A students’ project carried out in the abandoned fields of Koliakode near Pappanamcode wound up perfectly encapsulating larger civic and environmental issues plaguing the capital.

As National Service Scheme volunteers under the Sri Chitra Thirunal (SCT) College of Engineering embarked on an ambitious paddy conservation project called ‘Kathir’ in December last year, little did they know they would have to confront a much uglier side of the city – of garbage accumulation, water scarcity, clogged drains, and of corrupt contractors failing to repair crucial irrigation canals.

This has only made their triumph sweeter. On Thursday, nearly 100 students associated with project along with local people who supported them will be celebrating their first harvest, having overcome several issues that cropped up over the past three months that threatened to undermine all efforts gone into rejuvenating over seven hectares of land at Koliakode.

For the past two years, this tract of land had turned barren and was waiting to be encroached upon. Garbage had blocked canals through which rainwater flowed from Pappanamcode, Karikkamandapam and Poozhikunnu to collect here at the paddy fields.

Because this natural gradient got disrupted, areas near Pappanamcode and Malayinkeezh ended up in floods. These issues were brought to the attention of SCT college, situated nearby. The students of the institute acquired seeds from the Nemom Krishi Bhavan and carefully followed instructions given by the Koliakode Paadasekhara Samithi secretary Ramakrishnan Nair and supplemented it with the technical knowledge they had acquired in the classroom.

It was towards mid-February when the scorching summer heat set in that things took a turn for the worse. Water shortage issue grew more acute with wells in nearby regions turning dry. This was quite a deviation from the normal, as under the Neyyar Irrigation project, the level of water in the wells would never slump. The wells were supplemented by the Valathukara Canal.

Project participants said parts of the canal were in dire need of renovation since plastic waste, bottles, slaughterhouse waste, garbage from nearby homes were regularly dumped into it.

When media reports came out on these issues on Water Day (March 22), ward councillor and MLA V. Sivankutty intervened. Some construction work was carried out on the canal by the Irrigation Department and water reached the area through alternate routes as well, the NSS programme officer M. Arun said. They ran into some trouble initially with a bund near Sri Vidyadhiraja Homeo College breaking. But soon, the block was cleared and water began to flow undisturbed into the water-starved fields.

Actor Suresh Gopi also came to their aid by arranging five tanker lorries to supply water to the region. He, along with Agriculture Minister K.P. Mohanan and Mayor K. Chandrika, were among the dignitaries scheduled to attend the function on Thursday.

Mr. Arun added that in June, agricultural activities would be resumed by farmers. This was the aim the students had in mind when they began this programme.