On the ground, a case of too little, too late
By Biju E Paul | Published: 16th November 2012 01:15 PM |
The Kuttanad Package was envisaged as a panacea for the problems plaguing the rice bowl of Kerala. The report on Kuttanad Package says: “the first and foremost challenge in Kuttanad and Alappuzha is restoration of the ecology and natural assets, to bring vibrancy back into agriculture, enhance income-generation and livelihood options for the vast majority of small farmers, landless labourers and fishermen.”
But even four years after getting approval, the package has done very little for agrarian life and the inhabitants of Kuttanad.
The availability of potable water is the chief problem plaguing the region. The package approved the construction of Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants to tackle the drinking water crisis in water-logged area. 63 RO plants were approved in Edathua, Veliyanad, Ramankari, Pulimkunnu, Kainakari, Chambakulam, Nedumudi, Kavalam, Muttar, Thakazhi, Thalavady, Neelamperoor and Veeyapuram panchayats. `25 lakh each was deposited in the account of the panchayats for the purpose. Another `69 lakh was allotted to the district panchayat for maintenance of the RO plants with the help of an NGO. The district panchayat entrusted the task of implementation to the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), an NGO based in Alappuzha.
“The tussle between the members of the panchayat and rising corruption delayed the project. Later, the Chief Secretary issued an order to transfer the funds to the accounts of the panchayats concerned. `13.8 lakh each was handed over to the account of five panchayats. As per the Chief Secretary’s directive, ATREE prepared a Detailed Project Report (DPR). We spent over `2.8 lakh for preparing the DPR and survey, but no money has been given to us so far,” said ATREE co-ordinator T D Jojo.
The DPR was submitted to the Project Director for his approval, but it got caught in red tape.
“No guidelines were fixed by the government to utilise the fund. So we have been unable to implement the project. We have written to the Project Director to issue guidelines,” panchayat deputy director Sabu Kuttan Nair said.
While a sum of `1.94 crore is lying idle in the panchayats’ coffers, thousands of people of the area are being forced to drink polluted water.
The commission also recommended construction of rain water harvesting mechanisms and toilets for improving the quality of life in the area. “`2.5 crore each was allotted for rain water harvesting and construction of toilets for poor farmers, but even that project is yet to take off,” said Fr Thomas Peelianickal, executive director, Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi.
“The issue of fulfilling the basic needs of the farmers is not addressed by the implementing agencies. The MSSRF study recommends declaring Kuttanad as a ‘special agricultural zone’, as it would ensure assistance from the state and the Central Government. But no action has been taken on that front,” he lamented.
“About 12 government agencies are working to implement the package. The study recommends appointing an IAS officer on a full-time basis to supervise the implementation. But the government has made the appointment on a part-time basis and the officer is based in Thiruvananthapuram, so he has no idea about the ground realities here,” he added.
Lakhs of rupees have been spent in the name of distribution of livestock and poultry, besides subsidies under it. But hardly anything reached the needy farmers. The official documents list elaborate expenses, but in reality, life has not moved forward for whose benefit the package was intended.