Bharathapuzha turns a victim of PAP pact violation

Palakkad, Thrissur, and Malappuram districts are faced with acute drinking water shortage with the drying up of the Bharathapuzha (Nila), the second biggest river in the State, almost three months before the advent of summer in March. The river has failed to provide irrigation water to paddy and other cultivation in Chittur, Palakkad and Ottapalam taluks.

The lean flow of the river has become non-continuous in Palakkad district from December 15. This situation has also thrown up the serious problem of saline intrusion into the river from the sea off Ponnani, said officials of the Joint Water Regulatory Board (JWRB) of the Paramabikulam-Aliyar project.

They said while the waters of the Bharathapuzha were diverted, there was no provision made in the PAP agreement to ensure minimum flow of water to prevent the river from drying up. “Bharathapuzha was a victim of the PAP agreement and its blatant violation by Tamil Nadu,” the officials said.

Agreement terms

The PAP pact between Kerala and Tamil Nadu was meant to facilitate diversion of waters of the Bharathapuzha to Tamil Nadu for irrigation and water supply.

As per the PAP agreement, Kerala should get 7.25 tmcft water for Chitturpuzha. In the current water year, Kerala got only 3.26 tmcft water. Further, Tamil Nadu has now reduced the quantity of water. Kerala requires 1.75 tmcft water to save the standing paddy crops in the Chitturpuzha irrigation project areas. Tamil Nadu, however, will give only .75 tmcft water till January 31, 2013, in which case a large acreage of paddy cultivation spread over 45,000 acres would be lost.

In a paper presented at a recent all-India seminar on ‘Interlinking of rivers and its effects on Kerala', James Wilson, KSEB engineer

attached to the Inter-State Water Cell, said “time and experience had proved the shortcomings of the PAP agreement. While agreeing to 7.25 tmcft as the share at Manacadavu from the Bharathapuzha basin, only the irrigation demand for 20,000 acre ayacut was considered, while the other demands were ignored. This had led to the drying up of the Bharathapuzha.”

The “entire flow of the river was diverted to another basin without ensuring minimum flow to the downstream to protect the biodiversity, ecological balance, saline intrusion elimination, drinking water requirements, etc.”

The PAP agreement was conceived to harness and share the waters in the inter-State rivers in Bharathapuzha, Chalakkudypuzha and Periyar basins.

The agreement covered Aliyar and Palar, both tributaries of the Bharathapuzha; Parambikulam, Peruvarippallom, Thunacadavu and Thekkady rivers and Sholayar, all tributaries of the Chalakkudypuzha; and Nirar and Anamalayar, tributaries of the Periyar.

Diversion of water

The diversion of the waters of the Aliyar and Palar by constructing half-a-dozen dams across these tributaries of the Bharathapuzha under the PAP agreement had resulted in the slow death of the river.

Over the years, the Kerala government had sought more water for Chitturpuzha for irrigation purposes in Chittur taluk. But, the need to protect the Bharathapuzha was not given due importance, said T.N.N. Bhattathiripad, retired chief engineer of the Kerala Water Authority. He said “the question was not one of getting water to irrigate a few thousand acres of land, but how to save the river basin as Bharathapuzha.”

The Kerala government, in its supplementary memorandum on ‘Review of agreements embodied in the PAP agreement' in November 1992, said “the entire yield of Aliyar and Thirumurthy dams along with the yield above Manacadavu, was flowing into the Bharathapuzha, making the entire Bharathapuzha basin cultivable before the construction of Aliyar and Thirumurthy dams. But while preparing the agreement, irrigating Chittur taluk only was considered which had made Bharathapuzha practically dry except during the monsoon period.”

Officials of the Inter-State Waters Department said there should be an alteration of the water release chart of the PAP agreement to ensure minimum water flow in the Bharathapuzha during the summer months.

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