Tamil Nadu

Hema Malini cleans Swachh Parliament, volunteers at dirty Chennai lake detained

On Saturday morning, Union minister of state for Finance Anurag Thakur and Mathur MP Hema Malini wielded the broom with great difficulty for the shutterbugs who wanted to capture them in action, cleaning an already clean Parliament House premises. Yes, some pieces of paper were carelessly strewn around for the two BJP leaders to showcase their commitment to the Swachh Bharat mission. Photos clicked, soundbites given, India had been cleaned.

2000 km away in Chennai, a group of ten volunteers from an NGO called Arappor Iyakkam planned to conduct a lake audit at Kallukuttai lake near the Tidel Park area for creating awareness among citizens on issues of garbage, sewage and encroachments. But when they were in the process of doing so, the police detained all the ten volunteers. 

“At this time of the water crisis in Chennai, the government has struck down on the people’s effort to revive waterbodies. They gave no reason as to why they were detained and taken to Hema Mahal marriage hall except to say we do not have permission. But visiting a lake is not an illegal activity. This is stifling of our democratic rights,” Jayaram Venkatesan, Convenor of Arappor Iyakkam, told Filter Kaapi

But it is not as if Arappor was doing anything illegal. It says over the last three years, its members have conducted lake audits on more than 20 water bodies. The process involves documenting the problems the concerned lake is facing and then making representations to the concerned departments to set it right. In this case, as the photographs show, the lake has been reduced to a dumping ground for garbage by both residential localities and commercial establishments, with the civic body turning a blind eye. 

Ironically, the detention took place even as the Tamil Nadu government has asked civil society to work with the administration on reviving water bodies.

Satire : Why is Chennai thirsty?

What’s more ironical is that this clamping down on a civil society initiative comes at a time when Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu are facing an acute water crisis. On Friday, a train carrying 2.5 million litres of water arrived in Chennai from Jolarpettai in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. But the distribution of water, according to news reports, was delayed by three hours because of the late arrival of Tamil Nadu ministers to grace the event and garner publicity. 

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