With only a few months remaining for monsoon to hit the Kerala coast, residents of the coastal village of Chellanam in Ernakulam district have intensified protests demanding completion of a seawall to prevent sea erosion.
Residents of the Chellanam sat on a dharna outside the office of the Superintending Engineer at the Irrigation Central Circle in Thrissur on Monday. The protest was held under the banner of West Kochi Coastal Protection Forum, which works for the development of coastal regions of West Kochi. The Forum demanded that the Kerala government take action against Irrigation Department officials who have turned a blind eye to the delays in the seawall construction project.
The demand for seawall was raised after Chellanam, a coastal panchayat in Kochi, saw immense damage from Cyclone Ockhi in 2017. Two fishermen from the village lost their lives and over 400 houses were destroyed due to sea erosion caused by the cyclone. Sea erosion, which is loss or displacement of land due to waves and tides, intensifies during the monsoon, damaging residents’ homes as well.
TA Dalfine, convener of the West Kochi Coastal Protection Forum, told TNM that while a geotube seawall was promised, it is nowhere near completion. “Because of our protests after Cyclone Ockhi, District Collector of Ernakulam promised in December 2017 that seawall will be constructed wherever it wasn’t there in the panchayat. But it has not been completed and we are concerned about the approaching monsoon,” he said.
While government officials had promised in 2017 to construct a geotube seawall by April 2018, the work was delayed, and the deadline was pushed by a year. However, the Irrigation Department, which is in charge of the project, started the work only in January this year. Further, the construction has been halted due to unavailability of sand to fill geotubes.
Geotubes, which are made of natural or synthetic polymers, were to be filled with sand and stacked to form a wall to prevent sea erosion. Through the Rs 8 crore project, a geotube seawall will be laid at Velankanni Bazaar (300 metres from the sea), Vachakkal (100 metres from the sea), Companypady (300 metres from the sea) and Puthenthode Fishing Gap (110 metres), in the panchayat.
However, work has only begun at the Velankanni Bazaar stretch of the panchayat.
Velankanni Bazaar stretch of Chellanam
K Radhakrishnan, executive engineer at the Irrigation Department and in-charge of the project had told TNM earlier that though the funds were approved in May 2018, the geotubes were being made outside Kerala, causing the initial delay. “We received the finished geotubes by December end and started the work by January, this year” he had said.
The members of West Kochi Coastal Protection Forum have also alleged that the contractor who was given tender had neither prior experience in constructing geotube seawalls nor the technical expertise.
“According to the contract, sand from sea has to be dredged and filled in geotubes. About 490 cubic metres of sand is requires to fill one geotube which is five metres in width and 25 metres in length. 140 such tubes are needed for the construction of the seawall. Though around nine months are over, the contractor has not brought even a single dredger or sand taking equipment,” said Dalfine.
“After our protest on Monday, the officials have promised us that the contractor will restart the works in two days. If this is not done, we will restart the protest more fiercely,” he added.