Thoombathode is a perfect example of how trash, encroachments and mining can throttle a rivulet teeming with life

Maarankudy Abdul Khader, 54, has seen too much of life to be swept off his feet by the arrival of piped drinking water on the riverine island of Aluvathuruthu.

He said about 15 years ago members of his village council booed him for predicting that piped drinking water would one day become a necessity for the islanders despite being surrounded by freshwater throughout the year. His deduced this from the rapid deterioration of Thoombathode (Kundoorpuzha), a branch of the Periyar river. The rivulet parts ways with the main river in Sreemoolanagaram panchayat and joins the Mangalapuzha river near the famous sand banks of Aluva Manappuram.

The nearly nine-km-long rivulet was in the news recently after it flooded Aluvathuruthu in the middle of the monsoon. The inundation drew attention to extensive encroachments on the banks of the rivulet which had stopped water flow in it.

The floodwaters receded from the island only after portions of the rivulet was decongested and cleared of weeds, said Uma Ajitkumar, member of the Chengamanadu Panchayat, on Wednesday.

There are extensive encroachments according to Aluva-based C.P. Nair, an activist who sensitises the public to the dangers threatening rivers like the Periyar. He said recent news reports showed revenue authorities were cracking down on encroachers.

S. Seetharaman of Aluva Paristhithi Samrakshana Samithi, a forum of environmentalists, however, does not see any bright spot in the reported action against encroachers. He said unbridled sand mining in the rivulet had deepened the river bed up to six metres in a few stretches.

A deepening river bed had seriously affected the flow of the water body. Encroachers found it easy to launch reclamation on portions of the bank with an overgrowth of grass and weeds, he said.

A walk along the banks on Wednesday revealed a muddy, but lively rivulet. “That’s because of the heavy rains in June and July,” said Dr. Seetharaman. He said a month before the rains, a large part of the rivulet’s course had dried up.

Mr. Khader said Thoombathode was as good as dead in the middle of last summer. Constant dumping of rubbish, especially organic waste, had adversely affected the water quality. A yellowish film formed over the water in the summer months, he said.

Meanwhile, a senior official of the Department of Irrigation said the department was in the process of cleaning up the rivulet.

He said some of the stretches of the river needed to be dredged and the sample of soil and sand in the river bed had to be tested. The tests could be conducted only when the water level dropped, the official said.

President of Sreemoolanagaram Panchayat K.C. Martin said work to clean up the river and restore its flow had received administrative sanction recently. However, the cost of work, initially estimated to cost Rs.78 lakh, would now be revised.

He said the panchayat had agreed to provide sufficient space for depositing the sand or slurry dredged out of the rivulet as part of the cleaning work.

He also said the panchayat authority had asked the Revenue Department to take up the issue of encroachment on the banks of Thoombathode.

The Chengamanadu Panchayat too had sanctioned work to decongest the rivulet following the flooding of Aluvathuruthu during the rains.

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