Scrambling for water, failed crops, big water-guzzling industries and insensitive administration. This is how people of Pudussery Panchayat in Palakkad district of Kerala have been living for a quite some time. Each passing year, people’s lives have become more miserable with severe water scarcity even in the time of ‘rainy season’. Now as drought looms large over Kerala, the plight of residents of this Panchayat is bound to multiply in the coming days.
Water tankers literally determine the life of the people here, not only in summers, but even during rainy seasons. Now all the wells have dried out fully. The 300 bore wells that have been dug by the Panchayat to tide over the pertinent water crisis has added to the woes as they have also gone dry now. But the plight of the people has not barred the local authorities from conniving with industries to continue their water plunder. Asked about this, the authorities resort to what they have been doing for very long time, the blame game!
Moreover, these water-guzzling units get uninterrupted supply at a concessional rate. And people allege that these industrial units are extracting water beyond their permissible limits.
Due to lack of water, farm activities have been stopped in the Panchayat months ago. A large section of the populace, especially in the eastern parts, depend highly on agriculture. They were advised by the water authority not to go for second round of crops, citing water scarcity. For many of the farmers, even the first round was a failure without enough water.
The Panchayat has 21 farming societies spread across over 800 hectares, and each of them is left barren. Those who tried the second crop are now cutting it away for cattle.
Alfonsa, a middle-aged woman who came in search of some green for her cattle, failed to find it as the entire field near to her home has gone dry.
End of January is the season for Makara Koythu, (a harvest time). See the fields, nothing is here. This is the first time in the last ten decade we are facing this kind of a drought. Year after year it is getting severeAlfonso, Resident of Attappallam area
A stream which flows near Alfonsa’s home, which according to her was live even in March last year, but now it has dried up three months early.
A former Panchayat member and an active farmer, Arun said he received notification from the water authorities, saying there will be no water supply for the second crop.
We were told to stop cultivation as they won’t be able to provide water from the dams. I have tried to lease out a portion of my field, but without water, nobody was ready to take itArun, Farmer
In Vattapara, an area close to forest region, things are grimmer. The first bore well dug in the area has gone dry months ago after a construction firm KNR allegedly dug four bore wells inside their company with 1200 feet depth. Now, the Panchayat has dug a new one, but resident wonder how long it will be able to provide water.
I have seen water in the river last time was before six months. Now, all my crops have gone. Since we are a little away from the city centre, there is no water here. Nobody is supplying water to this areaBalasubramanian, A farmer lives near Vattappara
There is a panchayat borewell in the vicinity, but according to him, the tap doesn’t provide water even for drinking. The young farmer, who also has a couple cows and goats is clueless as the situation gets worse day by day. Ironically, Vattappara is a place among the list which Panchayat claims they are providing tanker water.
Kanchana, a 30-year-old woman lives in Kanal Pirivu, another area facing severe water scarcity. Despite having hundreds of families, the area has a single borewell. Two Panchayat wells in the area have gone dry months before. She alleges that the authorities were not even ready to pay any heed to their grievances.
Till last week, there was absolutely no water here. We had approached the authorities several times, but there was no response.Kanchana, Resident of Kanal Pirivu
But, agony does not end there. The water from borewells is not in a state to drink directly. Kanchana, the mother of two small children, brings drinking water from a house over one kilometre away every day.
Contaminated drinking water is not an issue confined to Kanal Pirivu area. Almost all borewell in the village is highly polluted as there is a little groundwater available.
According to residents of Vattappara are, even the water from a newly-dug borewell is also contaminated.
Nadupathy, a tribal colony beside the forest at the eastern part of the village bordering with Tamil Nadu houses more than 300 families and there are only two borewells. Since the colony is cut off from other parts of the village, there is no water authority pipeline hear.
There are more than 300 families here but we have only two borewells. Since we are-cut off from the city-centre, no-one is bothered about us. We already have enough number of issues here, and without enough water it has become difficult to live hereGireesh, An Adivasi youth
Local political leaders acknowledge that there was a water issue earlier, which they claimed to have “solved”.
However, the people allege, after winning the election, the Panchayat members have not visited the area at least for once.
It is not only the farming sector which battered by the sheer scarcity of water, every business in the village is at standstill. Besides farming, cattle breeding is a key livelihood here. There is are three active co-operative dairy units in the Panchayat, which faces a severe crisis now. Since everything green in the village dried out, the farmers find it impossible to feed the folks. Many of them are selling them out.
“The water is which we get through the pipeline once in a moon is not even enough for my family, then from where do we get water for cows?,” asks Mani, who has twenty buffaloes now. Ganesh had more than forty cattle including some goats. He was forced to sell them.
Milk production in east Pudussery has gone down to below half and only those who have bore wells manages to survive.
Man-animal conflict over water
As eastern Pudussery borders with forest, especially the areas close to Walayar and the Nadupathy tribal colony, man-animal conflict over water is severe. Almost all day, elephants reach residential areas in search of water sources inside the forest dried up long back.
Animals — elephant, wild boar and buffaloes — also destroy the still-existing farm produce which is surviving with bore well water.
We had cultivated nearly two acres of maize here. The day before yesterday, some boars came here and destroyed everything.Senthil
Senthil lives close to a forest near Walayar.
Panchayat authorities claim that they have started distribution of tanker water to select areas including Chandrapuri, Kanal Pirivu, Vattappa, Uppu Kuzi and Kottamutty. However, people in Vattappara and Kanal Pirivu has refuted the claims saying they had seen a water tanker last year. The areas which Panchayat listed as facing severe drought does not include even a single are identified by the villagers except Chandrapuri.
Plunders as Industries
While Pudussery grapples without water, the authorities slake the thirst of several industries. They include major beer producing firms United Breweries and Amrut Distilleries as well as the PepsiCo. United Breweries, located in Kanjikode is owned by the liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
A huge portion of drinking water from Malampuzha Dam, Kerala’s largest reservoir is being diverted to the United Breweries as well as Amrut.
According to official data accessed through Right To Information, the liquor manufacturing major United Breweries gets 5 lakh litre of treated drinking water from Malampuzha reservoir at a rebated tariff through the supply chain of Kerala Water Authority. Another industry, Empee Distilleries, which produces Indian-made Foreign liquor gets 33000 litres from the authority. In addition, PepsiCo India’s bottling plant in the Wise Park industrial area in the Panchayat allegedly extracts nearly 6.5 lakh litres of groundwater a day while it was permitted to draw 2.4 lakh litres daily.
Besides, the companies are also accused of digging multiple borewells in their premises, which apparently resulted in drying up public borewells in the area. The villagers also accused the company of digging beyond permissible limits.
Once a household dug a borewell a colony here and when it went beyond 400 feets, the Panchayat authorities stopped them. At the same time, companies like KNR are digging wells up to 1200 featsMurali, Who lives in Chandrapuram
“Why can’t they allow farmers to dig more?,” Senthil asks.
Earlier, the Panchayat had served stop notice to PepsiCo. asking them to halt production till May. But, the bottling goes on without any interruption.
“The company had reportedly reduced one-third of its production for a few weeks, but it was brought back to full swing soon,” a woman employee of the company who does not to wish to reveal identity says.
As PepsiCo. locates in Industrial Zone, it does not require permission from Panchayat authorities to function. However, the Panchayat could mount pressure on state industries department and district administration, prompting them to move against the industries.
Ironically, a Panchayat member himself is an employee of PepsiCo.
Besides half a dozen liquor manufacturing plants, the water guzzlers of Kanjikode include dyeing units, steel re-rolling mills, iron smelting units and several other industries.
Where demography plays
Puthussery Panchayat can be briefly divided into three broad villages –Centre, West and the East, among which centre and east villages house comparatively well-off people, the majority of them are migrated from other parts of the state who are employees in the many numbers of industries. While eastern Puthussery is inhabited mostly by tribals
Distribution of water to these three areas, either naturally over time or deliberately, has a discriminatory pattern towards the east area of the Panchayat. Both the west and central villages, according to the Panchayat secretary himself, gets “uninterrupted water supply” from both Malampuzha Dam and pipeline distribution, eastern part is struggling with no source of water.
Several industries too located in the west and centre villages including United Breweries and the water authority makes sure that residents in these areas get enough distributed water to quell any chance of voices against the companies from these areas, something which the Panchayat secretary M Balachandran also agree.
As the people who live around the factories gets enough water, they are not going to move against the companiesM Balachandran, Pudussery Panchayat Secretary
He also says only a popular people’s movement against the water-plunders would bring any change in the village.
While both the centre and west villages have canals and water channels from reservoirs, nowhere in the eastern part either has a canal or any pipeline from reservoirs. Instead, the authorities have introduced a bulk metre system in which the metre charge will be paid by Panchayat and the requirements after it will be met by the local administration.
However, the Panchayat currently has no such machinery to collect water charges beyond the bulk metre, and so the scheme is at a stand still.
There are a few wells in the entire Panchayat. With the water going down further, the villagers who are trying to dig it further met with another hassle as those who are in the business of digging wells ask Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 for digging one foot. Unable to raise such a huge amount, the households themselves started digging wells.
“They are asking huge amounts. How can someone like me can pay that amount? So me, along with my aides decided to dig it by ourselves. If you go inside further, you would be able to locate at lease 10 similar cases,” Bose, who works in a small iron engineering shop says.
Besides the companies, multiple complex windows in the bureaucracy and local administration make the states of affairs more complex. For Panchayat authorities, it is the water authority who is responsible for the water scarcity.
In the eastern parts, especially in Attappallam and Vattappara, people had applied for house-line water connections five years ago and still waiting. As water authority says its duty of the Panchayat to pay for the infrastructure, which “they have not been fulfilled”.
For Panchayat authorities, they bulk metre system in the eastern area is going replace, and the authorities are working on it.
“The District administration has to set up a water kiosk in each ward and the taker water will be filled in, where people can take water from the kiosk. But there is not first build so far and the scheme is being delayed,” Panchayat Secretary.
Asked about the disparity in reservoir water distribution, panchayat authorities are quick to blame it on irrigation department.
Since the firms are in the industrial area, Panchayat has little control over it. The companies do not even need permission from local administration to operate and expand.
As the areas are not under the purview of Panchayat, they are not supposed to obey our orders. Only a popular movement and public ire can bring this company downM Balachandran, Pudussery Panchayat Secretary
Industries which are using excessive water from the area must shut down, he adds.
Ironically, Pudussery Panchayat administrative council is governed by CPI(M) led left front, which is supposed to be read pro-people anti-corporates, but here, they are allegedly taking pro-corporate stand
While the Panchayat secretary at least acknowledges illegal plundering by the companies, President Unnikrishnan seems unaware about borewells inside the companies.
“In KNR’s case, to my knowledge, they are not using any borewells. If they do, we will act according,” Unnikrishnan said.
And the officials from the Kerala Water Authority, puts everything in reverse, blaming it on local administration. Commenting on the scarcity and poor reach of distributed water, the authority says it's “only a management issue,” for which the Panchayat is responsible.
There is enough water in reservoirs. If it is not reaching to the points, it’s out of mismanagement. In the eastern part, the Panchayat authority is responsibleR Jayachandran, Executive Engineer, Kerala Water Authoriuty
According to the KWA, they are only entitled to provide water to industries, not for drinking purposes, said the executive engineer who also refuted the RTI documents revealing favouring the companies.
“The water purification unit here is located in the Instrumentation industry's property and it is for industrial purpose. Now, however, it has become a plant for villagers also. Out of the 18 lakh litre water processing a day there, only 10 lakh is going to industries and the rest is going to house connections,” Jayachandran adds.
Everybody is guilty here. From the local Panchayat to the state industries department. “Water authority can not simply wash their hands blaming it on Panchayat and vice-versa,” an independent member of the Panchayat, Balamurali, says.
The authorities will be with those from where they will benefit more. In the case of these companies, besides monetary benefits, these officials are making other personal favours from the companyBalamurali, An independent Panchayat Member
Balamurali was in the frontline against a steel-manufacturing company, according to him, a CPIM Panchayat was offered 25 lakhs to withdraw from the protest.
Brewing popular movement, stuck somewhere
Palakkad has a powerful history of people’s movement which resulted in shutting down a Coca-Cola plant in 2006. Pudussery looks to Plachimada and a people’s movement is brewing somewhere, but so far failed to take a concrete shape.
It is not far away. In the near future, the people will be forced to come out. If this situation continues , I am sure that the government will feel the heat soonSulaiman, Activist
“The public ire is stuck somewhere in between.” Without much time, it will erupt if no “miracles happen to bless them with water” he adds.
Almost 75 percent of the total populace in the Panchayath are migrated persons, and so a mass movement like Plachimada seems unlikely, Balamurali said.