Kerala, with its lush green cover and serene flowing rivers and backwaters is now facing the displeasure of the rain gods. Self-inflicted damage by humans had left the Kuttemperoor river lifeless and tainted with pollutants and plastic waste. The river was once the lifeline for Buddhanoor, being used to quench the thirst of the natives there as well as water about 25,000 acres of paddy fields. It was also used by local traders to transport goods. The river proved to be a lifesaver during the floods when it used to take in the excess water from Pamba and Achankovil rivers.
But sometimes what can be destroyed, can be rebuilt and when 700 workers came together to bring the water body back to life, the river filled up once again in 70 days. A tributary of Pamba and Achankovil rivers, the river stretched on for 12km through Budhanoor panchayat in Alappuzha district and was about 100m wide before it shrank to just 10-15m due to illegal sand mining and dumping of waste in the river.
Sand mining in the area was legal until 1997 after which the panchayat banned the activity due to its damage to the ecological framework. However, the sand mafia took over and continued mining in the area illegally.
As Viswambara Panicker, the president of the Buddhanoor panchayat told The News Minute,
“It became a spot for tanker lorries to dump their septic waste. Apart from that, tonnes of plastic wastes were also dumped here in the river.”
The waste laden river had become a breeding spot for weeds which once resulted in a boat getting stuck. Firefighters had to be called in to rescue them.
By 2013 people had sensed the urgency of resuscitating the water body and had formulated a project to revive the river headed by the Buddhanoor panchayat. However, the project was stuck until January 2017, when it was finally spearheaded by the panchayat. 700 workers, both men and women were employed under the MGNREGA scheme to bring the river back to life.
These people were determined to rejuvenate the river and poured in their sweat and their heart into the job.
“It wasn’t just a job for the sake of money for them though, they were sincerely trying to bring the water body back to life.”
The first task was to cut away the water weeds which had grown at a prolific rate hindering movement. They then started clearing the plastic waste, reaching the bottom of the river which had years of sewage, plastic and clay sedimented together. The layer was so thick that clearing it proved to be a huge task but once they succeeded, clear water had begun flowing and the water levels in wells had started rising.
With fresh water, fishes were spotted swimming in the gurgling river with locals enthused to start fishing again. Though the water is not being used for drinking purposes as of now, Viswambara is confident that with time the river water will be used again for drinking and cooking purposes.
“It had a lot of waste, so at present, we don’t use it for drinking. It is used for all other purposes though, and within a short period of time, we will be able to use it for drinking too.”
The natives of Buddhanoor are now overjoyed to have their scenic river back.