Scientific, participatory approach to Vembanad Lake conservation sought

First phase of eco-restoration project to begin in January 2022

As the State government plans to launch the multi-crore Vembanad Lake Conservation Project in the coming months, experts, environmentalists and stakeholders have called for a scientific and participatory approach to project planning and implementation.

According to Fisheries Minister Saji Cherian, who attended a couple of meetings in connection with the project in recent days, the first phase of the project will begin in January 2022. Mr. Cherian said ₹100 crore was earmarked in the Budget for the first phase. Officials said the project was aimed at the eco-restoration of Vembanad Lake, a Ramasar site spanning several districts, through coordination of various government departments and people’s participation. Besides making the waterbody pollution-free, the project envisages the conservation of fisheries resources.

“Biodiversity conservation should be at the forefront. Biological continuity of Vembanad Lake need to be established. All physical changes being planned as part of the project should ultimately ensure the conservation of living organisms and be beneficial to the ecosystem people like fishermen, clam collectors and so on,” said K.G. Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea-level Farming, Thottapally.

Against dredging

Mr. Padmakumar warned that dredging in the name of de-siltation would have a detrimental effect on the entire lake ecosystem. “Unscientific implementation of the project will be the final straw. Dredging has destroyed the Kochi Kayal, while the same thing is happening at Thottappally. Vembanad Lake needs de-silting not dredging,” he said, adding that the government needed to make clarity on the entire project.

Area reduction

According to a study carried out by the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) a few years ago, the water carrying capacity of the lake has diminished by 78%. The lake has shrunk from 36,000 ha to 12,500 ha owing to widespread reclamation and encroachments. Today, it is one of the most-polluted waterbodies in the world.

A report by the Kerala State Planning Board, ‘A Special Package for Post-Flood Kuttanad,’ notes that the “shrinkage of surface area and depth of Vembanad Lake is a major reason for the acuteness of Kuttanad floods.”

KSSP district secretary Jayan Champakulam has urged the government to form a committee by including representatives of local bodies, people’s representatives, farmers, fishermen, and tourism and other stakeholders for the success of the project. “A detailed project report (DPR) should be prepared along with fixing priorities. The DPR should be subjected to public scrutiny. Apart from the joint committee, an expert committee should be constituted to provide necessary expert/scientific advice,” Mr. Champakulam said.

Water-carrying capacity

He said the accumulated waste, including plastic, should be removed from the waterbody and its water-carrying capacity should be increased. “Implementation of an Agriculture calendar in Kuttanad, opening of the Thanneermukkom barrage continuously at least a year, and bringing some restrictions on houseboat operations should be considered as part of the project,” Mr. Champakulam said.

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