Salt water incursion triggers protest on island in Kochi

Kumbalam residents say they are forced to abandon homes, panchayat refutes charges

Saline water incursion has triggered a public protest and war of words in Kumbalam panchayat on the outskirts of Kochi city.

While some residents of the panchayat, an island, have complained that the saline incursion into the inland waterbodies and wells have polluted the water and damaged their houses and appliances, the civic authorities maintained that steps for regulating salt water incursion had been initiated.

The office-bearers of the Kareethara Pradesham Residents Association allege that the delay in constructing a bund for preventing the incursion of salt water to fish ponds has resulted in the situation. Many houses in the first, 16th and 17th wards of the panchayat, have been affected. The panchayat, which was earning a meagre amount of around ₹26,000 annually by auctioning off the fish ponds, was turning a blind eye towards the plight of the residents, said a representation submitted to the District Collector and others.

As many as 100 houses, said K. J. Johnson, president of the association, have been affected. “Abandoning their homes, a few residents have moved to rented houses. Lives of most of the residents, who earn their livelihood through petty jobs, have been affected. The civic authorities have failed to respond to their plight,” he complained.

Panchayat’s reaction

K.S. Radhakrishnan, panchayat president, dismissed the protest as politically motivated. He said instructions had been issued to the contractor who won the bid for fish farming to prevent saline water ingress. While conceding that a few houses were affected, Mr. Radhakrishnan denied the charge that a large number of residents had abandoned their houses and fled the area.

Though a bund was constructed last time, the flooding defeated the process. However, the panchayat was taking all possible measures for protecting residents of low-lying areas, he said.

“The construction of a retaining wall around the Kumbalam island is the only permanent solution for the perennial issue. Last year, the Irrigation Department had prepared an estimate of ₹5 crore at the instance of the then legislator M. Swaraj and budgetary provisions were also made for the project,” he said.

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