Development
A team from the Kerala Planning Board submitted the recommendations to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday in a report.
Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

The Kerala Planning Board has recommended Rs 2,447.66 crore special package for reviving and developing the Kuttanad region post the floods.

A team from the state Planning Board submitted the recommendations to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday in a report.  The vision for recovery, the report says quoting Kerla Chief Secretary Tom Jose, will focus on four pillars. These are: integrated water resources management, eco-sensitive and risk-informed land use and settlements to build a green and resilient Kerala, inclusive and people-centred approach, and promotion of knowledge, innovation, technology through partnerships to rebuilt quickly, safely and sustainably.

A wide range of experts and stakeholders were consulted in the making of this report, such as representatives of farmers and fishing communities, elected representatives of the people, administrators, experts in agriculture, engineering, hydrology and tourism, were consulted. The Planning Board team also consulted with agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan, whose Research Foundation (MSSRF) studied the Kuttanad Wetland Ecosystem back in 2007 and developed a masterplan to eco-restore the Kuttanad region as a whole.

The analysis on which the report is based is geared towards increasing agricultural growth and farmers’ incomes, building ecological resilience in the Vembanad Lake system, enabling people to live safely and securely, and resolving conflicting concerns of different socio-economic sections in Kuttanad.

Resilient agriculture

The report also focuses on the losses suffered in the field of agriculture, and gives recommendations of building “resilient agriculture”.

Highlighting the losses, the report notes that that the 2018 floods dealt a severe blow to paddy cultivation in Kuttanad. “In the first flood of June 2018, about 2,500 ha of paddy crop was destroyed. In the second flood of July 2018, about 7,400 ha of paddy crop was destroyed. In the third and severe flood of August 2018, all the 14,000 ha of paddy crop was destroyed. Paddy crop in only 3,605 ha was insured, and this meant a huge economic loss for the farmers cultivating the rest of the area,” it says.

The report then points out that government has already declared Kuttanad as a Special Agricultural Zone – and the key here is to “converge” on many aspects of agriculture and policy, and not just pump funds. “The seven key spheres that the KSPB sees as central in the convergence efforts within each SAZ are: seeds, water, soil, extension, mechanisation, marketing and value-addition. We need a distinctive approach to the evaluation of yield potential and the selection of varieties. Support services with regard to agricultural information, soil and plant health, input costs and output prices, post-harvest market linkages, storage, distribution, and value addition need to be planned within the zone,” it says.

This needs to be done to increase productivity in agriculture, raise incomes of farmers and ensure ecological sustainability.

The report recommends for the region, a hierarchy of primary, secondary and tertiary water systems as well to aid paddy farmers and better manage water.

Restoring wetlands

Post the deluge in 2018, the government entrusted the Planning Board to prepare a special package for Kuttanad wetland ecosystem. The governor, in his address to the Legislative Assembly in 2019, stated that the special package for Kuttanad’s wetland ecosystem was to revitalise the overall development of the region by developing various components and by ensuring the integration of all departments.

The report proposes a new Kuttanad package based on post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) formulated jointly by three international development partners: the European Union, the World Bank and the United Nations system. It proposes a master plan for restoring its wetland system through eco-restoration and rejuvenation. It also emphasises the significance of the Vembanad wetland system such as protecting the region towards its west from severe flooding, and having a rich ecosystem of flora and fauna.

Recommendation for fund allocation

The report recommends earmarking Rs 1,589 crore for water resources (which includes cleaning drainage channels and bund protection networks, studying the river system in Kuttanad to ensure natural flow, building channels, among others). Further, it suggests that Rs 252 crore should be set aside for agriculture, Rs 230 crore for fisheries, Rs 291 crore for drinking water supply, Rs 15 crore for establishment of an integrated rice park in Alappuzha, and Rs 11 crore for responsible tourism initiatives.