Encroachments on waterbodies, failure on the part of the authorities to periodically desilt rivers and irrigation tanks and conversion of wetlands into housing plots have wreaked havoc in Kanniyakumari district, particularly in the northern region.
Water has entered hundreds of acres of paddy fields, coconut and banana groves and submerged the crops. Water flowing through the main thoroughfare has eroded the roads and cut off villages from one another. Public transport is not being operated beyond Erachakulam, a village in the region.
“There are 385 tanks that function as shock absorbers by collecting the heavy water flowing from the nearby hills and forest areas. They are either encroached or not maintained,” said P. Chenbagasekaran Pillai, a farmer from Thuvarangadu said.
One could see dozens of waterbodies small and big covered with water hyacinth, korai and nanal (aquatic grass).
Water has entered villages and houses which was unheard of two decades ago. New settlements and independent houses on paddy fields have borne the brunt of the rain.
“As per the A-register of the Erachakulam revenue village, there are 37 ponds in and around the village. Now I can find only 15 of them. Where is the rest? Where will the water go when there is no place to absorb the water,” asked N. Kaliappan, joint secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s South Tamil Nadu unit.
He said the pathetic condition of Palayar or Pakruliyar of Sangam yore could explain the callous attitude of the government towards waterbodies in the district.
“Instead of removing encroachments, the PWD is leasing out coconut plantations on the banks of the river. Does it not amount to legally approving encroachments,” asked Mr. Kaliappan.
Mr. Chenbagasekaran Pillai agreed, saying that Palayar, which had the capacity to drain and carry the flood water to the sea, had been deprived of its capacity because of encroachments.
Vambar, a small river near Therisanancope, is in spate and has flooded paddy fields, coconut and banana crops cultivated on its banks. “Even in the 1990s, I had seen a bullock cart moving through its bank. Now you cannot ride a bicycle. Its condition speaks volumes about encroachments,” said T. Jayapal, who is running an oil press.
“When Mr Rajendra Ratnoo was the Collector, he sought to implement schemes to restore the waterbodies and save the wetlands. Unfortunately, he could not go ahead with his plan. Unless the administration resorts to removal of encroachments ruthlessly, the district will witness a similar situation year after year,” Mr Pillai said.
Though the government has plans to implement 36 small irrigation schemes such as Ullimalai Odai scheme, Mangaodai scheme and Olakkaruvi scheme, nothing is heard about their implementation.
One of the major issues that have contributed to the inundation is conversion of wetlands into housing plots, despite a prohibitive order by the Collector.
“There is a pressure on those who have lands on the roadside to sell. Once the land is in their possession, the real estate sharks prevent passage to others who own land beyond the roadside area. Other owners then follow suit. This is how the paddy fields are gobbled up,” said V. Umaiyorubhagan, former Professor of Chemistry.