At a time when Kerala is once again discussing the environmental violations along the Western Ghats that culminated in severe calamities in the northern districts of the state, a village in Ernakulam district is reeling under the after-effects of a similar violation.
Hundreds of houses at Choornikkara grama panchayat near Aluva were flooded in the recent rains, displacing about 400 residents. Choornikkara officials blame the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL)’s metro yard, which is sitting on 44 acres of paddy fields in the area.
The metro yard or the Operations Control Centre (OCC) at Muttom in the panchayat limits, along National Highway 544, is located adjacent to the 100 acres of paddy fields under the Choornikkara panchayat. Adjacent to this lie about 30 acres of paddy fields under the Kalamassery municipality limits.
Commissioned in 2017, Kochi Metro’s Muttom yard is located close to Aluva, one of the endpoints of the metro line. The OCC is the nerve centre of the Metro’s operations. From the timetable, speed, security, traction or electricity, the trains, auxiliary equipment like air-conditioning and ventilation system as well as the ATC (automatic train control) system, which controls the route of the train, are monitored here.
The paddy fields are commonly called ‘chavar padam’ and patches of the fields belong to different families.
“When the project came up, the panchayat strongly opposed clearing acres of paddy fields that were still being cultivated. These tracts of land belonged to about 60 people. But they had to give it away as the state government was exerting pressure,” says Babu Puthenangadi, panchayat president of Choornikkara.
However, Babu adds that about 150 families living around the area are facing now the after-effects, including disruption of water flow in the canal running through the metro yard, which accelerated the inundation of the fields and houses nearby. He says that the village has never experienced a flood-like situation before 2018.
“The fields are connected to a two-meter wide canal that passes through the metro yard, which further connects it to the Kalamassery canal. The canal running through the metro yard was constructed unscientifically and there is less flow of water from the fields. Last year, when there was flooding, we thought it is because of the massive deluge. But this year, we did not get much rainfall compared to 2018, but the houses were inundated. Many had to shift to relief camps,” Babu says.
According to Babu, KMRL had initially said that they would build a rainwater harvesting system in the yard. “Instead, they installed solar panels,” he says.
Meanwhile, sources at KMRL told TNM that they had undertaken initiatives to clean the drains and canals in the area before the onset of monsoon, and that even the metro yard was flooded in the rains.
Plans to take over remaining paddy fields?
Choornikkara panchayat officials also claim that KMRL officials have sought permission to take over the remaining 100 acres of paddy fields.
“They have requested to take over the rest of the paddy fields under the panchayat limits but we will not give NOC (no-objection certificate) for this. The residents living in this area are already affected; if the remaining wetland is also cleared, the effect will be disastrous,” Babu says.
Meanwhile, the source at KMRL said that it was “too early to comment” on the issue.