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In Kerala, a people’s movement brings back to life dead river Varattar

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-07-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: In a corner of Kerala, efforts to revive a 9 km-long dead river came to a full circle last week, thanks to a massive people’s movement with the blessings of the state government.

Varattar, a perennial freshwater source linking two rivers in Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta districts, used to carry racing boats and cargo once. But the river has been dead for many years.

The demise reportedly caused by large scale sand mining and encroachment, coupled with deficient rainfall over the years. The result: perennial water shortage in the area.

But when Kerala was hit by the century’s worst drought this year, it triggered a discussion on its possible revival and the need for water harvest initiatives.

A committee was formed at the local level to chart an action plan, where members cutting across political affiliations joined hands. The locals decided to make it into a people’s movement and mobilized money and resources solely from individual contributions. The government backed them up with ministers chipping in money from their pockets.

By the end of the funding drive, they had collected about Rs10 lakh, which was enough to meet the expense on daily wages and renting out earth movers, according to local panchayat president Annapoorna Devi.

On 8 June, Devi emptied a pot of water brought from the river Pamba, one of the two rivers that were once connected to Varattar, into the dead river, symbolically marking the start of the work required to make it breathe again.

On Tuesday, the river was flowing well beyond what was expected with the onset of monsoon, as large groups of villagers stood on its banks for a review meeting of the campaign, The Hindu reported.

“The initial plan was to create a small channel between the two rivers Varattar bridged once and infuse water into the dead river. This required clearing up of sedimentary structures, weeds, garbage piles and so on. But people were so enthusiastic that they widened the width of it in several places,” said finance minister Thomas Isaac, one of the forces behind the projects.

The government is now thinking of taking the initiative to the next level by taking precautionary steps against losing the river again. Isaac said the region will be converted into a biodiversity zone, and the government will make budgetary provisions to plant trees and construct footpaths across the river bank. Reviving paddy cultivation along the area and tourism opportunities will also be looked at, he said.

“What was considered as impossible has been made possible by sheer will and public support... The rejuvenation is a prime example of people cutting across party lines coming together for the welfare of the state,” chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote on his official Facebook page on Monday.

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