‘Farmers migrating to other regions leaving paddy fields’
The government’s passivity had hastened the decline of the 150-year-old agriculture system in Kuttanad and imperilled the future of its two-lakh odd residents, the United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition claimed in the Assembly on Wednesday.
Congress legislator P.C. Vishnunath moved an adjournment notice stating that farmers were fleeing Kerala’s 61,00-hectare rice bowl that spanned vast swathes of Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts.
The catastrophic floods in 2018 had aggravated the plight of thousands of families who inhabit 1,172 sq km of paddy field, wetlands, canals, bunds, islets, inland waterways and lagoons. The unique wetland ecosystem is 0.5 to 2.5 m below sea level.
He said the government had caused the flooding by mindlessly opening nine dams across Pampa following heavy rain. “Poor dam management of the previous LDF government had almost destroyed Kuttanad. Now it should do something to salvage what remains of the State’s storied granary,” he said.
Saltwater intrusion, silting of rivers, estuaries and spillways threatened the fragile bio-saline ecosystem. Potable water is in short supply. Thousands of acres of paddy, "puncha and virippu" in local parlance, are no longer arable due to silting. People have no access to health care or ambulance service.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said Pamba Achan Kovil and Manimala rivers emptied into the Arabian sea via Vembanad lake in Kuttanad.
"Illegal reclamation had diminished the lake. Conserving Vembanad and desilting leading water channels, deepening the catchment area of dams would prevent recurrent flooding in Kuttanad," he said.
Irrigation Minister Roshi Augustine said silting had drastically reduced the discharge of surplus water via the Thottapally Spillway. He said there was no immediate threat of flooding in Kuttanad.
The government has tasked IIT Chennai to study the flooding in Kuttanad and suggest engineering solutions. He said the people of Kuttanad would not have voted for the LDF if the previous government had failed them.
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan said mud left behind by the flood had seeped into every aspect of daily life in Kuttanad. Water inundated homes. Many farmers had abandoned their paddy field for good and migrated to other regions.
He said Kuttanad would be the first to fall to rising sea levels and the ravages of climate change. The State’s Planning Commission kept legislators in the dark about its plan for Kuttanad rehabilitation.
He recounted the words of Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg to global leaders. Mr. Satheesan told the government: “The house is on fire. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to panic.”
Speaker M.B. Rajesh rejected the UDF’s adjournment notice.
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