There is a local story of how the Mampuzha river, once a busy waterway, lost prominence in the minds of the people and slipped into a slow death.

It starts with Avava Kutty’s tea shop, which once faced the busy river. On May 1, 1994, the government inaugurated the eight-metre Velliparambu-Payyadimethal Road and a low bridge cutting through the waterway and linking both banks – Peruvayal, where the tea shop stood, and Payyadimethal.

Shortly after the road came into existence, paddy fields of Peruvayal gave way to concrete bungalows; traffic shifted from the river to the road.

So, Kutty changed the front of his shop from the river to the road to attract customers.

K.M. Mohammed, 67, a one-time local paddy farmer, says livelihoods like his dissolved with the river’s losing battle to encroachments and illegal landfills. The water is murky and weed-ridden. A leaking boat tied to a stone lies abandoned near the bridge.

“Long back, I remember at least 50 boats plying the river from markets in Kunnathupalam, Feroke and Kallai carrying coconuts, sand, ash and rice for distribution to ration shops. We also used the water to wash, bathe, to drink. Even the ablution for prayer at the nearby mosque was done in this river. The river was our life vein,” he said.

The river stretches for 28 km from Kallai to Kuttikattoor.

“The bank on which the tea shop stands was full of paddy fields from Keemadu to Mavoor,” says K.P. Santhosh, secretary, Mampuzha Samrakshana Samithi, a residents’ collective formed to watch over the river.

“I am 67 years old. I was a small boy when I joined my aunts to work in the paddy fields. Next year, the land mafia, political representatives and the builders will move further into the river and take away whatever little I have,” Mr. Mohammed rues.

The area has no Corporation water pipe connection. Residents are dependent on four local wells for drinking water.

“The width of the river, about 30 metres, has now reduced to about 10 metres. When one drop of water disappears from the river, four drops disappear from the wells,” P. Koya, the samithi’s president, says.

A government survey on encroachment on the river’s banks has a chequered history.

It started on January 17, 2012 from Kunnathupalam in Olavanna panchayat and went on for a week, before it stopped.

When the residents intervened, the survey resumed in October and went on till March this year and stopped at Keezhmoodu. There is still 8.5 km of survey to be done.

This state of affairs continues despite a letter dated June 19, 2012 from the District Collector to the Survey Director in the State capital, expressing alarm about ‘widespread’ encroachments across river banks in the district. The residents staged a dharna at the District Collectorate on Thursday.

Kozhikode Additional Tahsildar Subramanian K., who is the officer-in-charge of the Mampuzha survey, said surveyors had been diverted in the past for the purpose of surveying puromboke land for the ‘Zero Landless’ project.

“The survey will resume soon,” he says.

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