland in Chennai is at Pallikaranai. But Does the wetland is in a state to face the prevailing crisis in Chennai? Let us see below

  • Area of the Pallikaranai freshwater marsh was once 5000 hectares. Over the past 50 years, it has become only 500 hectares. I.e, the area has reduced to about 1/10th of its original size. It is located south of the Adyar Estuary. Also, it is surrounded by Old Mahabalipuram Road and residential areas of Velacheri, Perungundi, Madipakkam, Taramani, Siruseri and Pallikaranai.
  • It is rich in biodiversity. It supports living of 337 species of flora and fauna. The Pallikaranai Marsh is home to 114 species of plants, 115 species of birds, 10 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, 46 species of fishes and many more.
  • Besides being a natural habitat, the Pallikaranai marshland is one of the official dumpsites in Chennai. In a total of 500 acres, about half of the area is occupied for dumping city’s garbage. Every day, Chennai Corporation dumps about 1500 tonnes of waste there.
  • Rampant urbanization took place. Construction of research centres, educational institutions, restaurants, IT parks, Shopping malls, Flyovers, etc leads to the destruction of marshland. The industrial water sewage is being dumped into the marshland. Also, A large scale sewage treatment centre located at Alandur releases 32 million liters of untreated sewage into the marshland. Thus the water quality of Pallikaranai basin is at an undesirable condition.

  • This dumping of wastes has resulted in leaching of heavy metals in the marsh. I.e Metals like chromium, zinc, lead, manganese, cobalt and cadmium has its traces in the waters of marsh making it unsuitable for either drinking or irrigation purposes. It is ironic that the land which is supposed to purify polluted water has become the most contaminated.
  • The SIPCOT Environmental Monitors Group revealed shocking results after analysing an ambient air sample in Pallikaranai wetlands. They found that the surrounding air was contaminated as well and contains about 15 chemicals which have already exceeded the safe health standards. Three of those chemicals are known to cause Cancer in humans. Thus the contamination has affected the flora, fauna and has the potential danger of affecting humans.
  • Last year the Forest Department and the Water Resource Department had involved in the removal of debris from Pallikaranai marshland. Yet that didn’t have a major impact on the purification of marshland as the dumping of garbage continued as usual. Recent research made by Anna University revealed that the swap emitted 8.4 gigatonnes of methane every day!

Today, we are facing a terrible water crisis. At this instant, the government has to take steps to restore Pallikaranai marshland. Also, the public has to co-operate with the government in order to save the swamp.

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