Inspiring Tale: How Kerala Panchayat bring a dying river back to life

The Kuttamperoor stream in Kerala, connecting the Pampa and Achankovil rivers, had been a nearly stagnant, shrunken cesspool of dumped waste and weeds for more than a decade. Some weeks ago, it was resuscitated as a flowing river, thanks to the will of the Budhanur gram panchayat in Alappuzha district, and the commitment of 700 local men and women who worked to bring the river back to life under the MGNREGA.

The Kuttamperoor was once a full 12 kilometres long and, at places, over 100 feet wide. The river originates from Achankovil at Ulunthi, near Mavelikkara, and flows through Ennackad, Budhanur, Kuttamperoor, Mannar, and Pandanad before merging with the Pampa at Nakkida near Parumala in Pathanamthitta district.

According to legend, it was originally a man-made canal on which wide-bodied vessels known as kettuvallams carried items of trade and daily requirement. The river irrigated 2,000 acres of paddy fields, and was the lifeline for thousands of people who lived on its banks. Country boats (palliyodams) once raced on it during the famous Aranmula boat race. The river was also a natural flood control channel between the Pampa and Achankovil.

The advent of modern transportation, coupled with urbanisation, began the process of the river’s slow death. The kettuvallams ceased to operate. Weeds overran the river, and the hotel industry and local residents converted it into a giant garbage bin. Three bridges were constructed across the river in a manner that severely restricted its flow. There was unchecked, illegal sand mining on the riverbed, its banks were dug up to mine clay for brick units, and there was rampant encroachment. Chemical fertilisers from fields and sewage from human settlements flowed into the river.

For over two decades, the Kuttamperoor lay neglected and abused and, by 2005, it had been reduced to a marshy, polluted cesspool perhaps 10-15 feet wide, with patchy water and almost no flow.

The move to revive the river was proposed in 2013, and received a push after a dry spell in the region. A 700-strong local group of villagers, mostly women, have spent weeks wading through toxic waste, algae and risking deadly water-borne diseases to physically de-silt and clean the river. After 70 days of back-breaking effort, the results began to show. The 12-kilometre long river now brims with water, the stench is gone and children are playing on its green banks once more.

Now, people residing near the banks of the river swear their wells are flush with water. But a bigger challenge awaits: To fight off the sand mafia and encroachers and ensure the river doesn’t turn into a sewer again. But for now, their herculean effort has catapulted the sleepy village to the headlines.

This article is originally published in as a DRP News Bulletin. To visit the page, click here.

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