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#GoodNews: How 700 Workers Revived A Dead River in Kerala

The Kuttemperoor river was believed to be dead for about 10 years. 

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The revival of Kuttemperoor is testament to the claim that rivers can be brought back to life no matter how severe its pollution problems are. (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

The Kuttemperoor river in Kerala has gotten a fresh lease of life, thanks to the efforts of 700 locals.

The river, a tributary of Pampa and Achankovil rivers, was dead for 10 long years, but its successful revival stands testament to the claim that rivers can be brought back to life no matter how severe its pollution problems are.



Labourers cleaning the river. (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)
Labourers cleaning the river. (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)
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Slow Death

At one point, the Kuttemperoor river in the Alappuzha district, was the lifeline of the Budhanoor panchayat.

The residents of the village never experienced a drinking water crisis, nor did they have a shortage of water for irrigation. In fact, the river was a source for irrigation for about 25,000 acres of paddy fields.

Back then, the river was also used by local traders to transport their goods. It also helped control the flood in many places, because when Pamba and Achankovil overflowed, Kuttemperoor took in the excess water.

According to old government records, the 12km-long river was over 100m wide. But by 2005, it had shrunk to just 10-15m, thanks to sand mining and dumping of waste in the water body.


River before cleaning. (Photo: The News Minute)
River before cleaning. (Photo: The News Minute)

Sand Mining, Waste Dumping To Blame

The president of Budhanoor panchayat, Viswambara Panicker, says that the river died a slow death.

It became a spot for tanker lorries to dump their septic waste. Apart from that, tonnes of plastic wastes were also dumped here in the river
Viswambara

The pollution in the river was so bad, that in 2011, a country boat which was brought from Chennithala for a boat race in Aranmula was stuck in the motionless Kuttamperoor river, trapped between the water weeds. The situation was so dire, that firefighters were called in to rescue the boat and travellers.

Illegal land grabbers further threatened the existence of the river. After the sand mining was made illegal in 1997, the area became a hub for the sand mafia. 
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The Revival Project

After a number of organisations raised a hue and cry, a project to rejuvenate the river, spearheaded by the Budhanoor panchayat, was proposed in 2013. “But it couldn’t start for another four years. Finally, we launched the project in January 2017,” Viswambara says.

The project was implemented under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. We spent around Rs 1 crore just to remunerate the labourers
Viswambara

And as 700 women and men spent 70 days cleaning up the river, things finally started looking up. First, they got rid of the weeds. Next, they removed the plastic waste. Finally, they cleaned the thick waste at the bottom of the stream.

By Day 45, the still river had begun to flow again. But the cleaning process was not yet complete. “It wasn’t just a job for the sake of money for them though, they were sincerely trying to bring the water body back to life,” said Viswambara.



Minister G Sudhakaran taking a tour of the river on a boat, after its revival. (Photo: The News Minute)
Minister G Sudhakaran taking a tour of the river on a boat, after its revival. (Photo: The News Minute)
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And by Day 70 – on 20 March, 2017 – the project, ‘Bhagiratha Prayathna’, came to an end.

“Finally, the water became clear and flow was normal. To our surprise, the water levels in the neighbouring wells had considerably increased,” Viswambara says.

While the water is not fit for drinking and cooking yet, the residents of Budhanoor are confident that they will be able to do so over time.

It had a lot of waste, so at present, we don’t use it for drinking. It is used for all other purposes though, and within a short period of time, we will be able to use it for drinking too.
Viswambara

Adding to the happiness, there are fish in the recently reborn river now, and the village is ready to start fishing soon.

“We had an acute water shortage issues for last many years, this project has finally been a solution for it. It is the success of a group of socially responsible people,” Viswambara says.

(This story was first published on The News Minute)

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