The once mighty river Gayathripuzha has turned into a trickle despite a relatively better monsoon in the eastern region of Palakkad.— Photo: K.K. Mustafah
Paddy fields, which used to recharge Gayathripuzha, are being increasingly converted
Rapid changes in land use patterns at Muthalamada and Pattenchery grama panchayats, located on the eastern borders of Palakkad district, in the recent years are contributing to the imminent death of the Gayathripuzha, confirms a study conducted by Kerala State Land Use Board.
As per data available with the board, 67 per cent paddy lands in the two panchayats, which earlier facilitated groundwater recharge, have been converted to mango and coconut groves.
The Gayathri river is the major feeder of Bharathapuzha and a perennial source of drinking and irrigational water for thousands of families in Kollengode, Nenmara, Alathur, and Vadakkancherry.
Being the mango capital of Kerala, Muthalamada and adjacent Pattenchery are promoting large-scale conversion of paddy fields to mango farming.
“Paddy fields that ensure steady seepage into the river have all been drained by creation of huge drainage channels called ‘akampadom chals.’ In other panchayats in the river basin, the extent of conversion is just 12 per cent, but here the paddy fields along the critical ridge line, called potta kandoms , have undergone massive conversion to garden lands. This is as harmful as dismantling a hill upon a ridge,” say the board’s regional assistant director R. Rugmini and agricultural officer V. Bindu.
“With widespread conversion of paddy lands, the overland flow to the river is reduced.
Ponds along the path of the overland flow are in an utter state of neglect. In Muthalamada, conversion of ponds to garden land is picking up pace. Sparse natural streams have now lost their connectivity to the main river. When the groundwater availability of this region is thus seriously hampered, farmers heavily depend on borewells,” says their study.
“Borewells are sunk indiscriminately all over this fragile land, further depleting the groundwater.
In Muthalamada, their density is as high as 2 or 3 numbers per acre and the average depth ranges from 400 to 600 ft. The borewells are used to irrigate the mango orchards. In Elavencherry, even paddy is widely irrigated using borewells,” they say.
“The quality of groundwater and surface water in this region should be investigated. The mango orchards of Muthalamada are heavily dependent on pesticide sprays and hormone application to soil.Spraying by means of tillers and power sprayers creates a huge aerial drift that may pollute water sources of the area. Leaching through soil is also possible,” says the study.