The Payaswini river in Aloor, Bovikkanam of Kasargod district in Kerala is half plastic and half water now. It was in the early 1980s that authorities started to build temporary check dams across the Payaswini river to prevent salt water from the sea entering it.
The flow of salt water into the Payaswini had created huge distress to about 3000 families making a living out of farming on the banks of the river, and the whole of Kasaragod Municipality which depends on the river for their drinking water.
Government officials found a solution in building temporary check dams by paving sand filled plastic sacks across the river.
This continued every year since then and the river is paved with about 17,000 sacks at a time now. Across a period of almost 36 years, however, the river has been filled with lakhs of plastic sacks.
Sacks visible under water
As per the rule, every year, the previous yearâ€™s sacks should be removed from the river and destroyed, but that never happened. Though the local people requested the authorities to build a permanent check dam, they continued to drop the sacks regularly.
â€śA clear example of corruption. If a permanent check dam comes here, the authorities cannot swindle money through each yearâ€™s check dam construction funds. Most of the residents in this area are farmers and they had no idea about the corruption involved,â€ť says Abdulla Aloor, the joint secretary of the Payaswini River Protection Action Council.
The plan to construct a permanent check dam was initiated at the beginning of the 1990s and was sanctioned in 1998.
â€śIn 1998, Rs 84 lakh was sanctioned but later the work did not happen. There was a lag and in 2014 about Rs 24 crore was sanctioned. They began the work and stopped in between. Even now the partial structure remains there. They have stopped the building work,â€ť says Abdulla.
Muneer Bavikkara, Secretary of the Action Council, says that since the authorities take soil from the shore to fill gaps in the check dam, the lands nearby are under serious threat of soil erosion.
â€śEvery year, the temporary check dam is paved at a 10-meter depth. During the rains, the sacks go down and more sacks are placed above them year after year. These plastics prevent the preservation of ground water as well as the flow of the river,â€ť says Muneer.
The authorities collect the sacks used for packing fertilisers, pesticides and cement. â€śThe remains of the fertilisers and peticides are mixed with the water in the river. The people of the Kasaragod Municipality use this water for drinking,â€ť Abdulla points out.
He said that in the month of March-April, people can spot a number of dead fish near these check dams because of the polluted water.
â€śEarlier, this river had abundant fish. Now the number has been reducing drastically...so much so that the life in the river will vanish soon,â€ť says Muneer.
The locals are aware that it is not possible to remove the lakhs of plastics which have been officially dumped inside the river, but they voice the need to check more dumping in the future at least.
â€śPeople here were not aware of the consequences. But now we want to stop it. We have been protesting but they haven't completed the permanent check dam construction and if the salt water enters the river, it will destroy our agriculture. Fearing this, we agree to the dumping of the plastic sacks every year,â€ť Abdulla says.
Now, though, they have got a promise from their MLA that the check dam project will be resumed from January 2017. But they remain worried about how to save the river.
Partial structure of temporary check dam
However, Uduma MLA K Kunhiraman asserts that during this government's tenure, all the issues will be resolved.
â€śWe will clean the river by removing the sacks. Since the sacks are huge in number, it will take some time, but we will do it. Apart from that, within two months, we are planning to revamp the construction of the permanent check dam. That will solve the problems,â€ť the MLA told TNM.