The collective demand was raised at the first public forum organised by the People’s Commission on Vembanad Lake, constituted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad.

Residents and trade organisation leaders of Kumarakom have called for a proactive mechanism to prevent the environmental degradation of the Vembanad Lake.

The collective demand was raised at the first public forum organised by the People’s Commission on Vembanad Lake, constituted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS) campus of Kerala Agricultural University here on Monday.

Chaired by noted economist Prabhat Patnaik, the commission has been formed to elicit public perception regarding the environment and social changes brought about by human activities on Vembanad Lake.

Similar sittings will be organised in other districts and a report, incorporating suggestions for minimising ecological impacts, will be prepared.

Among the major problems cited by the residents of the grama panchayat was that of rampant encroachments in the region. According to Dipu Sasi, a local resident and member of Kumarakom Nature Club, a study conducted by the revenue department exposed instances of encroachment of 15 acres on a stretch of just six kilometres by 19 private entities including resorts.

Some participants emphasised the need for a social audit into activities conducted for tourism development in the region.

G.C. Damodaran, former president of Kumarakom grama panchayat, called for a scientific study into the effectiveness of the Thanneermukkom bund. He said the bund while enabling farmers to have three crops in place of a single crop, had adversely impacted the lake and also the livelihood of several farmers and fishermen due to increase in water salinity.

According to Matsya Thozhilali Union (CITU) district leader K.K. Rameshan, around 30,000 of the one lakh inland fishermen operated from the region. He said the fish production had gone down from 20,000 tonnes three decades ago to 6,500 tonnes at present owing to tourism-related activities and pollution. Similarly, the quantity of prawns caught from the region had also decreased from 500 tonnes to 50 tonnes.

Paddy farmers also criticised officials of the agriculture department and the pollution control board for failing to spread awareness regarding the safe use of pesticides and fertilizers on polders.

The commission was represented by environmental experts including its member-secretary and former executive vice-president of Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment C.T.S. Nair, former associate director of research at RARS K.G. Padmakumar, former head of the resource analysis division at Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) Srikumar Chattopadhyay, associate professor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies T.V. Anna Mercy, senior journalist M.G. Radhakrishnan and KSSP president M.K. Sasidharan Pillai. The commission members also conducted inspections at certain polders later in the day.

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