Human activity has wreaked havoc on the river, affecting its water storage capacity

Pathanamthitta is in the grip of acute water scarcity. The Pampa, regarded as the lifeline of Central Travancore, and other natural water sources are drying up fast in the scorching sun. Farmlands in the Pampa basin have become water-scarce, and the river system has degenerated into a stream along many stretches. Almost all rivulets emptying into the Pampa have turned dry, as have many of the wells on its banks following a drop in the water table, courtesy the indiscriminate removal of sand from the riverbed over the years.

Experts pin the blame on the neglect of the environment. A case in point is the indifference of the government and the people’s representatives towards pleas for conservation of the wetlands in Aranmula (Aranmula Puncha) that aid groundwater replenishment.

Talking to The Hindu, many experts expressed concern over the move to convert the wetlands. Politicians, they say, are playing a blame game by trying to portray the people’s protests against the move to convert the Puncha to set up a private airport as an anti-development agenda. But, the State and its people will have to pay a heavy price if they fail to protect the remaining wetlands and paddy lands, they warn. Moreover, the Puncha is the riparian floodplain of the Pampa.

Sand-mining

Sand-mining remains one of the biggest threats to the river. D. Padmalal, senior scientist at the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), says that indiscriminate mining has lowered the riverbed to the mean sea level. Salinity intrusion has been reported up to Kozhencherry, causing many varieties of freshwater fishes to become extinct.

PPS study

A study by the Pampa Parirakshana Samiti (PPS) has found that the Pampa has lost its continuum. In the summer months, the river turns into a chain of pools and grassy islands. N.K. Sukumaran Nair, PPS general secretary, says that four to eight-metre-deep pools have formed on several stretches of the riverbed owing to indiscriminate removal of sand.

Mr. Nair says the study was conducted along the stretch of the river between Kizhavara Kadavu, near Aranmula, and the Ranni bridge to take stock of the degradation of the riverine system in the past decade-and-a-half. The CESS study report by Dr. Padmalal on the sand budget of the Pampa was taken as the benchmark for assessment. The PPS study found that the pools on the riverbed were connected by a stream of water along certain stretches, especially downstream. Most of the sand deposits and sandy plains, recorded by CESS earlier, had partially or completely disappeared. Some sand deposits had turned into grass isles where local people grazed their livestock.

Mr. Nair says the unscientific removal of construction grade sand, using ‘pole and net mechanism,’ from the riverbed has brought things to such a pass.

The once-abundant sand deposit at Maramon is now a slushy grassland. Except the sand deposits at Varavur and Cherukolpuzha, the Pampa has suffered considerable degradation on the other stretches. That and the reduced water table have adversely affected the water storage capacity of the river, especially in the summer months.

Dumping of waste from slaughterhouses, chicken corners, fish and vegetable markets, hotels, and households have converted the river into a pool of filth.

Action plan

The Centrally sponsored Pampa Action Plan to save the river has lapsed owing to the lackadaisical attitude of the State machinery, Thomas P. Thomas, environmentalist and botany professor at St. Thomas College, Kozhencherry, says. Dr. Thomas has called upon the government to prepare a long-term action plan to rejuvenate the Pampa, Achencoil, Manimala, and Meenachil rivers in a sustainable manner, as these are very fragile, supporting an ecosystem of nearly six million people in Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, and Kottayam districts.

V.N. Gopinatha Pillai, general secretary of the Manimalayar Samrakshana Samiti, says that many bridges across the Pampa, Manimala, and Achencoil face the threat of collapse owing to indiscriminate sand quarrying and use of explosives for fishing.

Though sand collection from 500 metres of bridges is strictly prohibited under the River Bank Protection and Regulation of Sand Mining Act-2001, it is collected from even near the piers, leaving the concrete structures in a precarious condition.

Data available with the Public Works Department highlight the concern over the stability of the bridges across the Pampa at Kozhencherry, Cherukolpuzha, Arattupuzha, and Edanadu, across the Manimala at Kulathoormoozhi, Mallappally, Komalam, and on the Achencoil at Kaipattoor, Kumbazha, Pandalam and Konni, sources say.

The old bridge across the Pampa at Ranni caved in on July 29, 1996, reportedly owing to the erosion of sand from around its piers. The PPS had warned of the catastrophe in 1994.

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