Madurai

Nilaiyur tank alive and kicking despite urban squeeze all around

Too big to gobble up: Nilaiyur tank, located off Tirumangalam highway, has been able to hold its ground despite the onslaught of urbanisation.

Too big to gobble up: Nilaiyur tank, located off Tirumangalam highway, has been able to hold its ground despite the onslaught of urbanisation.  

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Restoration of tanks will act as flood barriers and help in ecosystem conservation

It is a bright sunny morning and banana farmers of Koothiyarkundu, located off Tirumangalam highway, are busy creating drains in their fields using hoes and spades. With the rising water level at Nilaiyur tank, the farmers are creating these drains to irrigate their farmlands. “This tank is the lifeline of farmers like me,” says 56-year-old M. Ammavasai.

With a capacity of 11.67 million cubic metres, Nilaiyur tank is the waterbody with the maximum storage in Madurai district. Currently, the tank has an ayacut area of 518.53 hectares and is said to irrigate fields across 12 villages, including Koothiyarkundu, Kappalur and Valayankulam. It belongs to a group of eight tanks fed by Nilaiyur channel that branches off from Vaigai river near Mullipallam off Sholavandan.

Urbanisation effect

With residential colonies mushrooming near the tank over the last decade, the tank faces the risk of being the victim of exponential urbanisation. This has resulted in shortage of water for irrigation, complain farmers.

Every year, water from Vaigai river is released for irrigation in Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Madurai districts. This year water is being released to Madurai district since November 26. According to Public Works Department officials, Nilaiyur tank has reached 60% of its capacity.

“After a gap of three years, the water level reached almost the full capacity last year and we were able to harvest two crops. Currently, with the rising water level, there is sufficient water to harvest a single crop,” says V. Agni, a farmer.

However, for the last 10 years, agriculture has not been the staple source of income for the farmers, says A. Chinna Azhagu, another farmer. “Water availability at the tank has become unpredictable and the prices of inputs have also increased. So, at a time when there is no agriculture, men tend to go for daily wage jobs and women go for work at textile units in Kappalur Industrial Estate,” he says. Water stress has led to increase in cultivation of banana in the last eight years, he adds.

In this context, urbanisation is a problem looming large for farmers, says another farmer. “New residential colonies are coming up in Tirupparankundram, Harveypatti, Thanakkankulam and Thoppur. Many houses have been built at the foreshore area of the tank, right on inlet channels” he says.

Need for protection

Concurring with this view, S. Suthanthira Amalraj, former Executive Engineer, PWD, says the tank has to be protected from rapid urbanisation. “The ayacut areas of major tanks such as Sellur, Madakulam and Thenkal have all reduced over the years. In the Vaigai water supply system, the Nilaiyur channel is one of the oldest defined water supply scheme. With the shrinking cultivable land throughout the city, it is all the more important to protect these old ayacuts of the Vaigai system,” says Mr. Suthanthira Amalraj.

Stressing the need for conservation of the tank, J. Kanagavalli, a water expert from Dhan Foundation, says its conservation will also improve groundwater level. “Restoration of tanks will also act as flood barriers and help in ecosystem conservation,” she says.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 6:42:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/nilaiyur-tank-alive-and-kicking-despite-urban-squeeze-all-around/article30202166.ece

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