Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Nov 26, 2003
Industry & Economy
Pilgrims' predicament: To dip or not to dip
SINKING, STINKING AND STUMBLING: Indiscriminate sand mining has left the Manimala river in Pathananthitta district in a perilous state.
Kochi , Nov. 25
DRYING up of rivers even before the onset of summer has become a cause for concern in several districts, especially in Pathanamthitta where lakhs of pilgrims from various parts of the country congregate in the two-month long pilgrim season that began on November 17.
Water flow in the Pampa river, where the pilgrims used to take a dip before trekking the Neelimala, has become so thin and polluted that many of the pilgrims are skipping this ritual. "There is no water flow in the river and the available water is highly polluted. So we did not take the usual dip," said Mr S. Kumar, leader of a group of pilgrims from here who had just returned after the pilgrimage.
Absence of check dams to conserve rainwater upstream, coupled with deforestation and indiscriminate over-exploitation of the river system, are mainly responsible for this dangerous phenomenon. The State gets on an average 3,000 mm rainfall during the southwest and northeast monsoons and yet these areas are already in the grip of acute water shortage.
According to a study conducted by the Kozhikode-based CWRDM, water availability by 2050 from the river Pampa would drop by 3,537 cubic metre, Achankovil by 459 cum and Manimala by 398 cum.
The over-exploitation of the river, especially due to indiscriminate sand mining during the past three decades, has almost destroyed the river system, says Mr N.K.S. Nair, General Secretary, Pampa Samrakshana Samiti.
Deforestation of the forests in the catchment areas is a major cause for the water scarcity in the rivers here. Consequently, the entire rainwater flows down to the lakes and the sea in 48 hours. Unscientific and uncontrolled sand mining has aggravated the situation.
As a result of the sand mining, the river-beds have deepened by 3 to 4 meters and there are also points where it has gone down to 6 meters. This used to push down the underground water table in the area, apart from transforming the river into a narrow stream, he pointed out.
Currently, all the sewage from lodges, guest houses, hotels and public toilets etc at Pampa are emptied into the river. The polluted water river is hazardous not only for about 15 million pilgrims but also for the 30 lakh inhabitants living on the river basin and in Kuttanad who depend on this river for water requirements, Mr Nair said.
Had the electricity board went ahead with the `Swami Saranam Project' which it had commenced in 1980 at 1.5 km below the Pampa dam, the present crisis could have been averted.
The board abandoned the construction of a 12-metre-high dam. Implementation of this project and construction of a series of check dams upstream in Pampa and Kakkiyar would raise the underground water table in the region, Mr Nair added.
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