Water Crisis in Kerala

Submitted by Hindi on Mon, 04/18/2016 - 13:15
A Report by ‘Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’ for National Commission for Women, January, 2005, Page 11-13.

Every one is aware of the snake boat race on the Pamba River held every year at Aranmula during the Onam festival. This race draws a huge number of tourists both domestic and foreign. Sadly, this race could not take place last Onam in 2003, because of scarcity of sufficient water in the river. The Bharatapuzha or the Nila River, the longest of the 41 rain fed rivers of Kerala with a length of 209 kilometres, is now more or less dry. (Ghosh 2004)

And the most heart rendering sight one sees these days in Kerala is the hundreds of multicoloured plastic buckets and pitchers lined up before one single tap in most parts of Kerala (Ghosh 2004)

There is no escape from the fact that in case of different rainfall from the south-west monsoon, the only source of water apart from some southern districts getting winter rainfall – kerala has to be provided with some water from somewhere in order to alleviate distress caused to the people. This source is still very apparent because the adjacent states of Karnataka are itself water-short. During 2003 monsoon as many as 16 districts of Karnataka had received deficient rainfall for the second year in succession. And Tamil Nadu itself is fast becoming a chronically water short area with procuring of even drinking water becoming an ordeal for Chennai residents (Ghosh 2004).

Harrowing midnight water for a precious bucket of drinking water is a regular feature for many families of Vypuri an island off the mainland of Kochi. Families have to queue up in front of the public water taps, being at the lag end of the pipeline system, they get water only after the users ahead in the pipeline finish collecting water. There are nights when water pressure dips so low that some women get it after midnight. They split their day between household chores and collecting water (Prathapan 2004).

Those who cannot stand in the queue buy water sold by private tanker operators. But women who depend on public taps are doomed. Most of the women in the rural area in the state cannot afford privately sold water.

Recently, the government has admitted that Kerala has ceased to be a water surplus state. According to Rajendra Singh, India’s mascot of water literacy “Kerala is paying dearly for its lack of water literacy. The state might have attained total literacy more than a decade ago, but it is still illiterate as far as water management is concerned”.

Kerala, which is one of wettest place in the country, is behind arid Rajasthan in per capita availability of drinking water. Experts believe government policies over the years have worsened the situation. The characteristics of the state’s topography, the steep slops of the Western Ghats take rainwater to the sea. (Prathapan 2004)

In districts after districts, drinking water has become another item in the monthly shopping list of people who could afford to buy water. But for the poor, getting water depends on the stopgap arrangements of the government and local administration bodies (Jayan 2004).

Kerala gets 2.8 times more rainfall than national average, but has about 2.5 times more people. Ground water recharge potential is lmuch less than all major cities.

Kerala is a water surplus state is a well-perpetuated myth 41 of its 44 rivers originating in the Western Ghats empty into the Arabian Sea in less than 48 hours after rain. Their combined water flow is 30% less than Godavari. Kerala has an estimated 77.35 billion cubic metres (BCM) of freshwater, but nearly 40% of water resources are lost as run off. This loss means that only 42 BCM for irrigation, domestic use, industries and other purposes annually. This shortage leads to people exploiting groundwater so severely that the water table in several districts has fallen to 200-250 metre (Jayan 2004).

Crores over decades have spent on irrigation projects, but when it comes to treat drinking water, only 59% of the rural population and 79% of urban population get it. In several rural areas, one tap caters to 250 people, this means that treated piped water reaches only 10 to 15% of the population. At least 80% o the people depend on the states 4.5 million wells one for every seven persons and 5% population depends on ponds. But as the groundwater is falling, it means more and more people would demand treated piped water.

At an estimate, Kerala would need 6,675 MLD of drinking water in 2010 and 8,772 in 2020 if supply were to be given to the entire population. There are 31 irrigation projects, but only two reservoirs for storing drinking water. The State has 1,655 schemes but it only supplies 1,700 – 1,800 MLD of drinking water all over the State.

Faced by growing demand, Kerala has signed several agreements with international organizations for water supply projects. The Government will implement a Japan Bank of International Cooperation Project (JBIC) in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode and in three rural areas. The entire cost will be 1,787.45 crore

Jalnidhi Project

The 450 crore ‘Jalnidhi’ project, which is implemented by the Kerala Rural water Supply and Sanitation Agency, is also creating controversy. The World Bank has lent Rs. 300 crore for Jalnidhi, which began in 2001 and will cover three million homes. Each micro-level water shed project under jalnidhi is expected to cost between Rs. 5-8 lakh. This means a capital expenditure of Rs. 2,250 on each beneficiary family. Jalnidhi water will be available to people at a rate of Rs. 6 kilo literes, three times that is charged by Kerala Water Authority (KWA). The argument is that KWA currently spends Rs. 8 on supplying one kilolitre of water. The project will slowly take the government out of water supply though it is the State’s duly to provide water at a rate affordable to people (Jayan 2004)

Mining Sand, Choking Water

No water is safe in Kerala from mining, Bharathapuzha, Pampa, Periyar, Achankovil, Manimala, Muvattupuzha and Chalakkudi are important rivers that face the greatest threat. Sand mining became a lucrative business during the construction boom in the last decade. Mining fetches good revenue for village panchayats, who grant daily permits to contractors. It is these contractors who are over-extracting sand, causing riverbank cavines and destruction of riverine eco-system. The Kerala government had banned mining at Bharatapuzha and its six tributaries. However, the contractor, politicians and panchayat officials keep the mining going. The Karunakaran government in 1993 took away the right of granting permits from panchayats. On the High Court’s order, the government enforced a law in 2001 and gave back permits rights to panchayats. According to the law, two Committees are supposed to monitor mining in a district (Jayan 2004)

All looks nice on paper, but it is rarely implemented. The permit is for single use, but it is used to extract sand several times. The sand extracted should be used locally, but it is often supplied to all over Kerala and in nehibouring states (Jayan 2004)

Except Periyar, other rivers become a trickle during summer, but they recharge wells and other surface bodies. Though the river turns shallow in summer, water still flows below their sand, which helps well and ponds, to retain water even in peak summer. It is this surface water that has been jeopardized over the years. The entire sand in the seven rivers in Kochi region will be mined in less than a decade. These rivers have an estimated 56 million cubic metres of sand, but about 6.63 million cubic metres is being extracted every year at 981 locations (Jayan 2004)

This mining is shocking because only 0.086 million cubic metre of sand is replenished each year. Apart from retaining water, sand regulates the flow in the rivers, particularly in lean months. Central Water Commission has already found that riverbeds are declining alarmingly at several places. In several places, sand has been completely extracted till the clay bottom of the river.

Building Water Democracy: People’s victory against Coca-Cola in Plachimada

Two years ago, adivasi women in a small hamlet, Plachimada, in Palghat, Kerala started a movement against Coca-Cola. Today, the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada has been shut down. The victory of the Plachimada movement is major step in reversing corporate hijack of our precious water resources. It provides both inspiration and lessons for building water democracy in other parts of India and in the rest of the world.

The Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada was commissioned in March 2000 to produce 1,224,000 bottles of Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Limca, Thums up, Kinley Soda, Maaza. The Panchayat has issued a conditional license for installing a motor for drawing water. However the company started to illegally extract millions of liters of clean water from more than 6 bore wells installed by it using electric pumps in order to manufacture millions of bottles of soft drink. According to the local people, Coca-Cola was extracting 1.5 million litres per day.

The water level started to fall, going from 150 feet to 500 feet. Not only did Coca-Cola “Steal” the water of the local community, it also polluted what was left. The company is also pumping wastewater into dry bore wells within the company premises for disposing solid waste. Earlier it was depositing the waste material outside the company premises which during the rainy season spread into paddy fields, canals and wells, causing serious health hazards. As a result of this, 260 bore wells which were provided by public authorities for drinking water and agriculture facilities have become dry. Complaints were also being received from tribals and farmers that storage of water and sources of water were being adversely affected by indiscriminate installation of bore wells for tapping ground water leading to serious consequences for crop cultivation in the area on which residents of the panchayat depend on their living – e.g. maintenance of traditional drinking water sources, preservation of ponds and water tanks, maintenance of waterways and canals and shortage of drinking water. When the Panchayat asked for details, the company failed to comply.

The Panchayat therefore served a show cause notice and cancelled the license. Coca-Cola tried to bribe the Panchayat President A Krishnan with Rs. 300 million, but he refused to be corrupted and coopted. In 2003, the district medical officer informed the people of Plachimada their water was unfit for drinking. The women already know their water was toxic. Instead of drawing water from the wells in their homes they had to walk miles. Coca-Cola had created a water scarcity in a water abundant region. And the women of Plachimada were not going to allow this “hydropiracy”. They started a “dharna” (sit-up) at the gates of Coca-Cola. On 21st September, 2003 a huge rally was organised to give an ultimatum to Coca-Cola. On 21st and 22nd of January, 2004 a World Water Conference brought global activists like Jose Bove and Maude Barlow to Plachimada to support the local activists.

The local panchayat used its constitutional rights to serve notice to Coca-Cola. The Perumatty Panchayat also filed a public interest litigation in the Kerala High Court against Coca Cola.

The courts support the women’s demands. In an order given on 16th December 2003, Justice Balakrishnana Nair ordered Coca-Cola to stop pirating Plachimada’s water.

Apart from the water scarcity caused by Coca-cola in Plachimada, the other districts in the state are facing water crisis. For instance, in Kottayam district at some places, the water scarcity is so acute that people hesist to offer a glass of water to the visitor, which hitherto was a common custom. In the upper Kuttanadu area of the district during summer people collect from a distance of 3-4 kms. Water supply from public taps is erratic and very often even after standing for an hour in the queue; people are not able to get a bucket of water.Earlier, private water selling was not known in Kerala, but today water selling by private parties has become common. For instance, in Thrissur district, there are private agencies selling water usually charging Rs. 300 for 500 litres, but the rate may increase according to the distance.