When in 1912, the Maharaja of Kochi set up a water treatment plant, he chose that spot on the banks of the Periyar that remains sundrenched for most part of the day, where the river is at its deepest and where saline incursion during summers poses no problem.
Considered one of the oldest in South India, the Chowara treatment plant had an initial capacity of 3 million litres a day (mld) and supplied water to far-flung areas such as Mattancherry and the wharf area. The plant, located near the erstwhile king’s summer palace, was into its centenary last year.
Today, the plant — both a heritage structure and an engineering marvel — is a picture of neglect. The majestic machinery of Mirrlees and Crossley imported from England has gathered rust, with many crucial parts such as the flywheel missing. The interiors of the building that houses the machinery are dilapidated, with cobwebs, dirt and bird droppings all over the place.
The capacity of the old plant was increased from time to time, the first expansion in 1941 making it a 5 mld plant with three filter beds. The capacity was raised to 13.5 mld in the mid-fifties.
Electrification was taken up in 1961 and that rendered the diesel-run machine redundan.
With the new plant coming up under the Paravur scheme, the new Chowara treatment plant supplies 68 mld of water areas including the airport pumping station, Sreemolanagaram, Kanjoor, Chengamanad panchayat, Kariyad panchayat and Nedumbassery panchayat.
A venturi meter that measures the quality of the treated water pumped from the plant has been relocated but without its earlier grandeur.
K.A. Augustine, an old hand at the plant, explained the working of the old plant and also recalled other features around it. How the siren from the venturi metre indicated the three shifts, the guards located at various places in the plant ensured security and the well-maintained rose garden outside the plant building attracted attention.
A senior engineer with the KWA had said he was awestruck by the machinery. He had not seen anything like that all through his career of 30 years. “We had only heard and learnt about such machinery, but here was a live thing that was left to die”.
Many costly and priceless equipment from the plant were lost from time to time. The building that housed the machines also had a workshop where the nuts, bolts and bearings were repaired. The callipers, spanners and other tools in the workshop had gone missing. So did the brass strainers used in the filter beds of the treatment plant.
The name plate of the filter media made of brass weighing about 4 kg, the copper electrical lines that weighed around 200 kg, and brass bowls to carry oil are some of the items that have been lost, recalled an old worker at the plant. These thefts happened at the treatment plant that is considered a protected area.
An old worker revealed that the KWA had plans to sell the old machinery at an auction for a mere Rs.10,000. Many old workers of the Chowara plant had submitted a representation to preserve the old machinery. Two times funds were allotted for renovating the old building and preserving the machines as part of a comprehensive plan. But the workers allege corruption in the works that left most of the renovation work incomplete.
The renovation was part of the Paravur water scheme for which Rs. 1.5 crore was allotted with a second tranche of Rs. 1.98 crore included in the renovation package.
The idea at that time was to set up a museum even while making a part of the old plant work to its full capacity.
However, the project has so far failed to find support within the organisation and political bosses.