Agri Business

Farmers raise doubts over Kuttanad package

G. K. Nair Kochi | Updated on November 06, 2011

kuttanad

May destroy the environment, they allege

Apprehensions have been raised by many farmers on the way the Rs 1,850-crore Kuttanad package recommended by the Dr M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) is being implemented; it will not achieve the desired results and also might cause irreparable damage to the entire system, they feel.

The package aimed at ‘Mitigating Agrarian Distress in Alappuzha and Kuttanad Wetland Ecosystem,' will destroy the environment and ecology of Kuttanad and inflict severe damage to the midland and highlands of the State from where huge volumes of granite would be quarried for the construction of bunds .

The package was approved by the Central Cabinet on July 24, 2008, and directed the concerned ministries to implement the components relevant to the respective departments. But its implementation now appears to be without direction and is departing from the recommendations of the MSSRF, Father Thomas Peeliyanickal, Executive Director, Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi (KVS), alleged.

“Nearly 12 Government departments are concerned with the implementation of the package and each has started proposing its projects without any coordination among all those involved and as a result it has become almost like the description of an elephant by a blind person after touching the pachyderm,” Father Thomas told Business Line on Friday.

Main tasks

The main tasks recommended in the package are: (1) protection and ecological restoration of the water spread area; (2) measures for salinity and flood management in Kuttanad; (3) measures for pollution control; (4) total elimination of aquatic weeds; (5) measures for augmenting biodiversity in the backwaters; (6) improving health and sanitation; (7) declaring Kuttanad a Special Agricultural Zone; (8) provide infrastructure support to paddy cultivation; (9) enforce crop calendar; (10) strengthening of research and extension; (11) strengthening economic viability of farming; (12) coconut-based enterprises and integrated farming; (13) actions to promote fishery wealth of Vembanadu kayal (lake); (14) promoting fish infrastructure and (15) infrastructure support to facilitate responsible tourism (under water tourism and local ecology).

For providing infrastructure support to paddy cultivation in Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts consistently under threat of threats, the MSSRF's project to construct outer bunds has an estimated expenditure of Rs 836 crore.

Of late, against this recommendation, the State Government is said to have submitted a Rs 3,500 crore project for constructing the outer bunds covering more area. The outer bunds on a stretch of 4,000 km if constructed with granite boulders as proposed, would require 250 lakh tonnes of granite.

“Dumping of granite boulders here would apart from destroying the ecological balance of Kuttanad, equally affect negatively the environmental and ecological balance of the area from where it will be quarried,” environmental experts claimed.

In the name of development Kuttanad has been subjected to indiscriminate human interventions. Criss-cross roads have come up in the State's granary by reclaiming paddy fields and canals. Added to these are multi-storey buildings for business and residential purposes. Thus, the carrying capacity of Kuttanad has already reached its acme. Therefore, the attempt to dump several lakh tonnes of granite boulders and concrete pile and slabs in this fragile area would have serious ecological and environmental impact.

Holistic approach needed

Given this scenario, there should be a holistic approach. Instead of using granite boulders, the use of natural vegetation, along with clay, has to be explored. Geo-textiles, growing vetivars, grass and other suitable vegetations on clay bunds would help conserve the ecology of the wetland system of Kuttanad, Father Thomas said.

The ‘Rani,' and ‘Chithira' kayal , taken over by the State and lying unused for about 35 years, are included in the package to use them for paddy cultivation. For this purpose, it is proposed to construct outer bunds at a cost of Rs 24 crore under the package.

Surprisingly, the real estate mafia is alleged to have bought around 75 per cent of the ‘Rani kayal,' Father Thomas said.

Ignoring the laws enacted in 2008 to protect the State's paddy fields and wetland systems, the ‘Metran kayal' covering an area of 517 acres, has been allegedly bought by a private company for Rs 15 lakh an acre. It was hitherto being used for the cultivation of paddy. Now the entire area is proposed to be reclaimed for developing as a major township. Another 300 acres from the MN Block, covering an area of 1,000 acres, has also been sold. Negotiations are underway for the sale of nearby ‘Maran kayal' at Rs 9 lakh an acre, while 30 acres of the Marthandam kayal have already been left aside for reclamation, he said.

Published on November 06, 2011

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