The dredging of the Pampa riverbed at Aranmula by the Major Irrigation wing of the Water Resources Department, without conducting any proper environment impact assessment, will ultimately destroy the river system, according to experts.
The department formally started the dredging work in July last sidelining the warnings of experts and the protests raised by eco groups. The work remained stalled for seven months owing to technical complaints to the dredger brought from Neyyar dam.
However, a few weeks ago, it resumed.
Alexander George, Executive Engineer of the Irrigation wing, clarified that the department had undertaken the project on repeated requests from the Palliyoda Seva Sanghom (PSS).
The dredging project involves excavation of the mud banks to facilitate the free movement of the palliyodams (snakebaots) along the 1.75-km stretch of the riverbed in Aranmula at an estimated cost of ₹1.21 crore.
The riverbed would be deepened by 50 centimetres and dredging of mud banks would be done to a depth of 1.5 metres.
Talking to The Hindu on conditions of protecting their identity, a few experts attached to the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management and the National Centre for Earth Science Studies, who conducted studies, said the deepening of the already lowered Pampa riverbed would be highly disastrous to the river system and the environment.
The Pampa riverbed had already gone down by five to six metres over the past 20 years owing to unregulated sand mining and other unscientific human interventions, they said.
The Pampa Parirakshana Samiti (PPS) and the Kerala River Protection Council (KRPC) also took strong exception to the dredging work. N.K. Sukumaran Nair, PPS general secretary, said the Supreme Court had categorically stated in its verdict of February 12, 2012, that no human intervention that curtailed natural flow should be permitted in rivers without conducting a proper environment impact assessment.
“It is unfortunate that the State government that has launched its ambitious Harita Keralam project to conserve the rivers and other water sources has ventured into such a ‘destructive’ scheme,” Mr Nair said. Even Water Resources Minister Mathew T. Thomas, who very well knew the environmental problems facing the Pampa, also failed to understand the ill-effects of the unscientific riverbed dredging work, he alleged.
He said the construction of a motorable road in the Pampa along the southern bank at Sathrakkadavu too was an anti-river activity.
There was every reason to suspect huge corruption in the ongoing road work as well as the riverbed dredging work at Aranmula, the PSS leader said.
V.N. Gopinatha Pillai, KRPC State vice-president, alleged that the people of Kerala expected at least an environmentally responsible attitude on the part of the State government.
Mr Pillai said the drinking water scarcity in the Pampa river basin in and around Aranmula and Thottappuzhassery villages would be further worsened with the dredging-induced lowering of the ground water table.