Islands of Kochi

Cheriya Kadamakkudy: From silence, an isle learns to speak

A worker readies a Pokkali farmland for the next cycle of prawn farming at Cheriya Kadamakkudy.

A worker readies a Pokkali farmland for the next cycle of prawn farming at Cheriya Kadamakkudy.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Cheriya Kadamakkudy, where development is slow to reach, seeks exemption from Coastal Regulation Zone norms and improved connectivity

On a quiet Sunday morning, the residents of Cheriya Kadamakkudy are engaged in various chores, a majority of them having returned home from Mass at a tiny church on the isle. A few women bring out buckets of clothes to be washed by the riverside. A handful of men repair their fishing nets, while a few others are working in fields where alternate cycles of pokkali and shrimp cultivation are undertaken. The only concrete stretch of road on the isle runs along a straight line, behind which are perched residents’ houses and the only church in a neat row.

As she hangs her freshly washed laundry on the exposed iron bars of railings of the dilapidated old bridge connecting the isle to the nearby island of Pizhala, Nimmy George recollects how the islanders’ lives have changed over the last five years.

Muppathadam project

A worker readies a Pokkali farmland for the next cycle of prawn farming at Cheriya Kadamakkudy.

A worker readies a Pokkali farmland for the next cycle of prawn farming at Cheriya Kadamakkudy.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

 

When she came to the isle 21 years ago as a young bride, Nimmy had to quietly tuck away all hopes of going to work. “Water was supplied to the island only once a week, through tankers atop jhankars. At least one person from a house had to stay back to collect water,” says she. But that changed with the Muppathadam project that augmented water supply to the regions of Kadamakkudy and Varapuzha. Domestic connections were issued, and they turned functional four years ago, ending years of “utter misery”. Today, Nimmy goes for a job on the mainland, not having to constantly worry if there will be enough water for her family.

Pokkali farming

Life has changed too for 63-year-old Paskel P.A., a farmer engaged in Pokkali rice cultivation. He remembers a time when people from near and far would come to Cheriya Kadamakkudy to take part in the harvest. “They would stay in homes here for nearly 20 days to harvest the crop. It was a festival of sorts,” he says. Though Pokkali farms are still active on the isle, the cultivation has declined in the last 15 years, adds the farmer. Changes in weather conditions, unavailability of labour, and the difficulties involved in mechanizing Pokkali cultivation have contributed to the waning enthusiasm. This year, with the rains playing truant early on, Paskel could not sow Pokkali seeds and hence did not take up cultivation for the season. Several others who sowed seeds lost all their crops, he says, adding that the farmers are now pinning their hopes on the alternate prawn farming season.

Metallic bridge

In 2018 too, farmers and fish workers on the isle were hit hard by the mid-August floods. But the floods brought into focus the commuting woes of Cheriya Kadamakkudy, which led to the Navy ‘adopting’ the island. In last September, the Navy opened to traffic a steel-arch bridge that connects the island of 60 families to Pizhala. The bridge, with a guaranteed lifespan of five years and the capacity to ferry vehicles of maximum three tonnes, has brought respite, albeit temporary, to the islanders, who earlier had to walk around 2 km to the nearest point of available commute. But, even today, the islanders are not free of the precarious jhankar ride from Pizhala or the long walk along the under-construction Moolampilly bridge to access the mainland.

A view of the island of Cheriya Kadamakkudy.

A view of the island of Cheriya Kadamakkudy.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

 

The Navy also constructed three houses for the flood-hit on the island, besides installing a reverse osmosis plant for ensuring safe drinking water. But the plant has been rendered unusable due to the inadequate power supply to the island. “Power supply to the island keeps fluctuating and is unreliable,” says Ajeesh Joseph, a resident. The Navy was also willing to construct an anganwadi on the island, but the plan, he says, was opposed by the Kadamakkudy panchayat, citing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms.

‘More water than land’

Cheriya Kadamakkudy ward member Cerine Xavier terms it irrational to impose CRZ norms on a region such as Kadamakkudy, where “there is more water than land.” In Cheriya Kadamakkudy too, there are more farmlands than residential plots, and the island is too narrow, surrounded by water on all sides. “Most people here are fish workers and depend on the backwaters for their livelihood. They cannot hence move to other places. They have inherited small portions of land near the waterfront here, and it is unfair to deny them the right to build houses on those plots,” he says, while demanding exemption from all CRZ rules for the region. The strict enforcement of these norms has denied Cheriya Kadamakkudy any chance of development, says the ward member.

Cheriya Kadamakkudy: From silence, an isle learns to speak
 

Located nearly 2 km from Pizhala, which grapples with its own set of commuting woes, including the incomplete bridge connecting it to Moolamppilly, Cheriya Kadamakkudy has remained in isolation for as long as the islanders can remember. Ajeesh says it has been a constant struggle for the islanders, always having to fight for their basic needs. Fed up with years of neglect, in 2015, the islanders collectively decided to find their voice, and put up “one of their own” as a candidate for the local body polls. In a mandate that surprised the islanders, Cerine, a resident of Cheriya Kadamakkudy, won the election, and now represents Ward 10, which also comprises parts of Pizhala.

Road widening

The residents say many a time they have had to take matters into their own hands. Tired of waiting for the authorities to widen the muddy road on the Pizhala side of the bridge, the residents pooled in funds and built a retaining wall and widened nearly 0.5 km of the stretch. Though the road turns muddy during rains, they hope it may someday pave the way for development. “If anything has ever been done for Cheriya Kadamakkudy, it has been done so by the islanders themselves,” says Cerine.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 12:47:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/from-silence-an-isle-learns-to-speak/article30455289.ece

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