Named after a legendary warrior, the Pazhassi Irrigation Project at Kuiloor near Mattannur in the district, will in all likelihood go down in history as a criminal wastage of public money.
Renovation works launched last September after disastrous floods is moving so slowly that 14 of the 16 damaged shutters of the dam are yet to be replaced. As yet another monsoon season is round the corner, the people living in the vicinity of the dam are concerned that repair works will not be completed in the near future.
The work undertaken by the public sector enterprise KEL had been dragging along since the beginning, before abruptly stopping all work on April 22 demanding an increase in fabrication charges. The gardens around the dam was once a popular tourist attraction, but it lies in a dilapidated state today, with the broken statues in the huge gorges serving as a reminder of last year’s catastrophe.
The fabrication work of eight girders were entrusted to Sea Blue Shipping Ltd, Kochi, and six others to Ashique Enterprises, Feroke. But according to KEL officials, the Kochi-based company delayed the work from the beginning and stopped the work demanding additional rates. Though the KEL has purchased steel worth Rs 3 crore the erection work can be launched at the dam only after completing fabrication works. Even the accommodation offered to project execution engineer G Appukuttan, in an half collapsed bungalow where power supply is disrupted for days, would reveal the cruel lethargy of the authorities.
“Though the government did not provide any funds the KEL had diverted its own funds and procured the steel”, he said and added that the KEL will have to think seriously about reviewing the sub contract awarded to the Kochi-based firm. The women running the Kudumbasree canteen said that they keep the canteen opened even in the absence of tourists since they were assured that a minimum of 45 workers would be at site. One of the earliest irrigation projects in the state, Pazhassi project was launched in 1961 with an estimate of Rs 4 crore and completed in 1992 spending an amount of over Rs 200 crore.
But it has never served its objectives. Apart from many canals, state’s longest aqueduct cum road was opened at Parrassinikadavu in 1997 for the project though water from the dam never reached there.
“Pazassi project is the epitome of the miserable condition of all minor irrigation projects in the state. Public money worth crores was looted by the contractors for these projects, and no proper enquiry has taken place about this yet. Though the LDF government had decided not to launch any more projects around this dam in future, the UDF government has again ventured into similar projects. The very design of Pazhassi dam was wrong as its height was reduced as if to allay the fears of some sections of people in Iritty”, N K Premachandran, former Irrigation minister told ‘Express’.
No maintenance work had taken place at Pazhassi for decades. Though the lone project engineer aged 64 who had just recovered from wasp stings received during work at dam is optimistic about steering the renovation ahead, the sight of piled up iron scraps, rusted machineries awaiting replacement, the deserted garden, broken statues and potholed roads leave altogether a different impression in visitors.