Kerala, especially the Central Travancore region, is likely to witness an environmental disaster and socio-economic crisis, in the event of implementing the proposed Pampa-Achenkovil-Vaipar Link Project (PAVLP) prepared by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) as part of the Centrally-sponsored interlinking of rivers project.
Disposing a case relating to networking of rivers on Monday, the Supreme Court of India has directed the Union Government to constitute a special committee for interlinking of rivers in the larger interests of national benefit and progress.
The Pampa-Achenkovil-Vaipar Link Project estimated Rs 2,588 crores is one among the eight projects planned as part of the proposed interlinking programme.
The State Government, environmentalists and the people have strongly opposed the project from the time of proposal itself, sensing the problems it posed to the State’s water needs and eco system.
The PAVLP envisages diversion of 634 million cubic meters (mcm) of water from two Kerala rivers, Pampa and Achenkoil, for irrigation purpose in the water-deficit Vaipar basin in Tamil Nadu.
Various socio-environmental organisations have opposed the project.
The Pampa Parirakshana Samiti (PPS) that has been campaigning for the cause of river Pampa has strongly condemned the move, cautioning the Government of its disastrous impacts on the environment and eco system in the Central Travancore and Kuttanad regions.
The NWDA proposal was on the basis of a study conducted by it in the Pampa and Achenkovil river basins. The NWDA study states that the two Kerala rivers have got a total water surplus of 3,127 mcm after meeting the present and future needs of State.
The report further says that a portion of this ‘surplus’ water, if diverted to Vaipar, can irrigate the drought-prone districts of Tirunelveli, Chidambaranar and Kamarajar in Tamil Nadu, besides generation of peaking power of 500 mw through a pumped storage scheme.
The scheme also proposes a regulated release of 150 mcm water to Kerala during the lean period.
The PPS general secretary, N.K. Sukumaran Nair, alleged that the NWDA study was totally unscientific and partisan.
He said a three-year detailed study conducted by the Kozhikode-based Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) a decade ago had found that the Pampa and Achenkoil were water-deficit river basins. The CWRDM study states that there will be a deficit of 3,537 mcm and 459 mcm in the Pampa and Achenkoil respectively, ultimately rendering the NWDA a baseless one, alleges Mr Nair.
According to Mr Nair, the condition of Pampa and Achenkovil has become more alarming now, with the drying up of the water sources in the scorching sun. The Pampa has become dry, exposing its rocky bed, in its upper reaches. The villages situated on either banks of the river have already been reeling under acute water scarcity.
People fetching potable water on their head from far–off places and tanker lorries supplying water to the village folks in the Pampa and Achenkovil basins have become a common scene even before the onset of the summer in early February.
There is a jocular local saying that “Kerala will witness its ruin only when its rivers start flowing eastwards’’ and this would become a reality once the PAVLP is implemented, says Mr Nair.
Third largest river
Pampa is the third largest river in the State with a catchment of 2,235 sq km and Achenkovil is another river that joins Pampa at Veeyapuram in Alappuzha district to empty out into the Vembanad lake. The Vembanad wetland system has been declared a Ramsar site in view of its rich aquatic ecology.
Both the Pampa and Achenkovil have been regarded as the lifeline of Central Tranvancore as well as the Kuttanad region. Any diversion of water in these rivers would lead to an ecological and environmental disaster, says Dr Thomas P. Thomas, academic and environmentalist.
The PPS general secretary said that the total annual utilizable yield of the 10 rivers draining out into the Vembanad wetland system was 12,582, as per the CWRDM study conducted in 1998. But, the water demand in these river basins for domestic use, irrigation, industrial purposes etc, was 22,268, he added.
A decade-old CWRDM study showed that the Pampa and Achenkovil will have a deficit of 337 mcm and 459 mcm respectively by 2051. It further stated that not less than 4,745 mcm of water is required for flushing out the pollutants from the Vembnad wetlands.
Experts were of the opinion that the pollution level of the water sources in Kuttanad was alarmingly high and reduction in the fresh water flow and subsequent changes in the hydro period would lead to irreparable damage to the wetland system itself.
The water level in both the Pampa and Achenkovil has been depleting fast, leading to acute drought situation even on the river banks. A majority of wells situated on the river banks have already turned dry.
It is also worth to mention that the Central Water Commission has identified salinity intrusion in Pampa even beyond Aranmula during summer.
As many as 25 drinking water supply schemes in Pampa have become more or less defunct owing to the drastic depletion of water level even before the beginning of summer.