With the State reeling under severe drought and acute water shortage, a project to preserve public ponds could not have come at a more opportune time.

The project envisages preserving a public pond each in a panchayat under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). In the initial phase 74 ponds in four Parliament constituencies will be covered under the project.

Pledging his support for the project, Union Minister of State for Food and Civil Supplies K.V. Thomas said he would shortly write to MLAs and MPs seeking their support for the implementation of the project.

It will be implemented under the supervision of MPs in Lok Sabha constituencies and MLAs in Assembly constituencies. The project will be executed under the district panchayat’s proposed Lotus and Water Lilly project, which has failed to take off in the last couple of years owing to various reasons.

The conservation project, which is estimated to cost about Rs.12 crore, will receive contributions from the local area development funds of MPs and MLAs besides the assistance under the MGNREGS. Mr. Thomas said that the support of the public sector would also be sought.

The prospect of planting lotus plants in the ponds as part of keeping the water clean round the year would also be considered, he said.

To begin with, one pond in a panchayat will be cleaned and preserved on an experimental basis. In addition to this project, similar other projects would be formulated in association with the corporation and other municipal bodies.

Mr. Thomas said the project would be implemented by merging similar projects and so there was no plan to source separate financial assistance from the Centre.

Seventy four ponds including 18 in Ernakulam Parliament constituency, 30 in Chalakudy, 15 in Idukki, and 11 in Kottayam will be conserved in the initial phase. The project is estimated to cost about Rs.1.45 crore for unskilled labour days, Rs.3.41 crore for skilled labour days, and Rs.6.78 crore for purchasing equipment.

The funds for buying equipment could be realised from the MGNREGS assistance.

Assistance of MPs and MLAs will be enlisted for raising the rest of the amount.

The district panchayat had originally proposed the project as a comprehensive intervention in farming with an allocation of Rs.50 lakh. However, the ambit of the proposal was widened to revive the public ponds and to preserve them as freshwater sources.

The district panchayat had placed the proposal as part of the plan projects for the last fiscal. But the technical committee that vetted the projects shot it down. They demanded that the project be implemented under the MGNREGS, and not to use the panchayat’s funds for it. However, the MGNREGS was initially not too keen to be part of the project. Besides, it involved an element of skill as well as protective walls had to be constructed around the revived water bodies.

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