People in the coastal areas of the city are stepping up pressure on the government to ensure adequate safeguards in the construction of a breakwater at the Veli estuary to control flooding in the city.
The Rs.12-crore project, funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, is to be implemented by the Harbour Engineering Department.
The proposal involves the construction of two breakwaters at Veli to prevent the formation of the sandbar at the estuary and keep the river mouth open so as to ensure continuous discharge into the sea. The annual sand bar formation at the river mouth prevents the free flow of stormwater into the sea and leads to water stagnation in the lake that is responsible for the pollution of the water and flooding and waterlogging in the upstream areas up to Thampanoor in the city.
However, the Veli Vikasana Janakeeya Karma Samithi, a local pressure group, fears that implementing the project without adequate safeguards could have disastrous consequences on the environment and the livelihood of the local people.
M. Babu, general convener of the Samithi, says both the Veli and the Akkulam lakes and their feeder canals are choked with tonnes of garbage, toxic waste, and waste water from hospitals, industrial units, commercial establishments, and houses. “Large parts of the water bodies are covered by a thick mass of water weeds and algae. Depletion of oxygen level in the water has led to mass mortality of fish on several occasions, adding to the pollution.”
“The pipe carrying effluents from Travancore Titanium Products Ltd. factory at Kochuveli empties into the sea near the mouth of the estuary. Large quantities of sulphuric acid and other effluents are discharged into the near-shore areas off Kochuveli, Valiaveli, Vettukad, and Kannanthura, having an impact on the fish wealth. Tidal action carries the pollutants up to Kovalam and Perumathura.”
The Samithi fears that the construction of breakwaters at the mouth of Veli Lake would push the waste materials from Akkulam Lake, the Parvathy Puthanar, Amayizhanjan and Chakka canals, and the Karamana and the Killi rivers directly into the sea. This, it feels, runs the risk of being seen as an easy waste disposal method.
“The near-shore pollution has the potential to drive away fish shoals and deprive traditional fishermen of their livelihood. Also, the solid waste washed out to sea will be deposited on the beaches during high tide making them unfit for tourism.”
In a memorandum to the Chief Minister, the Samithi proposed stern action against the polluters discharging toxic waste into the waterbodies. It also suggested establishment of nets to capture water weeds and plants.
Last September, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had written to the Harbour Engineering Department, prescribing additional terms of reference for the project and a public hearing to be conducted for the project under the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. It also demanded the preparation of a detailed environmental management plan. The terms of reference insisted that the project did not have an impact on the fishing activities in the area.
Subsequently, the State department sought an exemption from the public hearing process on the grounds that no serious environmental issues were involved.