Dennis Marcus Mathew
Report was prepared after discussions with stakeholders
Report submitted to the Centre last September
Main package recommended 15 tasks
ALAPPUZHA: Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Kuttanad has heaved a sigh of relief with the Union government approving the Rs.1,839.75-crore Kuttanad package recommended by the M.S. Swaminathan Commission on Thursday.
The wait began in late 2006, after a visit of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to the State to study the agriculture crisis here, particularly in the districts of Alappuzha, Palakkad, Idukki and Wayanad.
The initial impression that Mr. Pawar had given to the State was of a ‘Vidharbha model’ package. However, with pressure from the State for more focussed attention for Alappuzha, the Swaminathan Commission was appointed to prepare a comprehensive action plan for the district.The report, prepared after teams led by Dr. Swaminathan himself and by Swaminathan Foundation director S. Balaravi conducted several rounds of visits and discussions with various quarters from March 2007 onwards, was submitted to the Centre in September last.
An interim report, asking for a few “urgent tasks” by the State government was submitted earlier to the State as well.
The main package recommended 15 tasks, falling under the categories of 1) strengthening ecological security; 2) strengthening livelihood security; 3) agriculture-based livelihoods; 4) inland fisheries-based livelihoods; and 5) water tourism in Kuttanad and local ecology.
Strengthening of ecological security included tasks of protection and ecological restoration of water-spread area, measures for salinity and flood management, pollution control, total elimination of aquatic weeds, augmenting biodiversity in the backwaters and improving health and sanitation.
Strengthening of livelihood security and agriculture-based livelihoods included the tasks of declaring Kuttanad as a special agriculture zone, provision of infrastructure support to paddy cultivation, enforcing a crop calendar, strengthening research and extension, strengthening economic viability of farming, coconut-based enterprises and integrated farming. The tasks that fell under the inland fisheries-based livelihood category were promotion of fishery wealth in Vembanad Lake and promotion of fishing infrastructure, capacity and fishermen welfare.
The category of water tourism in Kuttanad included the task of infrastructure support to facilitate responsible tourism apart from steps to introduce and promote farm tourism involving farmers’ families. Dr. Swaminathan also drew a framework for implementing the package, calling for a ‘Kuttanad and Alappuzha Prosperity Council’ chaired by the Chief Minister to provide required policy guidance.
A second-tier setup with a task implementation committee chaired by the Chief Secretary too was suggested.