A Lake`s Last Sigh ????


 A lake’s last sigh?

 R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Sasthamkotta

 The Sasthamkotta lake, the source of drinking water for seven lakh people in Kerala’s Kollam district, is shrinking fast. PHOTOGRAPHS C. SURESH KUMAR A view of the receding Sasthamkotta lake in the first week of May 2010. JULIA lives in a working-class housing colony at Rajagiri, on the edge of a laterite mound, one among the three dozen such hillocks overlooking the Sasthamkotta lake, about 30 kilometres from Kollam in south Kerala. Until recently, it was perhaps a grand location for a home, with a breathtaking view of the largest freshwater lake in Kerala. For as long as she could remember, Julia said, she had enjoyed the sight from her north-western vantage: the lake in all its pristine glory. “But in the past few months, the water has begun to recede alarmingly,” she said, pointing towards the steep slope beyond her modest home. There was, as far as the eye could see, a shocking expanse of dry, sun-cut mud where once a blue lake shimmered majestically. There was no sign of life, except for rows and rows of thirsty acacia and rubber trees on the slopes leading to the growing wasteland of exposed sediment, mud and, here and there, shrivelling litter. There were no fish, no birds, and no canoes. If one chose to try and cross the fresh-brown ‘desert’, at places the mud gave way and there were occasional puddles of water. The redrawn frontier of the shrunken lake was somewhere on the horizon, as it were, just before the tree-lined contours of faraway hillocks took yet another turn. The lake is named after an ancient Sastha temple on the opposite bank, which is a pilgrim and tourism centre famous for its band of sacred monkeys and ancient legends. Environmental activists say there has been a frightful fall in the water level in the Sasthamkotta lake, which is one of the 25 sites in India included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. (The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty that commits member countries “to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of international importance and to plan for the wise use, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories”.) “Our estimate is that the lake has shrunk by over 40 to 50 acres [one acre is 0.4 hectare] altogether. The depth of the lake is also decreasing drastically,” said Odanavattom Vijayaprakash, the general convener of the district Environmental Protection Coordination Committee. According to the Kerala Water Authority (KWA), there has so far been a decrease of over 30 per cent in “the storage capacity” of the lake this summer. “Something similar has happened only once before, way back in 1997, but not on this scale,” Julia said. Strangely, she and her neighbours, like many others who live on the edges of the lake, depend on its waters only for daily chores like washing and bathing, and they dump waste, including (in some places) sewage, in the lake. The colony has tube wells for its drinking water needs. The lake, spread over 373 hectares, however, is the source of drinking water supply to over seven lakh people in Kollam city and parts of Sasthamkotta, Sooranadu (South), West Kallada and Manrothuruthu panchayats in Kollam district. The waters of the lake used to be known for their “exceptional purity”, for containing no salt, minerals or metals, and for their lack of water plants. “The lake has a unique purification mechanism that has not been fully understood even now. It has an exceptional way of pushing sediments and mud to its shores, as the sea does. The KWA does not subject the water from the lake to any sedimentation process before it is purified and pumped out,” said V.K. Rajeev, the KWA’s Assistant Executive Engineer at the Sasthamkotta water supply subdivision. Rainfall was scanty in and around Sasthamkotta in the past year, and even as early as March the lake’s water level was shrinking at a disturbing rate of 10 mm every day. Altogether a reduction of nearly 1.5 metres was noticed “until the level stabilised somewhat”. The KWA also experienced scarcity of water at places where some of its intake wells (for pumping water to West Kallada and Mainakappally villages) were located. “A reduction of say one metre of water is a disquieting phenomenon in such a big lake. It was distressing to see the lake literally being turned into dry land at the south-eastern end at the very beginning of the summer months,” Rajeev said. COURTESY: KWA STANDING TESTIMONY TO the destruction of laterite hills on the three sides of the lake. The red laterite pillars indicate the original height of the hill before miners took away the soil. A 1996 study by the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) indicated that the lake had a catchment of 4.148 sq km, an area of 3.17 sq km (down from 3.35 sq km in 1983 and 3.62 sq km in 1968), and a storage capacity of 22.39 million cubic metres. It gets its water supply mainly from three sources: direct rainfall over the lake, run-off from the catchment areas, and underground recharge. A multidisciplinary study in 2007 on the wetlands of Kerala also came to similar conclusions, even though the earlier presumption was that it was a lake fed by “underground springs” alone. The CESS study said that “the presence of thick alluvial fills in the southern flood plain, existence of paleo-channels and geomorphic features of the area substantiate the lake’s connection with the Kallada river in the geological past”. The lake is surrounded by low hills on all sides except the south where a 1.5-kilometre-long earthen embankment built in the early 1950s separates it from the adjacent paddyfields lying in the alluvial plains of the Kallada river. A number of smaller waterbodies (importantly, the Chelur kayal, separated from the main lake by a laterite ridge) and waterlogged areas are present in the flood plains of the river in the south and south-west of the Sasthamkotta lake. Identification of the paleo-channels (through satellite imagery studies) and thick alluvium (deposits of fine fertile river soil) on the southern flank of the lake and water budget calculations have confirmed that the flood plains of the Kallada river are a major source of (groundwater) recharge in the Sasthamkotta lake. The hills on the three sides of the lake and the valleys in between them, on the other hand, are densely populated and heavily cultivated with mixed and plantation crops. Extensive soil erosion caused mainly by agricultural activities and pollution caused by pesticides and fertilizers and dumped waste, including sewage, have long been constant threats to the lake’s existence. They have only increased in the recent years. What looks likea beautiful pond in West Kallada village was a paddyfield before it was mined for clay and sand. Environmental activists say craters thus formed, some of them 60 to 100 metres deep, are getting filled up with water that would have recharged the lake. According to the Action Council for the Protection of the Sasthamkotta Lake, a people’s body formed in 2002, because of lack of proper toilet facilities in the settlement areas around the lake and the Sasthamkotta temple, a major pilgrim centre, human faecal contamination (“at least half a tonne every day”), animal waste, chemical contamination (“30 to 40 kg of soaps and detergents alone”) and the total coliform and faecal coliform counts and other factors that indicate severe pollution levels are disturbingly high in the lake. Wetlands such as the Sasthamkotta lake have more complex and fragile ecosystems than, say, rivers. They are known to accumulate pollutants readily and their “self-cleaning ability” often has its limitations. They are also more vulnerable to degradation, the reason why they are said to require more serious attention from decision-makers and stakeholders than river basins. Most often, even the millions of people who benefit from them, including those who depend on them for their livelihoods, do not understand their value and think of them as mere sinks or dumping grounds or wastelands fit for development. Land-use changes In this case, even as early as 1996, the CESS study had found that the land-use changes in the catchment areas of the Sasthamkotta lake had been substantial during the preceding three decades and had warned that the steep slopes surrounding the lake needed to be protected from erosion to maintain the depth of the lake, “which facilitates flow of recharge water through the force of gravity from the southern flood plain”. It also identified conservation of the 10.10-square-kilometre flood plains, a major source of water recharge for the lake, as a priority. “Reclamation and clay mining activities beyond 20-25 cm depth will have to be curbed in the flood plain. Similarly, sand mining in the Kallada river bed will have an adverse impact on the water retention capacity of the flood plain. From the available accounts, the river stretch south of the lake is already deep due to excessive sand mining. The stretch should be declared as a no-mining area for conservation of the water level in the Sasthamkotta lake,” the report said. “But regardless of such clear early warnings and the lake’s inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in November 2002, such activities have only diversified and have now created a grave situation,” said S. Babuji, an environmental activist and a member of the Action Council. One of the intake wells of the Kerala Water Authority after the lake had receded. A major cause of worry is that intensive agricultural activities, social forestry operations and construction activity have led to the depletion of topsoil from the steep hills and valleys bordering the lake in the north, east and west. At many places the slopes are now laterite-red and devoid of topsoil; wherever hillocks and valleys have been left uncultivated or cultivation has been stopped, miners seem to have had a field day. Rigorous mining for laterite soil have caused the disappearance of several small hills and diminished flow of water into the lake. Vijayaprakash said the destruction of the hillocks, intense soil erosion and deposition of mud in the lake had drastically reduced its depth and water storage capacity. While a study in 1991 found the maximum depth of the lake to be 30 m, a scientific survey of the lake in 1998 showed the maximum depth to be 13.3 m. Moreover, as part of thoughtless social forestry activities, the government had planted water-depleting acacia trees along the borders of the lake, he said. Simultaneously, beyond the southern boundary of the lake, in the alluvial plains of the Kallada river, a region crucial to groundwater recharge in the lake, environmental devastation has been taking place despite several popular agitations and court cases against the culprits. Various government agencies, none of them solely entrusted with the protection of the lake, have been trying out piecemeal solutions or have been looking the other way in times of crises. Meanwhile, the sand mafia have long discovered that the wetlands to the south of the lake are a rich source of clay and sand. The consequences are evident. Wherever the miners have run riot, the southern flood plains, including the once fertile paddy fields, are pockmarked with deep craters full of water that is now at a lower level than the lake. Environmental activists say this has led to a flow of ground water into the craters instead of the lake. Illegal mining R. Gangaprasad, a retired college professor and the chairman of the Action Council for the Protection of the Sasthamkotta lake, told Frontline: “Illegal sand mining using heavy-duty motors is the most lucrative business in these parts. The paddyfields of West Kallada were once the rice granary of Kunnathur taluk. As rice cultivation became unprofitable, many landowners began to leave their land fallow. Once you remove the clay from the surface layers in these fields, what you get beneath is pure river sand. It was an open invitation for the sand mafia. The landscape has been altered drastically by the mining activity at many places in the wetland areas of Chelur and West Kallada. The miners dig deep, sometimes up to a depth of 90 to 100 m. These illegal businessmen have been on a buying spree, and are keen to buy even tiny pieces of land owned by smallholders – to make crores of rupees within a short time. Our estimate is that so far at least one-third of the total area of West Kallada panchayat has been mined for sand thus. At least a dozen people have died after falling into the craters left by the miners. Recent studies indicate that this has led to an alarming situation: instead of these wetlands helping in the recharge of the waters of the lake, water is now flowing from the lake into the mining craters.” In the first week of May, as the lake shrank further, officials of the KWA, which needed 37.5 million litres per day (MLD) of water to meet its commitments, were hoping against hope for the summer rains. The drinking water supply was almost certain to be affected, at least temporarily, otherwise, a KWA official told Frontline. “As is being alleged, many hills from where water should have flowed into the lake have indeed been destroyed by people mining for laterite soil. The deep trenches formed as a result are now causing water to flow in the reverse direction. Similarly, the clay and sand mining activities in the alluvial plains in the south have led to a drastic fall in the groundwater level in the paddy fields and wetlands. Such nefarious activities have seriously affected the flow of water into the lake. We also found that as the lake began to shrink, the sand mafia even conducted experimental digs right there on the drying bed of the lake – an indication of the extent to which they would go to boost their illegal profits,” he said. The representatives of the people’s action council, a product of over a quarter century of smaller struggles in and around the lake, are now convinced that the time for piecemeal solutions by government agencies working at cross-purposes are long past. The council, which has launched an indefinite agitation in Sasthamkotta town to draw attention to the copybook plight of a Ramsar wetland lake, is demanding the immediate constitution of a single statutory authority (as the State government had promised in 2006) with powers to do all that is necessary for the protection and sustenance of the freshwater lake. The indefinite agitation by the Action Council for the Protection of the Sasthamkotta lake at Sasthamkotta town draws attention to the plight of the lake and demands, among other things, the constitution of a statutory authority for the protection of the lake. They are also in a hurry, for they know only too well that it will be the need for drinking water that is most likely to trigger government action to save the lake, if at all. They need to goad the government into action before the summer rains perhaps bring temporary relief, as the KWA officials seem to be hoping for. All would then be forgotten, they know, until the crisis deepens. Yet, a drive around the lake in the first week of May would have been all that was needed to convince anyone that, if only temporary solutions are at hand, the future of Kerala’s largest freshwater lake is definitely in peril.

Head scarves in Kerala school,principal suspended -action politically motivated :Persecution Update India

Head scarves in Kerala school,principal suspended -action politically motivated


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 Mafta row: Principal suspended Alappuzha:( Kerala)The school management of the Believers Church English Medium School, Alappuza suspended principal Mary Jessintha on the maftha row in which a standard nine student of the school T N Nabeela was given TC for wearing maftha (head veil). Nabeela was issued a transfer certificate for wearing the maftha mentioning that wearing maftha is not allowed in the school. The move is on the basis of meeting convened here lead by district collector. Principal not attended the meeting. Earlier based on the report of the district administration which went into the incident, Director of Public Instruction (DPI) A P M Muhammad Haneesh has asked Alappuzha District Collector P Venugopal to convene a meeting between the girl’s parents and the school management to sort out the issue. Nabala, a 10th student of an English-medium school run by Believers’ Church at Mannanchery near here, had alleged that she was given compulsory TC last month as she insisted on wearing headscarf (mafta) as followed by Islam. The school authorities, however, denied the charge holding that the TC was sought by the girl’s parents after she was promoted to the 10th standard. Even now, the school was ready to take her back, a church official said. Lebi Philip Mathew, PRO of the Church, said there was no basis to the charge that the school had been religiously discriminating against students. He said it was the girl’s parents,the head of local mosque and some people who came along with them who insisted that the reason for giving the TC be shown as ‘headscarf not allowed in the school.”We have 150 Muslim students, many of whom attend classes with headscarf. We have not objected to it. In this particular context, it is difficult to understand the provocation (from the parent’s side). This appears to be anattempt to tarnish the institution,’ he told PTI from the Church’s headquarters in Tiruvalla. Meanwhile, the state Human Rights Commission has intervened in the matter and sought an explanation from the DPI on the issue.The agenies targeting the school never bothered when christians are attacked

Head-scarf issue: parent to file case in court against principal

Head-scarf issue: parent to file case in court against principal

 10 May 2010 – 1:08pm. Indian Muslim By TCN News,

 Alappuzha: The father of the girl who was ousted from school for wearing the head-scarf will file a case against the school principal in the court today. Naseer Musliyar, father of Nabala who was ousted from the Believers Church English Medium School in Alappuzha, will reportedly file the case at the Alappuzha Chief Judicial Magistrate Court. The petition asks the court to direct the police to register a criminal case and make an inquiry on the matter. The petition also reportedly accuses that the Principal Mary Jaseenta has taken measures which wound communal harmony and that the mention in the TC that ‘headscarf is not allowed’ would hurt religious feelings. The case is being filed as the district Collector refused to direct the Superintendent of Police to register a criminal case against the principal even at the request of the parent, explained Adv Najeeb, the lawyer of Naseer Musliyar. In another development, the Nadvathul Mujahideen requested the leaders of the Christian Church to be cautious of the measures that destroy the communal harmony and cultural heritage of Kerala. Torturing those who dress in a modest way and forcing to observe Christian practices should be changed. The government should be ready to take strong action against any educational institution which instigates communal hatred. Dr Hussain Madavoor (national general secretary of the Indian Islahi Movement), Dr EK Ahmed Kutty (president, Nadvathul Mujahideen), CP Umer Sullami (general secretary, Nadvathul Mujahideen), etc spoke at the programme held in Kozhikode yesterday. The head-scarf row arose in Kerala when the girl named Nabala was thrown out of the Believers Church English Medium School in Alappuzha allegedly for wearing a head-scarf. Political and religious leaders and organisations have come up against the act of the school principal Mary Jaseenta, calling it anti-democratic and violating individual and religious freedom. Several organisations organised demonstrations to the school to express their protest in the school’s act. Inquiries were made into the incident in the state-level and district level which reportedly proved the school had done wrong. However, the school management maintained that the school has made no ban on the head-scarf and that the accusations made against it were wrong. The district Collector had convened a meeting of both parties last day. The girl’s father Naseer Musliyar is filing a case with the court as the Collector refused to direct the police to make an inquiry into the matter considering it a criminal offence.

Headscarf row: DPI orders detailed probe

Headscarf row: DPI orders detailed probe

 Staff Reporter

Alappuzha RDO submits report to the Collector on the incident The Deputy Director of Education, Alappuzha, in an inquiry, has found ‘merit’ in the complaint of a Muslim girl that she was issued transfer certificate from the Believers’ Church English Medium School, Gurupuram, because she wore a headscarf (maftha) to school. Alappuzha Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) A. Gopakumar has also submitted a report to the Collector on the incident. The interim report by the Deputy Director of Education (DDE) was submitted to the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish on Wednesday. “The DD’s interim report states that the level of cooperation extended to the inquiry by the school authorities was not up to the expected level. The defence offered by the school authorities did not seem convincing to the DD,” Mr. Hanish told The Hindu on Wednesday. Final report today? On the basis of the interim report, the DPI has asked the DDE, Alappuzha, to conduct a more detailed inquiry — this time talking directly to the girl’s parents — and submit a final report by Thursday. Any action by the government would be initiated after the receipt of the final report, he added. Meantime, following media reports on the issue, the State Human Rights Commission swing into action and ordered an inquiry. The commission registered a case suo motu and ordered the Principal Secretary, General Education, to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit a report. In its notice, the commission said that if the incident was true, it violated individual and religious freedom. The commission said that this was an issue that merited urgent attention, a press note issued here said. The Alappuzha RDO conducted a probe into the incident on the instructions of Collector P. Venugopal. The RDO has taken notice of the statements of the student, her parents and the authorities of the Believers’ Church English Medium School, Gurupuram. The TC was issued on April 26. Though the report is yet to be made public, the Collector indicated that there was “basically a violation of rights by the school” by denying the student her right to follow her religious custom. The Collector said the meeting would be held in his chambers on May 7. Though the school is understood to have expressed its willingness to take back the student, her father, Nazir Musaliar, is reluctant to do so fearing repercussions for his daughter since the issue had snowballed into a controversy. Keywords: Believers’ Church English Medium School, headscarf, maftha, religious custom

Protest march taken out

Protest march taken out

Express News Service
First Published : 07 May 2010 03:36:00 AM IST
Last Updated :

ALAPPUZHA: Demanding action against the management of the Believers Church English Medium School, protest marches were taken out by various organisations, including DYFI, PDP, SSF, Muslim League, Campus Front and NWF, to the school on Thursday. When the activists tried to enter the school, the police resorted to a mild lathicharge to disperse them.District Collector P Venugopal will hold a meeting here on Friday with the management of the Believers Church English Medium School and the parents of Nabala, who was issued TC by the school allegedly for wearing head-scarf to the school.

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