Drinking water situation grim: Minister

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH. 3. Thirty water supply schemes along the Bharathapuzha River may have to be shut down any day owing to the unprecedented drought conditions in the State, the Minister for Water Resources, T.M. Jacob, has said.

"The situation is grim," he said at a press conference convened immediately after a meeting of top officials of his department today. These schemes are the source of drinking water for scores of villages and towns in Palakkad and Malappuram districts.

"The pumping is going to stop for many of the Bharathapuzha schemes... The water source for the Guruvayur-Kunnamkulam scheme falls dry within 30 minutes of starting the pumping... We have attempted deepening the pumping wells, but to no avail," he said.

Mr. Jacob said the worst affected districts were Palakkad, Wayanad and Kozhikode. "The wells are all dry in Wayanad district. The situation is only slightly better in Kozhikode district," he said.

The Chief Engineers of the Water Resources Department and the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) from all parts of the State were at the meeting to report the situation to the Minister. "Their unanimous view is that reckless sand-mining along the rivers was a major reason for the scarcity of drinking water," Mr. Jacob said.

He said the Government was examining all options to overcome the crisis. Digging more tube wells was one option. By the end of this month, the KWA hoped to complete 1,763 tube wells. The Ground Water Department was also digging some tube wells, he explained.

Constructing check-dams along the rivers is an accepted practice to improve the groundwater recharge. Sixty check dams have been built across various rivers so far and 30 more would be taken up immediately, he said. The 30 check-dams would cost around Rs. 10 crores. The Government would have to find funds for this top priority programme, he added.

"I feel sand-mining should be banned on all the rivers in the State. Every river has water supply schemes located along its course. The sand that retains water along the course is disappearing. This is dangerous," Mr. Jacob said.

He said that the engineers had been instructed to schedule the water releases from the irrigation dams in such a way as to optimise the benefit of water now in reserve. To a question, Mr. Jacob said that Tamil Nadu had not released Kerala's full share of the Parambikkulam-Aliyar Project (PAP) waters. Kerala should get 7.2 TMC of water from Tamil Nadu as per the PAP pact during each `water year' beginning on July 1 and ending on June 30 next. Till February 15, the State should have got 5.6 TMC, but had received only 4 TMC of PAP waters. When asked, he said there was no point in expecting anything on this front till the elections were over.