Agri Business

Wanted: Multi-disciplinary body to implement Kuttanad package

G. K. Nair Kochi | Updated on March 09, 2011 Published on March 09, 2011

Main tasks include: Protection and ecological restoration of the water spread area, flood management, total elimination of aquatic weeds and augmenting biodiversity in the backwaters in Kuttanad. - Photo:H.Vibhu.

Implementation of the Kuttanad package recommended by Dr M.S. Swaminathan Committee continued to remain in limbo, even after three years of its approval by the Centre, for want of proper direction, according to the farmers' societies and local experts.

“No Environment Impact Assessment has been made so far. This has to be done and then vulnerable areas should be identified, listed and accordingly, all the major components of the project should be implemented in a systematic and scientific manner,” Father Mathew Peeliyanickal, Executive Director, Kuttanad Vikasana Samithy (VKS), an NGO, told Business Line.

Construction of the outer-bund requires participation of experts from all departments, such as water authority, electricity, telephone, agriculture and PWD. . “Therefore, constitution of a multi-disciplinary autonomous body comprising experts and technocrats from relevant fields, having sound background knowledge of Kuttanad, is inevitable for the effective and timely implementation of the mega project,” he said.

Granite boulders

Dredging of the Alapuzha-Changanacherry canal, construction of bridges across it at several points, rehabilitation of the families who may have to be evicted from the encroached land and such issues have to be addressed, for a pragmatic and judicious execution of the works, he said.

The State Government said to have submitted, of late, a Rs 3,400-crore project for constructing the outer bunds. The outer bunds on a stretch of 4,000 km covering three districts, if constructed with granite boulders as proposed, would require 115 lakh tonnes of granite. “Dumping of granite boulders here, apart from destroying the ecological balance of Kuttanadu, would equally affect negatively the environmental and ecological balance of the area where from it will be quarried,” environmental experts claimed.

Holistic approach

According to Fr Peeliyanickal, there should be a holistic approach. He said instead of granite boulders, use of natural vegetation has to be explored. Geo-textiles, growing vetivar and other suitable vegetations would help conserve the ecology of the wetland system of Kuttanad, he said. Such a demand has been put forward by the Kuttanad Vikasana Samithy, which has been in the forefront for setting up of the Dr M.S. Swaminathan Committee, he said

The package was approved by the Union Cabinet on July 24, 2008, and Rs 1,840 crore was sanctioned and directed the ministries concerned to implement the components relevant to the respective departments. But, its implementation still hangs in balance, he alleged.

Main tasks

The main tasks recommended in the package are: Protection and ecological restoration of the water spread area; measures for salinity and flood management in Kuttanad; measures for pollution control; total elimination of aquatic weeds; measures for augmenting biodiversity in the backwaters; improving health and sanitation; declaring Kuttanad a Special Agricultural Zone; providing infrastructure support to paddy cultivation; enforcing crop calendar; strengthening of research and extension; strengthening economic viability of farming; coconut-based enterprises and integrated farming; actions to promote fishery wealth of Vembanadu Kayal (lake); promoting fish infrastructure, and infrastructure support to facilitate responsible tourism (underwater tourism and local ecology).

Fr Thomas said that Central assistance was available for agriculture, protection/conservation of environment and tourism projects. Most of the components in the Dr Swaminathan Committee Package fall under these categories and what the State Government has to do is to prepare component-wise detailed project reports and submit them to the Union Ministries/departments. Thus, the financial involvement of the State Government would be limited, he said.

According to him, the package has emphasised the urgent need for arresting pollution of Pampa river by implementing the PAP and conservation of Vembanad lake as a prerequisite for the overall welfare of the region and its people.

Key rice growing area

He said that around 40 per cent of Kerala's rice production is from Kuttanad. The area under paddy has already shrunk to around 37,000 hectares from 55,000. Being a low-lying area only single crop is cultivated during October-March.

Besides, as the land is situated 2.5 metres below the Mean Sea Level (MSL), paddy cultivation here is like gambling between the two monsoons — south-west and north-east. In order to regulate the flood, water flow through the rivers especially, Pampa, Manimala, Anchenkovil and Meenachil is to be regulated, he said. Unscientific laying of roads, blockades in the Alapuzha-Changanacherry canal and constructions have also become the major causes for floods in the region, he pointed out.

Vembanad's plight

The deteriorating situation in Kuttanadu region, where the vast expanse of the lake is located, is the net result of the degradation and destruction of the environment. He said the shrinkage of Vembanad lake, as a result of land reclamation, had been the most important environmental consequence of various human interventions.

According to a study by the SWRDM the area of Vembanad lake, which was 36,329 hectares in 1834 has shrunk to 12,504 ha in 1984. The draft of the lake that was 6.7 metre reduced to 4.4 metre. The water holding capacity declined from 2.449 cubic km to 0.559 cubic km. Boat transport in several parts of the lake has become difficult following accumulation of silt in most of the canals. The silt flow through the rivers, Meenachel, Manimala, Pampa and Achankoil, into the lake is estimated at 96,000 tonnes a year.

The Kuttanad package is aimed at addressing all these problems, in general, and hence it is high time, that the authorities evolved a sustainable action plan to conserve the Vembanad Wet Land system, which was designated in November 2002 as Ramsar Site in India, Mr N.K. Sukumaran Nair, General-Secretary, Pampa Parirakshana Samithi, an NGO told Business Line.

Published on March 09, 2011
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