Four decades after it was abandoned, a 115-year-old well in Thrissur has come to the rescue of railway officials struggling with the aftermath of one of the worst droughts the state has faced in decades.
Thanks to the massive water scarcity, the Thrissur Railway Station β which sees 166 trains pass through each day β faced the unenviable situation of not having enough water for even basic needs like supplying drinking water or cleaning toilets in the railway station.
Photo by: KK Najeeb
And before this forgotten water source was rediscovered, itβs only choice was to transport water in tankers all the way from Aluva, 60km away.
Fittingly, the cleaning and renewal of the historic well β which had fallen into a highly polluted state β was completed on Monday, the day the world celebrates as Environment Day.
Built in 1902, the 36-foot-deep well with a radius of 4.5 metres, was once the only source of water for the Thrissur Railway Station.
"It was in the year 1902 that the Ernakulam-Shornur railway track was built. During the time, steam engines ran on charcoal, and this required a lot of water. The giant well was built in the compound for this purpose, under the guidance of the British and the Kochi Maharaja. They had even brought a hand-pump from England, that was placed on the rim of the well. This pumped water would then be stored in a water tank placed at a height," narrates Station Manager Joseph Ninan.
Besides being used in the steam engines, water from the well was also used for cleaning the station and for the drinking needs of passengers.
However, sometime between 1975 and 1978, diesel engines made their entry into Kerala, and the well lost a major part of its use. However, it still remained a source of drinking water, until piped supply from the Peechi dam rendered it redundant.
Once it stopped being a major lifeline, the well began to suffer from the neglect.
"Once we stopped using the water from the well, people began to dump garbage in the area. Nobody did maintenance of the area and soon it was forgotten that there was a well there," Joseph says.
All of that changed when Kerala was hit by one of the worst droughts it has faced in over a century.
The government declared the state drought-hit in October last year, as water levels in most of the state's dams began dipping to alarming levels. Sometime in February, the water supply from the Peechi dam was completely cut for a few days, forcing the officials at the railway station to find another source.
"There was absolutely no water in the toilets and for other cleaning purposes. There is a well owned by the railways situated in Aluva near the Periyar river and we got water tankers to supply us water from there," Joseph explains.
This could only be a stop-gap solution, however, and Station Manager Joseph eventually hit upon rejuvenating the old well on the station premises. Incredibly, when officials examined the well, they found that underneath layers of garbage and weeds, the well had a plentiful supply of water that could more than serve the needs of the station.
Photo by: KK Najeeb
He approached architect MM Vinod, and the duo went to Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar, another Thrissur man, for help and funds.
"The Minister was elated. He was determined that if Thrissur has such a historic structure, then it needs to be preserved. After the District Collector inspected the spot, a sum of Rs 21 lakh was granted for the cleaning work," Joseph says.
The work that began two weeks ago, was completed on Monday. Not every part of its quaint history could be preserved, however, as the hand-pump that had been imported from England in 1902 was no longer in a state to be repaired. So, officials are now in the process of installing new motor pumps.
Still, officials are glad that such a plentiful, convenient water source could be found in the midst of the massive water crisis.
"It is only when we are confronted with a crisis, do we realize that we need to preserve our natural resources. One cannot imagine digging such a giant well anymore," Joseph says.