State revives ponds to fight drought

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Thiruvananthapuram: At least 600 water bodies in the state will be cleaned by the end of this month as part of a drought relief plan devised by the revenue department, breaking away from the usual practise of pumping water via tankers in drought-prone areas.

The new mission is aimed at de-silting and removing slurry and waste from ponds, lakes and so on and constructing minor check dams using natural resources, as against providing water to households in tanker trucks, which is a breeding ground for corruption. "It was decided last September that we should use the funds in a non-conventional way and Rs one crore each was given to each district collector for using it to recharge water bodies instead of pumping water using tanker trucks," said additional chief secretary (revenue) Vishwas Mehta.

As of now, districts like Kannur, Kozhikode, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta have together taken up cleaning of more than 450 ponds and large water bodies, each district adopting a different strategy to mobilize manpower for the effort. While Kannur plans to complete cleaning of 125 ponds by March 31, Kozhikode plans to clean 100 in addition to building 19 check dams. Ernakulam targets cleaning of 82 water bodies, Pathanamthitta has shortlisted 221 for the same, besides constructing nine check dams. Kollam plans to clean 44 ponds.

"We began with de-silting and removal of slurry in Chettiyar pond spread over half an acre. The pond, which was being used for dumping all kinds of waste, was cleaned with the help of local residents and the panchayat," Kannur district collector P Balakiran said. The pond was so polluted that volunteers even picked up old sewing machines, refrigerators and television sets from it.

Kozhikode district collector N Prasanth, who has a large fan following on social media, was more innovative. His invitation for the cleaning drive on social media yielded a tremendous response and as a mark of gratitude, Prasanth distributed free Malabar Biriyani for all volunteers.

"We handed over the task to MNREGS beneficiaries and Kudumbashree units," said Pathanamthitta district collector S Harikishore.

The drought monitoring cell under the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) had published a drought-prone area map of the state based on long-term data of rainfall, groundwater, drinking water supply and satellite images, which indicated that 2.5% of the state was severely drought-prone, 63.8% moderately drought-prone and 23% slightly drought-prone. It was on this basis that the additional chief secretary (revenue) decided to do away with the earlier practice and focus on ways to recharge water bodies.