In April 2023, India’s Prime Minister hailed the efforts of a village in Kerala. The once biologically-dead Kuttamperoor River has been restored to its former glory thanks to a coordinated partnership between the villagers, the Budhanoor village council, the Kerala state government, and other well-wishers,
The slow decay of the Kuttamperoor River
The 4-mile-long Kuttamperoor River, a tributary to Pampa and Achecoil Rivers, was once the lifeline of communities along its banks. It irrigated over 2,000 acres of rice paddies and provided a fishing haven to more than 500 families.
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However, all this ended around 2005. The river slowly “died” from waste dumping, weeds, encroachment, and other human activities. In about three decades, the once flourishing river became a pale comparison to its former self. Worse still, floods became common, affecting people around its banks over the years.
In some parts, the river had been reduced to a drain shrinking up to 15 meters. As a result, access to drinking water was also affected as wells began drying up.
The good news is that the river has had a magnificent resurrection; its dark days are gone. Locals have their lifeline back after a collaborative effort in the past decade.
The restoration of the Kuttamperoor River started in 2011. But it took another five years to kick into full gear. Over 7,000 workers from three communities did the first phase of cleaning up working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) scheme.
The participants took to the shallows to remove trash and tangled weeds in the river. This initial cleanup took about two months. Later, the Kerala state government took over the project, improving the river for its ultimate resurrection. Today, the restoration effort has seen the return of several freshwater fish species. It is also expected to help in reducing floods in the area.
Regarding this monumental achievement, India’s PM Modi said: “Some people have benefited very well from MNREGA budget provisions made by the Government of India for water conservation and management. For example, a project to revive the rivers which had dried out was undertaken in Kerala. Seven thousand workers under MNREGA worked very hard for seventy days and finally succeeded in reviving the Kuttamperoor River there.”
The Kuttamperoor River’s resurrection has taken around five years. Some locals along the banks also contributed land for the restoration efforts. Thanks to them, the river’s width grew from only a few meters to about 50 meters.
“The rejuvenated river has a width of 50 m. Though the government had sanctioned an amount of ₹15.7 crores (US$15.7 million) for the project, we completed the work for ₹13 crores ($U13 million),” said a statement from the Major Irrigation department.
The impact of river restoration
As mentioned, locals are beginning to reap the fruits of restoring the Kuttamperoor River. Fish and other animals are back in the river. Restoration of rivers restores the natural habitat for animals and plants; it brings back biodiversity. It also provides a cleaner source of drinking water and irrigation water.
Secondly, it will boost the livelihood of many locals who depend on it to survive. Finally, it may also boost tourism in the area because the river will now be linked to the Mannar-Chengannur-Aranmula tourism scheme.
Lastly, the restored Kuttamperoor River can control floods and mitigate their damages. Unlike a choked-up river, a flowing river can retain more water during heavy rains and prevent flooding in downstream regions. This can save lives and reduce the economic impact of floods.
Making the world a better place
The MNREGA conservation efforts echo Mahatma Gandhi’s message: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
India’s government is also keen to restore rivers across the country. In 2022, they released ₹19 cores ($US19 million) to restore 13 rivers through forestry interventions. These conservation and water management projects provide excellent lessons to the rest of the world as people around the globe grapple with the effects of pollution and environmental degradation.