KOCHI: Recently, the village of Chengara in Alappuzha district was in the spotlight due to the initiative undertaken by its birders, youngsters and residents. They mooted a plan to conserve the wetland areas in their village. But, the people of Ernakulam district, which ranks second in the state when it comes to the area of its wetlands, has barely made any such effort in recent years.
Kerala has 169 natural coastal wetlands with a total area of 40,900 hectares. There are 1,593 inland wetlands with a total area of 1.17 lakh hectares. According to Vishnu P Kartha, secretary, Cochin Society of Natural History, the wetland area in the district has largely shrunk in size over the years.
“This can be attributed to the booming real estate sector and lack of any government initiatives to conserve the valuable ecosystems,” he said. Ramsar convention could spearhead the wetland preservation in Kochi, like it did for the Kole paddy fields in Thrissur, he said. “As much as Rs 1,000 crore has been set aside for the conservation of the wetlands under Ramsar convention,” he said. But he cautioned that the chances of corruption sweeping all that money under the rugs is quite possible. “People assume that funds are only meant to be spent for infrastructural development.
They turn bunds in fields into motorable roads. This serves the interests of the real estate mafia, who then fill up the land on both sides of the road,” he said. According to P O Nameer, dean, College of Climate Change and Environmental Science, Kerala Agricultural University, when it comes to conserving wetlands, priority should be given to Ernakulam. “The flood of 2018 revealed the need to conserve wetlands in the district. Rapid urbanisation is eating into the ecological balance and the repercussions are very evident during every monsoon,” he said.
“Of course, projects like Mangalavanam are under way in the heart of the city. But larger and more eco-sensitive areas like the Kadamakkudy and Puthuvype are crying out for attention,” he said, adding that mangroves in Puthuvype are on the verge of extinction. According to Vishnu, another factor that hinders conservation efforts is the difference of opinion among the landowners.
“While some of them are ready, a majority of them don’t share the same opinion. For them, the land is a ticket to making more money,” he said. Umesh Pai, a Pokkali farmer in Varapuzha, agrees. “If there are 20 farmers in owning land in an area, you need only five of them to poke a spanner in anything useful,” he said. As long as the farmers cultivate the land, the wetlands will remain conserved, he added. “But the power of money and real estate is big. So, without the help of the government, neither the farmers nor the wetlands stand a chance,” he said.