Earth Day 2020: How a group of citizens revived a British era lake in Salem

A group of concerned citizens revived a British-era lake in Salem that had turned into a garbage dump

Published: Wednesday 22 April 2020

Salem, one of the largest cities in Tamil Nadu, is surround by hillocks and blessed with greenery and waterbodies. Apart from a steel plant, this city houses more than 800 bleaching and dyeing units.

The Salem Municipal Corporation has to manage 750,000 cubic metres of effluent per day released by the industry cluster as well as the nearly million-strong population. This puts the water bodies under stress.  

This led to some environmentally conscious citizens to band together in 2010. Piyush Manush, an environmental activist took the lead in the Salem Citizen’s Forum (SCF). It has taken a number of initiatives to protect and conserve the environment in and around the city, especially its water bodies.

The first waterbody that the forum took up to revive was the Mookaneri Lake. Spread across 58 acres, the lake is among the largest waterbody in the city. 

The British dug it for irrigating nearby farmlands. Over the years, as the city grew, the lake turned into a dump for Salem’s municipal solid waste. 

In May 2010, SCF secured permission to work on the lake. By then, it had started a public campaign. The forum then started to clear truckloads of garbage from the lake.

The activists successfully mobilised residents, who donated money and time. After getting rid of the garbage, they started desilting the main waterbody. The forum raised enough public contribution to hire machinery.

They used the silt to create 24 islands and planted various species of trees on them. Bunds around the lake were strengthened. Sitting spaces and a park were brought up on it.

The forum had to take on the powerful real estate lobby and negotiate with residents settled around the lake.

The lake can now hold 21 million cubic feet water. The Yercaud hills that encircle Salem is its catchment area.

The forum managed to finish desilting, creating the islands and planting trees within Rs 20 lakh.

Now, the picturesque lake is a green patch where the residents of Salem can come to breathe in fresh air and relax.

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