The vanishing act of paddy fields, wetlands in Kozhikode

Blatant violation: Illegal land development activity in progress on the banks of the Mampuzha in Kozhikode.   | Photo Credit: K_RAGESH

One fine morning, stems of tapioca plants pop up in paddy fields or wetlands. There may be a few plantain saplings too. For urban realtors, it is an overnight trick — of creating fine garden spaces; age-old practices that convert ‘waste’ land into hot property, thus sowing seed money for multi-crore ventures.

A case in point is the gradual conversion of about 87 hectares of paddy field, which was part of the 215 acres of cultivable land in the Kottuli wetland area in Kozhikode city. Despite it being one of the 94 wetlands of national importance in the country, the filling and illegal conversion activities right in the centre of the city go on unchecked. Environmental activists say those behind such crimes escape easily, with just slaps on the wrist.

“On either side of the Kozhikode bypass road, you can spot newer constructions surrounded by wetlands. Those from the down-and-out club find it tough to get even a small piece of land after crossing technical hurdles,” says Gireesh Kumar, a resident of Mokavoor, who has witnessed several such constructions in his area. Big construction agencies continue to use piles of concrete debris to level the ground, he adds.

No secret business

The step-by-step filling of small patches of paddy fields and wetlands is hardly secret business at Kakkodi and Thannerpanthal on the city outskirts, which witnessed inundated roads and waterlogged houses during last year’s floods. Though checking squads exposed some of the illegal attempts during the post-flood inspections, the regularisation option gave many of them an easy walkover. There are still a few awaiting their turn to regularise unauthorised constructions.

The same is the case with a group of landowners who recently reclaimed about 25 acres of wetland near Vellayil for real estate needs. The objection of local people failed to produce any result as the landowners had managed to secure documents to save themselves from the watchful eyes of the Revenue Department. A stop memo issued by the local village officer too went in vain.

The Mavoor wetland spread over 400 acres, for which the local body is trying to get community reserve status, is now fighting a losing battle for survival in the middle of rampant landfilling and conversion. Efforts to convert the location for ecofriendly farming ventures too have gone to naught as they lacked timely planning and government support.

CWRDM report

A research report by the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) states that 17 of the 100 major wetlands identified in northern Kerala districts face threat from excess landfilling, discharge of effluents and human encroachment. The large acres of wetlands at Kottuli, Eranhikkal and Mavoor regions are on the list of such locations in Kozhikode district.

“About 10 acres of land at Ramanattukara, which was earlier a paddy field, is now being developed as a technopark. There is strong opposition to the project in the area. Such attempts by responsible authorities send a wrong message to the community,” says Saheer, an activist with a local voluntary organisation. He alleges the provisions of the Kerala Conversion of Paddy Land and Wetland Act are not effectively enforced in the case of influential persons or organisations.

Impact of flood

Environmental activists in the city point out that there has been no let-up in the illegal attempts to fill paddy fields and wetlands despite their direct impact having been felt during the floods last year. Surviving wetlands are often destroyed by stormwater run-off, garbage and sediments from urban areas, which will double the impact of a possible deluge in the future, they add.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 9:09:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/the-vanishing-act-of-paddy-fields-wetlands-in-kozhikode/article28628864.ece

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