Coimbatore’s ponds are brimming with life, thanks to volunteer-run initiatives

The city’s ponds, choked by encroachment and debris, are getting a new lease of life thanks to volunteers who clean, de-silt and map them, intent on restoring their glory

November 19, 2021 03:56 pm | Updated 03:56 pm IST

Ponds help mitigate floods and recharge groundwater. They are also water sources for cattle. Here, Aravalli kuttai, Nallur Vayal in Coimbatore is brimming after good rains

Ponds help mitigate floods and recharge groundwater. They are also water sources for cattle. Here, Aravalli kuttai, Nallur Vayal in Coimbatore is brimming after good rains

The sight of rains this year is sweetest to R Manikandan and his fellow volunteers from Kovai Kulangal Padhukappu Amaippu.

The environmental NGO has de-silted five ponds in the city, all of which are brimming with water. “This has improved groundwater in the regions a great deal,” says the 39-year-old.

Manikandan recalls how a farmer in Malumichampatty, who once used to source water from outside to fill up his well for agriculture, is thrilled that he does not have to do that any more, after their team cleared a pond in the vicinity.

“We know of 900 such ponds in Coimbatore and are in the process of pinning their location on Google Maps,” explains Manikandan. “We also plan to share these locations on our website,” he adds. This is so that anyone can join the movement, and work on desilting these ponds.

While a number of ponds have been encroached upon and filled up with debris, resulting in clogged waterways, success stories such as these give the city hope. The good news is, plenty more such stories are in the making.

A Pond Heron (Ardeola Grayii) taking off from Valankulam, in Coimbatore

A Pond Heron (Ardeola Grayii) taking off from Valankulam, in Coimbatore

In Navakkarai in Madukkarai too a pond has recently got a new lease of life. “I remember people digging several borewells in search of elusive water,” says NS Maheshwaran, a resident of Mavuthampathy panchayat there. “At one point, farm owners were digging five to six borewells at one stretch of land,” he says.

Maheshwaran, who runs Namma Navakkarai, an environmental NGO that is also into waste management, decided to do something about it. “In 2018, we cleared up a pond there,” he points out. This did the trick. It filled in the rains that followed and Maheshwaran is a happy man when he says that farmers have not dug any new borewells in the region over the past two years. The pond continues to be full, and thanks to his team’s door-to-door awareness programmes, people have stopped dumping garbage into it.

At Narasipuram, however, the Poovankuttai pond is languising under piles of garbage, which are steadily growing right inside. An unused toilet complex, built by the panchayat stands in one corner, and there is no space for water to fill. VS Karuppusamy, a farmer in the area, still remembers what it looked like when it was full. “If rains are good, there are chances it will fill up again,” says the 54-year-old. But first, the debris needs to be cleared. “We have tried asking people not to dump garbage inside it, but to no avail,” sighs S Adhilakshmi, who runs a fertilizer and pesticide stop nearby.

R Karpagam, the founder of Oli Awareness Movement, is hoping to revive Poovankuttai. “I have been waiting for three years to get permission from Government authorities to de-silt it,” she says. She knows she has a long way to go, but is bent on restoring the pond’s old glory.

Arun Krishnamurthy of Environmentalist Foundation of India recently de-silted eight ponds in the city, in places such as Kalapatti, Balaji Nagar, Thottipalayam, and Pudhukuttai Thottam. “They are all filling up with rain water now,” he says.

While a lot has been written about Coimbatore’s wetlands fed by the Noyyal river, not much is known of its smaller ponds. According to K Mohan Raj, secretary, Save Coimbatore Wetlands, “Ponds are important to recharge groundwater. They prevent soil erosion, help mitigate floods; rains wash away top soil from agricultural land right into ponds: farmers would carry this back to enrich their fields. This works like a cycle,” he points out.

Our man-made waterbodies were commissioned by kings, and were later taken care of by zamindars, according to writer Cho Dharman, who has written about man-made waterbodies in Sool , a novel that won the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2019. “The British left us with 39,640 waterbodies and six lakh wells,” he says. Most of them are in a bad condition. “So many Government buildings have been constructed on ponds,” rues Dharman.

Their role of storing water aside, ponds add character to a village. Owing to their size, they attract people, as well as cattle and bird life. “Men and women bathe in ponds, and cattle stop by for a drink,” says Dharman. Of course, this sight is now a rarity. “When I was younger, we devised several games to play specifically in the water,” he says. But now that some of our ponds are having a rebirth of sorts, perhaps it is time to revisit those games?

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