Chennai: A year after massive floods wrecked Chennai and left over 17 lakh people without homes, a committee of MPs has blamed encroachments of lakes and river beds and faulty town planning.
In its report, the parliamentary committeee has recommended action against the "land mafia and encroachments". But the state government's drive against illegal constructions, launched last year while the city was trying to recover from the flood, seems to have run out of steam.
The Kalkuttai Lake, which was once among the largest natural water bodies in Chennai, remains the city's biggest slum. A part of the lake was first taken over by the railways for an overhead bridge over 10 years ago. Soon after, encroachers moved in. Now Chennai's law college has its classrooms and play fields there.
"Even water bodies outside the city are being encroached upon. If some construction has to be removed, we have to do it," says Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of the Environment Foundation of India.
The ruling AIADMK government has termed encroachments and illegal constructions a legacy issue. The principal opposition in the state, the DMK, accuses the government of inaction.
"The AIADMK cannot be absolved of its liability. Last year, it didn't release the waters of Chembarabakkam Lake on time, which caused flooding," DMK's A Saravanan told NDTV.
Those living on the encroached lake bed say they have nowhere to go. 50-year-old Manivannan, an auto-rickshaw driver, has been staying there for 18 years now.
"We bought this land for Rs 18,000 after stretching our means. Now, we can't imagine moving, where will we go?" he wondered.
The sort of rain that caused flooding in Chennai last December is only months away. With illegal constructions still standing, and encroachments thriving, experts feel Chennai may be as ill-prepared for facing the rains as it was last year.