Posted August 8, 2019
‘The water body is very important for farmers and residents in 20 km radius’
Sometime in February this year, Kaniyur farmer K. Velusamy went to the Coimbatore Collectorate with a demand draft for ?2,000. He wanted to donate to the district administration the money the Central Government had given him under the first instalment of the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi.
He wanted the administration to use the money to dredge the 396-acre Achankulam Tank in Neelambur, on Coimbatore city’s eastern periphery. “The Government said the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi was for improving farmers’ livelihood. But for me and many others farmers, dredging Achankulam Tank is what will improve our livelihood. And, when the Public Works Department (PWD) said it did not have the money to dredge, I donated the money,” he says.
Mr. Velusamy’s action was perhaps the highpoint of a two-year-long demand by farmers and residents to dredge the tank, as it drew the district administration’s attention to set the ball rolling.
The water body is very important for farmers and residents in 20 km radius because the biggest tank in the district, spread over 396 acre, is known for recharging groundwater in areas to its east that are usually dry, says G.K. Nagaraj, a member of the 14-member strong Achankulam Protection Committee.
More water in the tank means recharge of groundwater and rise in water level in agriculture wells in Muthugounden Pudur, Rasipalayam, Karavali Madhapur, Kaniyur, Semmandampalayam, Thekkalur, Mangalam and also parts of Avinashi taluk, says social activist and Karavali Madhapur resident C. Jayakumar.
“Until a few years ago, several senior farmers used to say that if water level in the tank improves, they will stop using their motors to draw water to irrigate fields,” he says.
As per PWD records, the Achankulam Tank has an ayacut (the fields its water helps irrigate) of around 334 acre. The farmers there mostly cultivate coconut, arecanut, forage crops and vegetables.
The tank, also called the Neelambur Tank, has three inlet channels – Irugur channel measuring 1,250m that carries surplus flow from the Irugur Tank, the Anaivari Pallam that carries the run off water from near the airport and Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital and another canal that people locally refer to as the KMG Pallam.
The tank’s surplus water drains into River Noyyal.
Though the Achankulam Tank is spread over 396 acre, its water holding capacity has reduced over the years due to silt deposit. At present, the water spread area is restricted to around 100 acre.
The farmers want the PWD and the district administration to help remove the silt and they with support from social activists and corporate companies are willing to play a supportive role, says C. Thangaraj, president of the Achankulam Protection Committee.
Following the farmers’ and the committee’s demand, the State Government has given ?10 lakh under the Kudimaramathu Scheme. Sources in the PWD say that the organisation will use the money to repair the head sluice that regulates the inflow from the Irugur channel as the money is too little to take up dredging work.
Even as the Government sanctioned the money, the committee members came together to remove thorny shrubs on the northern and north-western periphery, says N.N. Shanmugasundaram, vice-president of the committee and a former president of the Neelambur Panchayat.
“Thanks to the help that came as monetary contribution from volunteers, big funding from industrialists and in the form of earth-movers from the vehicle owners, the committee has managed to remove bushes spread over nearly 100 acres,” he says.
The committee carried out this work from mid-July till the beginning of August.
Setting aside their political affiliation, elected representatives also played their part, adds Mr. Nagaraj. “Sulur MLA P. Kandasamy chipped in with ? 10 lakh and Coimbatore MP P.R. Natarajan has promised ? 25 lakh for this year. There are also industrialists who have contributed money for specific purposes.” But before the dredging work can start there are a few issues that need to be sorted out. One of those is that the MP ?25 lakh may not reach the administration any time soon as there is a bar on using the Local Area Development fund for dredging tanks.
Mr. Natarajan says once he came to know of it, he has written to the Ministry of Jal Shakti to look into the issue and provide the necessary clearances.
On seeing the action on the ground in Achankulam, Rotary Somanur has also joined the tank protection effort. The organisation member R. Ramamoorthy says that it is studying the pollution in the water flowing through the three inlet channels to explore the possibility of constructing sewage treatment plants.
Rotary Somanur decided to do so based on the work it has taken up in the Sulur Tank, where for ?42 lakh it is setting up a sewage treatment plant.
As for Achankulam, the organisation has lifted water samples every four hours in a day from all the three channels and sent it to a Netherlands-based company’s office in the country for analysis. Based on the analysis report, the organisation will decide on the nature of treatment.
On the district administration’s part, Collector K. Rajamani says he has asked the committee to map the tank bed to clearly demarcate the area where it wants to remove the silt using the MLA’s fund, the MP’s contribution and funds from corporate companies so that there is clarity and no room for allegation later.
The Public Works Department sources say the organisation has asked the Revenue Department officials in the Sulur taluk to also mark the Achankulam Tank's boundary to help the committee identify areas for removing silt. The committee members say that thus far the State Government and the district administration has played a very supportive role. The corporate companies, too, are too eager to help but the administration should not delay any further the boundary mapping exercise. The administration should also assist in identifying the dredging areas.
‘Iacocca’ M. Subramaniam, an industrialist and stakeholder in the tank’s preservation, says money is definitely not a problem as far as Achankulam is concerned because every industrialist with a factory within 20 km of the tank is willing to help as he or she has his or her roots there and their labour is drawn from the area.
Dredging the tank will also preserve the surrounding ecosystem because it is home to a number of migratory birds, including those that fly from other countries.
Around 200 species of birds visit Achankulam every year, particularly between February and May, says bird watcher R. Palanisamy. One can easily spot golden oriole, pied crested cuckoo, bar headed geese, black ibis, and cattle egret that visit the tank. Therefore, while dredging the tank the district administration and the committee should ensure islands of trees are built for the birds to roost, he demands.