Kuttemperoor river in Kerala was dead for 10 long years. But not any more.
A tributary of Pampa and Achankovil rivers, Kuttemperoor has now had a rebirth, thanks to the efforts of 700 workers for 70 days.
Environmentalists have always said that any water body can be given a rebirth despite how severe its pollution problems are, or how near it is to death, and Kuttemperoor will go down in history as an example for this.
Labourers cleaning the river
Kuttemperoor before it died
At one point, Kuttemperoor was Budhanoor’s lifeline. The residents of the village never experienced drinking water crisis, nor did they have a shortage of water for irrigation. In fact, the river was a source for irrigation for about 25,000 acres of paddy fields.
Back then, the river was also used by local traders to transport their goods.
It also helped control the flood in many places, because when Pamba and Achankovil overflowed, Kuttemperoor took in the excess water.
According to old government records, the 12km long river, which stretched through Budhanoor panchayat in Alappuzha district, was over 100m wide. But by 2005, it had shrunk to just 10-15m, thanks to sand mining and dumping of waste in the water body.
The president of Budhanoor panchayat, Viswambara Panicker, says that the river had a slow death.
River befor cleaning
How sand mining and waste dumping killed the river
“It became a spot for tanker lorries to dump their septic waste. Apart from that, tonnes of plastic wastes were also dumped here in the river,” Viswambara says.
The pollution in the river was so bad, that in 2011, a country boat which was brought from Chennithala for a boat race in Aranmula was stuck in the motionless Kuttamperoor river, trapped between the water weeds. The situation was so dire, that firefighters were called in to rescue the boat and travellers.
The river was also facing the threat of illegal land grabbers. While sand mining was legal in the area till 1997, the panchayat withdrew its permission for mining after that. However, the area soon became a hub for the sand mafia.
And as the misuse of the river continued, the water body died slowly.
The project to revive Kuttemperoor
In 2013 though, as many organisations raised their voice to save Kuttemperoor, a project for the rejuvenation of the river was proposed, and the Budhanoor panchayat spearheaded the initiative.
“But it couldn’t start for another four years. Finally, we launched the project in January 2017,” Viswambara says.
“The project was implemented under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. We spent around Rs 1 crore just to remunerate the labourers,” he adds.
And as 700 women and men spent 40,000 man days cleaning up the river, things finally started looking up.
Minister G Sudhakaran taking a tour of the river on a boat, after its revival
They got into the dirty water and cut out the water weeds in the beginning. The next step was to remove the plastic waste, and finally, they cleaned the clustered thick waste at the bottom of the stream.
By Day 45, the still river had started flowing and new water started coming in.
But the cleaning process was not yet complete. The sewage, plastic waste and clay sediments were so thick that for the workers, it was a herculean task.
“It wasn’t just a job for the sake of money for them though, they were sincerely trying to bring the water body back to life,” Viswambara says.
And by Day 70 - on March 20, 2017 - the ‘Bhagiratha Prayathna’ came to an end.
“Finally, the water became clear and flow was normal. To our surprise, the water levels in the neighbouring wells had considerably increased,” Viswambara says.
Although the water is not used for drinking and cooking for now, the residents of Budhanoor are confident that over time, they will be able to do so.
“It had a lot of waste, so at present, we don’t use it for drinking. It is used for all other purposes though, and within a short period of time, we will be able to use it for drinking too,” Viswambara says.
Adding to the happiness, there are fish in the recently reborn river now, and the village is ready to start fishing soon.
“We had an acute water shortage issues for last many years, this project has finally been a solution for it. It is the success of a group of socially responsible people,” Viswambara says.
Edited by Ragamalika Karthikeyan