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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kumarakom Nature Club - Article in 'Malayalam Varika' June 2011

Vembanad Authority - Report in ' THE HINDU ' 16 June 2011

State to constitute Vembanad authority

Special Correspondent

Eco-development authority will initiate measures to regenerate lake

Rs.10 crore allocated for preliminary works
Special purpose vehicle for Kochi Metro

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Cabinet on Wednesday decided to establish the Vembanad Eco-development Authority towards implementation of a project for restoration and regeneration of Vembanadu Lake.

The authority would be in charge of the project promised by Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during his visit here early this week.
The Cabinet entrusted the Departments of Environment, Water Resources, and Health to examine various aspects of the project and the scope for implementation of the programme. The Union Minister had sanctioned Rs.10 crore for preliminary works related to the project. He had also promised to put up the project for external assistance amounting to $ 20 m (Rs.90 crore).

Vembanad and Thannermukkom bund - Report in IndiaVision TV

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vembanad Lake and Food Security of Kerala

Issues that is to be addressed immediately (discussed by means of the seminar)
·                The negative impact of this development approach on the ecology of Kuttanad, its livelihood prospects especially of the most vulnerable groups, access to resources
·                The Paddy-Wetland Conservation efforts and the threats to the implementation of the Act and the revival programmes of the Government and the Panchayaths.
·                Sectors to be developed – Is it Agriculture, dairy, fishery development and allied sectors or tourism, golf course and real estate ?
·                There should be a meaning for declaring this area as a Ramsar site and the purpose of Dr. M.S. Swamynathan Commission visit and report. The acts and rules framed for the conservation of nature should attain better public response and audit.
·                This is not the only case and through out the state similar incidents are happening. So there is a scope for discussing these within a broader frame work of ecological and livelihood security and make a much more focused move to address such issues.

                   The workshop had bring together representative of stakeholder regionally, representatives of other similar movements in other parts of Kerala, officials, technical specialists, resource persons, representatives from political parties, representative of NGOs working in this field, representatives from media, panchayaths etc. The workshop was a full day program divided into different sections moderated by experts in the field. There were two-three main presentations on the situation in Kuttanad vis-a-vis Ecology,
Agriculture and Developing trends and threats, followed by discussion and responses and consolidation of views. All these were, then formulated into a policy and action approach and campaign strategies, focussed on
· Developing action plan to addressing the issue
· To develop unity among similar movements to protect wetland and paddy fields
· Sharing experiences and learning lessons for effective planning

Metran kayal Samrakshana Prakshobha Samiti

           As a beginning to the struggle for reclaiming the Methran Kayal for agricultural actvities, a One day 'Wetland seminar' was conducted at Kumarakom on 6th April, 2010. The venue for this prestigious event was the Mini hall of Government H.S.S., Kumarakom.  The seminar was organized by Kottayam Nature Society, Kumarakom Nature Club and EQUATIONS.
           The most prominent outcome of the discussions arised then, is the formation of a group namely The Methran Kayal Samrakshana Prakshobha Samiti. The Samiti consists of several eminent personalities which includes several, environmentalists, politicians, farmers, representatives of several NGOs etc. The Samiti was given the charge to organize further struggles and movements for protecting the most precious and beautiful piece of Wetland. 

The Methran Kayal Issue

             In the beginning of the 19 th century large areas of Vembanad lake was transformed into cultivable lands of the kuttanad so as to meet with the food demands faced by the population in Kerala. Unfortunately these cultivable lands are reclaimed in the name of tourism and by the land mafia. Of these lands the Metran kayal ,located in the kumarakom panchayat which is the richest paddy land in terms of productivity is falling prey to the hands of unsustainable developmental practices,by using the land for non cultivable purposes. 

The Methran kayal 
Methran kayal also called the seminary kayal is a 417 acre land lying close to the vembanad lake in the Kumarakom panchayat of the Kottayam district.This land which had been cultivated until four years back is today owned by a private  real estate company. The company has procured 403 acres of land under different ownerships. 

The challenge over Metrankayal 
U.A.E based Rakeen group together with a prominent mining industry group called the Retremex has combined to form the real estate group- the Rackinto Developers. They have planned to build the Rackindo Kumarakom resort, which includes a seven star resort, five star hotel, international convention center, luxury cottages, theatre, golf course and so on. 

In this context ,lets have a look into the rice productivity of the state.The internal production is  just 15% which is very much insufficient to satisfy our own needs. In 1965 eight lakh hectares of paddy field existed in the state which has shrinked to just 2.64 hectares today. The metran kayal when cultivated properly can yield about 10500 quintals of rice annually. Laying the fields barren thus brings us a loss of such a huge quantity of rice which can help with the state's food security. Apart from this 22165 sustained work days are lost among the paddy workers , together with this it can also lead to work loss among people who participate in the production, processing and supply of rice.(for example,during a season of cultvation in kumarakom the income of load workers is estimated to be about 577500 rupees. As agriculture comes to a halt this income will be lost.

The land after cultivation is an ideal environment for  the breeding and growth of many inland species of fishes (58) which includes the Pearl spot, Prones etc.The average fish supply rises to as far as 100750 kgs a year.As the land lying close to the Vembanad lake is transformed it will lead to drastic changes in breeding patterns and fish suply and will affect the fishermen and.other workers who eke out a living depending on the lake. 

Environmental Impacts. 
If the tourism project is implemented in the Metran kayal then the state will be witnessing the largest ever landfilling process in Kerala. The filling of the area requires tonnes of soil which has to be brought from the demolition of hills or mining of lakes in some other parts of the state where the ecological system will be damaged. The fields like the Metran kayal has got a major role in controlling the flood waters during the monsoon . Also they helps in prevention of soil erosion and in nourishing the ground water content. Researchers have  calculated that the environmental value of metrankayal fields is equivalent to a sum of 1042500,000, in terms of monetary benefits.
The land is also included in the internationaly declared IBA (important bird area). It is home to about 185 species of water birds, 58 fishes other rare species of reptiles and insects.

Towards an open movement

The people behind the project aimed at the naked violation of the Wetlands conservation act passed by the Kerala government in 2008.The local committee formed on behalf of the wetland conservaton act had sent notice to the different companies pointing out their tendency to lay the land barren and had asked them to appear for a meeting. The representatives in that meetng declared that they are not intending to cultivate but to use the land to implement their tourism project. As the company made clear declaration about going on with their project, the Kumarakom Grama Panchayat send a memorandum to the collector seeking immediate action to re-start agriculture in the area

In this background various socio political and environmental organizations came together to form the Metran kayal samrakshana prakshoba samiti aimimg to protect the paddy land from beng used for non cultivatonal processes.The samiti took the issue to the notice of the Agriculture minister who called upon the Rice mission director and asked him to submit a report on renovating farming in the Metrankayal region. Lodging the complaints of the samiti , the kerala legislative environmental comitte conducted an open public forum in June at the Kottayam collectorate, where several organizations and individuals strongly opposed the project..The comittee then visted the area and realized the seriousness of the issue. In a meeting formed under the agricultural department of the Kumarakom panchayat the company representatives declared openly that they will gain acceptance for the project in the legislature, overcoming all laws existing in the state. Following this the industrial ministry introduced the project in favour of its implementation. But due to the strong dissapproval of the agricultural and other ministry, the project failed to gain acceptance and was rejected in the legislature.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

About Vembanad Wetland

             Kerala has a continuous chain of lagoons or backwaters along its coastal region. These water bodies are fed by rivers and drain into Arabian sea. The Vembanad wetland system and its associated drainage basins lie in the humid tropical region between 09 00’ – 10 40’N and 76 00’ -77 30’E. It is unique in terms of physiographic, geology, climate, hydrology, land use and flora and fauna. The Vembanad lake is bordered by Alapuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam districts of Kerala covering an area of about 200Sq. km and extending 80 km NW-SE direction from Munambam in north to Alapuzha in south. The width of the Lake varies from 500m to 7 km and depth from <1m to 12m. The lake has got a freshwater dominant southern zone and salt water dominant northern zone, both separated by a barrage/regulator called Thanneermukkom barrage. The freshwater dominant southern zone is basically known as Kuttanad. This area is part of a fragile but beautiful wetland system, which is declared as Ramsar Site in 2002.  

           Change in land use pattern and modification of lake water by low mixing, increased pollution, aggressive growth of water weeds, continuous dredging operations and other developmental interventions have led to substantial decline in species diversity and population diversity of flora and fauna in Vembanad. The reclamation has almost decimated the mangrove and associated species diversity, which was once very diverse and luxurious. It also has diverse effect on fish particularly prawn population and bird diversity. The changed ecology is believed to have lost about 23 species of fishes, preventing migration of about 13 other species, led to the decline of 33% of bird population. More than 80% of people in Kuttanad are reported to be relying on the contaminated canal water for their daily needs.

The Vembanad lake is the back bone of Kuttanad economy and in that agriculture is the major economic activity in Kuttanad. Rice and coconut are major crops contributing to about 80% of agricultural income. Kuttanad is one of the ‘rice bowl’ or ‘granary’ of Kerala. In 1967 about 60,921 ha was under paddy in Kuttanad, which in 2003 declined to 37,624 ha. The share of Kuttanad to the state’s total paddy production shrunk from 37% in 1967 to 18% in 2003. It is the livelihood for thousands of people as farmers and agricultural labors and allied sectors. A big majority of the agricultural labors are women

An estimated 12,541 inland fishermen family in Alapuzha and Kottayam are depending on the capture fishery. A community with hardly any assets, they constitute a poorest section in this area, with more than 70% of them below poverty line. Women make up 47.1% of the total fisher work force. It has been estimated that over the last thirty years fish diversity has come down from 150 to 30 species and the fish catch had declined from 1,60,000 ton to 7,200 ton in 1998 and to as low as 687 ton in 2000-2001.

Annual landing of black calm is reported to have plummeted from 27,000 ton in 1968 to 11,652 ton during the mid 80s.

The water spread area of Vembanad both in terms of square area and cubic area has substantially decreased over the last century. It is now 1/3rd of its original size. In 1834, it was 36,329 ha; this reduced to about 23,750 in 1983. Again in 1992 it was 13,224 ha which then reduced to 12,504 ha in 2000.

Backwater tourism, tourist resorts and houseboat cruise is an economic evolution emerged recently by marketing the scenic and natural charm of Kuttanad. Tourism has created a wonderland and invades into Kuttanad without the permission of local people. Unfortunately government is considering only the economic aspects of tourism. Sustainable tourism also has to be sensitive to the use of resources.

In the history of independent Kerala rice cultivation has got the maximum promotion. Government introduced Paddy land Act, giving maximum financial support, in fact the policy of the government itself is barren less paddy land. Even then in the name of development people has approaching government to convert paddy land for developmental purpose. Methren Kayal and Golf based tourism village is a classical example for this. This is not the only case. Each and every day land mafia is accruing ha of paddy fields in different padasekharam. After accruing this they are not cultivating paddy and some of them already converted paddy fields by reclaiming it. This land mafia offer exorbitant prices for paddy fields to get it from the hands of poor farmers. 

           It is recognized that the current trend of development will negatively impact on the ecology of Kuttanad and thus intern will affect livelihood of the most vulnerable groups as it will reduce access to resources.

Both government has done the initial steps and need further fine turning and assistance from local community and scientific community people concerned in conserving this wet land. There has to be better pressure on government by lay men and vulnerable groups to address the issue and for that the issue has to be discussed in detail.

To assist in framing sustainable and scientific approaches in dealing with wetland, which is again a tourism hub. The productive sector which is the back bone of Kuttanad has to conserve scientifically. There should be meaning for declaring this area as a Ramsar site and the purpose of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan Commission visit and report. The acts and rules framed for the conservation of nature should attain better public audit.