Breaches that flooded hopes and homes

Heavy rain once again shows Kuttanad needs strong outer bunds to paddy polders

Sijimon K.A., 43, his wife, two children, and septuagenarian mother were eagerly waiting to move to their new home being constructed on stilts at Aarupanku Chira in Kainakary in Kuttanad in the coming months. But all their hopes were dashed on Sunday night after the outer bund of the Aarupanku paddy polder breached and gushing water destroyed the under-construction structure.

The place where the building once stood is now filled with water. “80% of the construction was completed. But floodwaters swept away everything,” says Mr. Sijimon.

The family, who now resides at a relative’s house, started constructing the new house after the 2018 deluge made their house uninhabitable. “I have spent ₹15 lakh for the construction of the house. While the government provided ₹4 lakh, the rest of the amount was borrowed through different means. The bund breach has left us in the lurch,” Mr. Sijimon says.

Apart from Mr. Sijimon’s house, another under-construction house was also destroyed at Aarupanku.

Ajesh Kumar and his family from Valiyathuruthu in Kainakary are living on the upstairs of his wife’s house since Sunday when his own house got inundated following a breach in the outer bund of Valiyathuruthu paddy polder on Saturday night. “Apart from people having houses built on pillars and double-storey buildings, all others have left the place after floodwaters entered houses,” Mr. Ajesh says.

Kuttanad has witnessed at least 21 bund breaches in recent days. In Kainakary alone, outer bunds of several polders were breached. This has inundated hundreds of houses, forcing several families to move to their relatives’ homes or relief camps. As per the preliminary assessment carried out by the Agriculture Department, paddy cultivation in 1,289 hectares was destroyed, resulting in huge losses to farmers.

Local residents say recurring bund breaches are upending their lives. In 2019, a series of bund breaches led to a flood-like situation in several parts of Kuttanad. “The recurring breaches are a result of the lackadaisical attitude of the government. Even two years after the 2018 deluge, no concrete steps have been taken to strengthen outer bunds of paddy polders in Kuttanad. Height of bunds should also be increased. Work on deepening of canals and the lake has also reached nowhere,” says B.K. Vinod, member, Kainakary grama panchayat.

A report submitted to the government by the Kerala State Planning Board following the 2018 deluge says farmers of Kuttanad deserve permanent outer bunds with necessary height and width, which can withstand the force of water currents. “Ensuring free and natural flow of waters within Kuttanad also requires the construction of strong outer bunds to padasekharams (paddy polders),” reads the report.

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