People at Vattavada have got used to rationing water for the past one decade. Photo: Special arrangement.

Vattavada goes thirsty as Kerala, TN fight over check dam

Idukki: Surendran Ramakrishnan, a resident of Vattavada in Kerala's Idukki district, doesn't speak much about the protests in Tamil Nadu against the construction of a check dam across the Silandhi river in Idukki. He knows a few things very clearly though -- that he hasn't enough money left to buy study material for his children this academic year, that he couldn't cultivate for two seasons due to severe water shortage and that he has exhausted his savings, paying for water in the past few months.
People at Vattavada have got used to rationing water for the past one decade. But they have reached a point where it is affecting their source of livelihood.

“Water is our life. I don't know how to do anything except farming. How are we supposed to do farming without water? Earlier, there weren't many establishments and resorts here. Now the consumption of water is very high and we face the consequences,” says Jayanthi, a resident of Vattavada.

Every single penny they earn from toiling on farmland is devoted to fetching drinking water now.
The water is brought in four-wheeler jeeps from the Silandhi River, which is about 6km away. Three barrels of 200 litres each can be loaded in a jeep. It costs between Rs 1000 and 1500 to bring in 600 litres of water. Three families share the expense. They dig into their savings to pool the money.
The other sources of water are rivulets in the forest. The officials do not let them divert this water for agricultural purposes.

Construction of a check dam across the Silandhi River has started as part of Kerala Water Authority's Jal Jeevan project to provide drinking water to the people of these wards. Photo: Special arrangement.

“We have nothing but agriculture to live on. It has not been possible to plant two seasons of crops as there was not a drop of water. It was only because of the summer rains that we were able to sow seeds. But it will take at least three months to get income from this. We are not even able to provide for our children,” says Surendran.
During 2019-20, when water scarcity got worse, the residents of Vattavada met the then District Collector and water was transported from a pond located in a distant place. Vattavada panchayat in Devikulam Taluk has 13 wards, including two SC and two ST wards. There are about 300 to 600 houses in a ward. As part of Kerala Water Authority's Jala Jeevan project, it was possible to provide water in wards numbering 1 to 8, sourced from this pond.

When the pond dried up, water is being pumped from the small streams in the forest into a tank with a capacity of 20 lakh litres and this is now delivered to homes of around 3000 families. But the struggle continues for residents in the four remaining wards. Construction of a check dam across the Silandhi River has started as part of Kerala Water Authority's Jal Jeevan project to provide drinking water to the people of these wards.
Protests in Tamil Nadu started when 50 per cent of the work was completed. Officials with Tamil Nadu Water Resources Department visited the site and later Kerala had to stop the work on the check dam. The National Green Tribunal has directed Kerala to halt the work on check dam and directed that the government should obtain mandatory clearances. The work will not resume until the governments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala reach a consensus and necessary conditions are met.

Silandhi river in Idukki. Photo: Special arrangement.

Tamil Nadu opposes the construction saying that the check dam will block the inflow of water to the Amaravati dam. Water from this dam is used for agriculture and other purposes on an area of 54,637 acres in Tirupur and Karur districts of Tamil Nadu.
The Vattavada panchayat authorities claim that if this project is implemented, the problem of drinking water in Vattavada will be solved. The six wards facing drinking water problems are Koodanar (1), Vattavada (9, 10), Pananthottam (11), Chilanthiyar (12) and Swamiyarvalakkudi (13). Wards 1, 11, 12 and 13 are tribal slums. People in these wards also battle financial hardships.

All these wards lie within a radius of about 8km. The water authority has decided to build a water tank in each ward and provide irrigation facilities. About 25km of pipeline network has been laid from the check dam to various places. All that remains to be done is the installation of filters and tanks.
Around 2850 families can be the beneficiaries of this scheme. In the first phase, water connection will be provided to 617 families.
Authorities ascertain that construction of check dam will not cause any environmental problem or prevent water from flowing into Tamil Nadu. The height of the check dam is only one metre. Check dam stops the flow only to pump the water to the tank.
“Vattavada is not a suitable terrain for tube wells. All the existing borewells are getting destroyed by mud. This is the only way to help these people,” said an official with the irrigation department. 

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