Stormwater drains repair on, will North Chennai be finally flood-free?

A status check on the stormwater drains in North Chennai reveals that a lot of older issues remain unaddressed in the locality.

It’s been six months since Chennai endured a devastating flood. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) claims heightened focus on completing stormwater drain (SWD) projects in the city. Notably, the lion’s share (Rs 1,321 crore) of the GCC budget was allocated for constructing stormwater drains in Chennai.

The city currently has around 2,950 km of stormwater drains that can handle 2–5 cm of rainfall per hour. In a PTI report dated December 15, 2023, S Rajendiran, Chief Engineer at GCC pointed out that this is quite inadequate to handle heavy rains like the one Chennai faced in December last year. According to him, at least 5,000 km of drains with higher capacity are required for the city’s road length of 5,500 km when heavy rains lash the city.

As much as 767 km of drains are currently under construction at a cost of Rs 3,520 crore in the Kosasthalaiyar river basin (North and West Chennai), and another 360 km of drains in the Kovalam river basin (South Chennai) at a cost of Rs 1,715 crore. Referring to these, he said, “New drains coming up in the northern, western and southern parts of the city are being built to handle rain precipitation of 7–8 cm/hour.”


Read more: As rain pounds Jawahar Nagar, residents miss an old pond and stormwater drains


From what we noticed, however, there is still a lot of ground to cover. In many areas work is either incomplete or has not begun. Will the drainage system be in place before the monsoons? With so much money is going into SWDs, will the GCC manage to prevent flooding in your area?

In Part 1 of a two-part series on GCC’s monsoon preparedness, we did a status check on the stormwater drains in a few areas in North Chennai.

Status of stormwater drains in North Chennai

Meanwhile, as part of the monsoon preparedness works, the GCC has been carrying out desilting works across the 15 zones. In a recent news report, Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena said that 99% of the desilting work of stormwater drains in the core city areas taken up under the State Disaster Management Funds (SDMF) had been completed, and that SWD work was underway in other areas as well.

However, in many areas of North Chennai, the old issues remain. The gradient of the stormwater drains and poor maintenance of the silt catch pits remain unaddressed.

stormwater drains Chennai
“As the stormwater drains are constructed in the opposite direction of the natural gradient of the road, the water stagnates on one side of the road,” says Lokeshwaran ES, a resident of Kodungaiyur. Location: Radhakrishnan Street (Kodungaiyur East). Pic: Lokeshwaran ES
stormwater drains Chennai
“The stormwater drains in and around Perambur, have not been desilted yet,” says Raghukumar Choodamani, a resident of the locality. Pic Shobana Radhakrishnan
stormwater drains Chennai
The GCC has also constructed rainwater harvesting (RWH) pits along the sides of the roads to recharge groundwater. “However, the RWH pits have also not been maintained properly,” notes Raghukumar. Location: Loco Scheme 2nd Street, Perambur. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan
stormwater drains Chennai
The silt catch pits are connected to the drains that carry the rainwater. The GCC has made a concrete platform that can be used as a footpath. “However, since only a couple of pieces of wood from the Casuarina tree (Savukku Maram) have been used to hold these concrete slabs, they have been damaged and also pose a danger to pedestrians,” notes Raghu. Pic Shobana Radhakrishnan.

One of the major issues with stormwater drains is the lack of connectivity to the micro or macro canals. Even when the stormwater drains are connected to the canals or the water bodies, another problem arises — that of sewage mixing with the stormwater.

stormwater drains Chennai
Stormwater drains in GKM Colony are connected to the Vannankuttai pond next to the K5 Police Station (Peravallur), Jawahar Nagar. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan
stormwater drains Chennai
The pond area remains covered with trees and bushes with no catchment space to hold the water. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan
stormwater drains Chennai
“However, the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board has installed a board at the Vannankuttai Pond claiming that the land belongs to them,” says Raghukumar. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan

Unclean canals take away the purpose of stormwater drains

The idea of the stormwater drains is to drain the clean rainwater into the sea through the canals. But what happens when the canals remain clogged with garbage and sewage water?

Prashanth Goutham, a volunteer with Arappor Iyakkam, says that the stormwater drains were not even built fully during the last monsoon and even those that were built were not connected to the main canals. Thus, it led to flooding. “It is not only important to ensure the stormwater drains are desilted but also the water bodies that carry the stormwater,” he adds.

stormwater drains Chennai
The stormwater drain connected to a canal in Thanigachalam Road F Block that cuts through both Madhavaram and Kolathur. Pic Shobana Radhakrishnan

When asked about ongoing repairs, a Corporation official mentioned that GCC has not only been desilting the stormwater drains but also replacing manual doors wherever they were found broken. “We have done a survey to check and address such minor issues. We have made an estimate and the work to replace these doors is being carried out. Funding for this comes from the GCC budget,” the Corporation official said.

How can citizens audit the SWDs in their locality?

Vigilant residents remain key to holding the authorities responsible for the proper execution of these civic works. As explained by Dayanand Krishnan, a GIS Expert and civic activist, you can follow the simple steps in this video to check the status of the stormwater drains in your locality.

You can also check the stormwater drain network of GCC in Open City. Depending on the issues you identify in your locality, you can call GCC’s helpline number 1913 and get your local AE’s number. Meanwhile, you can also raise a complaint at the GCC website.

In the second part of the two-part series, we give you more information on what the GCC is doing to ensure the city remains flood-free during the monsoons.

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