Walking for a lake

A group of morning walkers frequenting Vellayani lake, has set up an association to clean up the water body and the fragile ecosystem around it
Waste water being dumped into the lake
Waste water being dumped into the lakePhoto | Express

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is where the sultry heat that gripped the capital some days ago melted away into a misty chill. As dawn breaks on the Vellayani lake every day, walkers can be seen matching pace with the shrill chirp of morning birds. The verdant paddy fields around with the lilting flow of Karamana together create an ambience for a perfect morning.

This is heaven for regular morning outers who drive down from the city to fill their lungs and minds with the freshness of the green stretch, enveloped by paddy fields and vegetable farms, the water strip called the Kannukali chaal made by the Irrigation Department that drains excess water from the lake into the Karamana river, and the lake itself.

The main attraction here is the Punchakkari paddy fields, the hub of migrating and native birds, making it an important stop for nature photographers. The place also gets several visitors from as early as 5 in the morning, to catch the glory of the rising birds and to see the vivid sky from near the ‘Kireedam paalam’ made famous by the 1989 superhit flick Kireedam.

“All these might soon change,” says Binu Punchakkari, a native who shot to fame as the one-man army against the waste dumping on the lake.

“In another 10 years, the Punchakkari may turn another Parvathi Puthanar, the once-waterway-turned-drain that runs through the city. Vellayani, Kerala’s second-largest freshwater lake, spread over 7.5 acres supplying water to five panchayats around, is in a sorry state, infested with coliform bacteria and microplastic deposits. I have myself scooped out around 1,200 kg of plastic waste from the lake,” he says.

“The stretch from the Kireedam palam (bridge) to Madhu paalam is full of waste. And the walkers’ bund we speak about as a haven for moning walkers is near the Kireedam palam,” he adds. The walkers’ bund is now slush-filled, he explains.

The current state of the walkway
The current state of the walkway

The rain has further added to the woes, making a slurry of the soil dumped on the bund from the panchayat pond nearby. The pond was recently cleaned. “The slaughterhouse waste that was dumped in the pond is also in the soil, making the entire place messy,” Binu says, adding there was no proper response from the authorities when they were alerted of the issue.

“We took up the case as part of the Punchakkari Walkers Association, which was formed exclusively by regular walkers of the Kannukali chaal, and alerted the Biodiversity Board. They have asked the panchayat for the reason for the lack of action so far,” says Hari Raghunathan, president of the association.

The Walkers’ Association is a recent formation to take on the ills bogging the Kannukali chal and the walkers’ area. “There is always the issue of plastic waste and the ‘African payal’ clogging the Kannukali chal,” says Nisha Hameed, the association’s treasurer.

The walkers yearning to make a difference, if not solve the complex issues that Vellayani faces, culled out the forum from a WhatsApp group and formed a collective of 150 members.

“We want to prepare a proper walkway for the regulars and set up lights and benches in the tourist area nearby. There are even plans for an open gym,” explains Hari.

The waste collection machinery of the local bodies was not doing much good in removing the plastic waste, according to Nisha. Repeated pleas were also not yielding results. “The need for the forum came about from such lapses. There was a need to set things right for not just the walkers but for some difference to the ecological health of the area,” says Nisha.

To start with, the association has so far sourced funds to set up concrete benches, dust bins, and solar lights.

Garbage collected kept for pick up
Garbage collected kept for pick up

It also organised awareness sessions such as ‘Save Vellayani Lake Walkathon’ on the need to preserve the lake and canal area free from waste. Regular cleaning of the area is also being taken up by the association.

“We are coordinating with government departments towards this. We also have plans to join hands with groups such as Adani to utilise their resources to remove the tonnes of waste dumped in the area,” says Hari, about the future plans.

There are also efforts to develop mangroves and grow side trees along the walkway so that the Vellayani ecosystem gets a stronger backup.

“We are trying to coordinate with industries that could use the ‘African payal’ as raw material for their produce. That way, the waste scooped out could be put to good use,” Hari says.

Status check

In 2023, the state government had greenlighted a project worth Rs 96.5 crore for the rejuvination o teh Vellayali lake. Schemes were also planned as part of tourisdevelopment to create facilities such as walkways here. District Panchayat president Adv D Suresh Kumar says the local body had planned a similar poroject, which was withdrawn when the state government introduced the three-phase plan. Meanwhile, the walkers’ association say they had presented their request to Minister V Sivankutty. “ The offiials said they will look into it after the June ,” said Hari Ranganathan.

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