Farmers on the 762-acre Puthenkaayal Island falling under Vechoor and Arpookkara panchayats in Kottayam district claim they have suffered losses of up to Rs.5 crore due to heavy rains this month. Hundreds of acres of banana and coconut cultivation, and several fish farms on the island have been submerged.
The island, located about 30 km from Kochi, was reclaimed from the Vembanad Lake along with islands such as Rani and Chithira to grow paddy under the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign after World War II and in the face of severe food shortage in the country.
President of Kaipuzha-Vechoor Kaayal Karshaka Sahakarana Sangham K.J. Joseph said farmers, most of them small and marginal operators, had lost thousands of banana plants to the floodwaters on the island that lies below the mean sea level. The island is kept dry by heavy de-watering operations during the monsoon months with the help of a 70 HP pump and six 40 HP pumps.
Power supply cut
However, power supply to these pumps was cut off at the end of May after the islanders ran up a bill arrear of around Rs.50 lakh. Mr. Joseph claimed that the islanders were eligible for free power supply for agricultural activities up to two hectares. However, the agriculture department has refused free power supply.
The matter is pending before the High Court of Kerala after the islanders filed a writ petition against a report by the Agricultural Production Commissioner (APC) which stated that the island did not have much of agricultural activities. The report said, “There is no agriculture activity worth mention in the area in question.”
The report also said that individual ownership of land could not be ascertained during the field inspection and that between 1997 and 2011, transactions of large extents of land had taken place and land was being bought by corporate entities.
The report was on the basis of a court order asking the APC to ascertain facts and take an appropriate decision. APC Subrata Biswas refused to comment on the issue since it was under the consideration of the court. He said the report was made on the basis of a field visit by a senior official of the department of agriculture. Department of agriculture sources said on Friday that the island might have lost up to 1.5 lakh banana plants, both bunched and non-bunched. Floodwaters had also inundated around 50,000 coconut trees, 4,000 cocoa tress and 500 nutmeg trees.
P.D. Shaji, a farmer who has an informal arrangement with several land owners on the island to cultivate around 25 acres, said he had lost 20,000 banana plants, most of them bunched. He also lost all his investment in a large fish pond, the stocks from which escaped during the heavy flooding. “I have lost a lifetime of investments,” he said. A farmer invests at least Rs.100 per banana plant before he can harvest the bunches, he said.
Joy Mathew, a director board member of the 486-member farmers’ collective founded in 1950, said he had lost extensive banana cultivation to the floodwaters.
He said farmers had abandoned paddy for more remunerative crops long ago and recalled how former Union Minister for Agriculture S.S. Barnala, who visited the island, promised Kerala cheap rice and asked the farmers on Puthenkaayal Island to earn foreign exchange from coconut and other crops. Aniyamma Philip, who runs a homestay on the picturesque island, said coconut and banana cultivation and nutmeg trees on her plot had been affected by the floods. Most trees that stood in knee-deep water would wither away, she said.
Thankappan, a daily wage earner who lives on the mainland opposite the island, said people on the mainland south of the island depended on it for fodder and fuel items from coconut trees. The floods have completely cut off the source of fodder for nearly 1,000 heads of cattle, he said.