Further exploitation of Periyar will lead to its destruction, says expert

Kochi Metro rail project principal advisor E. Sreedharan’s call to mine rivers Bharathapuzha and Periyar for quality sand for the metro rail project has triggered protests from various quarters.

There is no sand left in the Periyar to be extracted, says Srikumar Chattopadhyay, a scientist who retired from the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. The rivers cannot be mined though there may be some deposit of sand in the Bharathapuzha on some stretches, he says.

The rivers are being exploited for sand at a rate much higher than the rate of replenishment. The situation has deteriorated for the Periyar and “the channel configuration has changed significantly and any additional sand mining will destroy” it, he says.

Further mining will lower the riverbed and cause problems for drinking water wells dependent on the river, he warns.

He suggests that the sand can be retrieved from the dams that are on the two rivers.

The suggestion has been echoed by former Finance Minister and MLA T. M. Thomas Isaac. Though the former LDF government initiated work on extracting sand from Malampuzha and Aruvikkara reservoirs, the project has been abandoned, he says. He has appealed to the UDF government to take the process forward, overcoming problems that may come its way.

Mr. Sreedharan, in a letter to environmentalist S. Sitaraman, said quality river sand was needed for the longevity of the metro rail structures and that it was illegal sand mining that was the bane of Kerala rivers. “We are underestimating nature’s bounties. Rivers are meant to support life on this planet. Whatever is consumed gets replaced provided there is no overconsumption,” Mr. Sreedharan said.

Sand auditing

With sand auditing in progress, reports that there is little or no sand left in rivers Ithikkara in Kollam and Chalakudy in Thrissur are now coming out, says A. Latha of River Research Centre in Thrissur. She says the idea of mining rivers for meeting metro rail work requirements is absurd because the extraction rate and the rate of replenishment do not match.

It is a huge quantity of sand to be mined over a short period of time for the project, says Dr. Latha, adding, the requirement for sand should have been worked into the planning process.

Sources in the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management in Kozhikode have raised the question whether the four lakh cubic metres (about 60,000 lorry-loads) of sand required for the metro rail project would be in addition to the quantity already being mined out of the Bharathapuzha.

Sand mining is extensive in the river in nearly 40 panchayats and local bodies in Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram districts. S. Sitaraman of All Kerala River Protection Council, who has questioned Mr. Sreedharan’s stand on river sand mining, says the latter has underestimated the role of rivers in the ecosystem. “Metro rail is not the sole requirement of the people”, he says.

Former Minister for Water Resources N. K. Premachandran has said that the quantum of sand specified by Mr. Sreedharan was too high. Sand mining will definitely impact the flow of both the rivers, he says.

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