Polluted waterways, stagnant schemes
Waterways in the city are fast becoming dead tracts, choked with sewage and other effluents.
A SCENE from the Fifties: Canoes sail through a serene, crystal waterway. People fish on the banks, under a green canopy of coconut palms. Man and Nature in harmony. A feast for the eyes.
Reality at the turn of the century: the once pristine waterways of Thiruvananthapuram are a mess of garbage and weeds. The old waterway is a blot on the cityscape. Aquatic life has all but disappeared. The ecosystem is gasping for breath.
The transformation is characteristic of almost the entire network of rivers, lakes and canals that criss-cross Thiruvananthapuram and its suburbs. Over the years, the lopsided growth of the city has clogged most of its waterways. Extensive land reclamation and encroachments have claimed large tracts along the course of these canals. Large-scale removal of sand from the Killi, the Karamana, the Neyyar and the Vamanapuram rivers has destabilised their banks. Low-lying wetlands and paddy fields are being reclaimed at an alarming rate.
Sewage and toxic effluents are choking the rivers and the canals. Environmental surveys conducted by several agencies have indicated that the dangerously high level of pollutants in the water bodies may soon turn them into dead tracts of toxic filth. Scientists say they fear that the polluted waterways would contaminate the groundwater resources of the city. The Government, which should have tackled the problem on a war footing, has failed to come up with remedial measures.
Scientific studies have revealed that the Killi and the Vamanapuram rivers, the Vellayani freshwater lake, the Parvathy-Puthanar canal and the Aakulam-Veli lake are all highly polluted. The Ulloor, Pattom and the Vanchiyoor canals are clogged with garbage and sludge.
In 1997, the Legislative Committee on Environment reported that the release of untreated sewage into the Killi river has led to an "explosive" situation. The committee directed the Kerala Water Authority to provide eight sewage-pumping stations. But there has been little follow-up action.
An environment impact assessment study conducted for the Kerala Urban Development Project revealed the presence of organic putrescible matter and chironimid larvae in huge concentrations in surface and ground water near the Parvathy-Puthanar canal. The impact is reflected on the health profile of the people living in the surrounding areas.
Experts maintain that people should stop treating the canals as a garbage dump or sewer, but the warning has fallen on deaf ears.
The Aakulam-Veli lake faces threat from eutrophication and sewage pollution among other things. Sewage and garbage end up in the lake through the Kannamoola canal and the Parvathy-Puthanar. The Assembly Committee had called for legislation to preserve the wetlands but that recommendations too remain on paper.
The network of canals and drains that formed the city's natural drainage system is clogged by heavy siltation and dumping of garbage. Squatters occupy large tracts of land on the banks of the Ulloor, Pattom and the Vanchiyoor canals. The Thekkanamkara canal, which was one of the main drainage outlets of the city till the Fifties, now flows under two multi-storied buildings at East Fort.
Thiruvananthapuram of the erstwhile Travancore was once linked to Hosdurg in North Malabar by an inland waterway networked with canals. The 560-km Travancore-Shoranur waterway, which was constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries, was used for passenger and goods traffic. But excessive siltation and pollution have rendered long stretches of the channel, including the Parvathy-Puthanar canal, useless.
The Parvathy-Puthanar, once the pride of the city, is today its curse. A considerable quantity of the city's sewage and waste water drain into this canal. Siltation and proliferation of weeds too have contributed to the slow death of the canal.
In 2000, the Government announced an ambitious Canal Walk project to revive the Parvathy-Puthanar. Designed on the model of the River Walk project of the city of San Antonio in the U.S., the Rs.1000-crore project includes proposals to clean and open the canal for recreational and commercial activities, and to safeguard the natural beauty of the canal and its surrounding areas, including the Edayar island located at the confluence of the Killi and the Karamana rivers.
The renovated canal is to be used to carry safari boats and leisure crafts. Its banks are to have paved zig-zag walkways. No vehicular trafiic would be allowed near the walkway. The entire stretch of the canal is to be developed as a garden that would merge with the surroundings. As many as six bridges are planned across the canal.
Other recreational facilities to be developed as part of the project include a water theme park, traffic park, video game park, food kiosks, restaurants, performing art centre, gallery and open-air theatre.
But, sadly, the lack of political will and the absence of a comprehensive strategy for management of water bodies have seen this proposal too being confined to paper. Planners are at a loss on how to revive the city's canals and lakes and help them regain their lost-splendour.
Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar
Send this article to Friends by