The lone weed warrior: Kerala man on a mission to save rivers

From his initial intention to clear the only route to his house, Anilkumar is now a one-man army fighting to ensure the smooth flow of Pullanthi river, reports Abhilash Chandran 
T A Anilkumar removes weeds and grass from Pullanthi river at Enadi in Chempu near Vaikom. (Photo | Vishnu Prathap)
T A Anilkumar removes weeds and grass from Pullanthi river at Enadi in Chempu near Vaikom. (Photo | Vishnu Prathap)

KOTTAYAM: For the past three months, T A Anilkumar has been working from 8 am. Every day, he plies the Pullanthi, a tributary of the Muvattupuzha river, in a country boat with a sickle attached to a 10m-long pole and removes weed and waste from the water. A wood contractor, he put his professional activities on hold and volunteered to clean the river when the only route to his house was blocked following proliferation of weed.

The 52-year-old’s house – at Cheruthuruthu, in the ninth ward (Enadi) of Chempu panchayat, near Vaikom –  is surrounded by paddy fields, with no road connectivity. People of Cheruthuruthu and Kattithara depend on the Pullanthi to connect to the outside world. And it is this vital lifeline that gets cut off when the river clogs up with weed and water hyacinth. 

“Though we approached the grama panchayat with a request to clear the waterway, officials refused to take action, citing lack of funds. Even the block and district panchayats turned a deaf ear to our appeals. Left with no other option, I decided to act,” says Anil.

“There is no road access to our homes. The only option is a wooden bridge across the river, which can’t be used to transport people in an emergency. When the 10m-wide river gets completely blocked by aquatic plants, the flow of surface water comes to a standstill and garbage starts accumulating,” he said.

Anil has already cleared 2km of the Kattithara-Cherattupuzha-Kallukuthukadav stretch and will mark the completion of the first phase at the bridge that connects Enadi to Thuruthuthumma. Inspired by his activity, a people’s collective has been formed that has started cleaning activity from the opposite end. Anil is the chairman of the collective, which has started clearing the weeds from Kallukuthukadav. Anil joins the group after completing his own work in the morning.  “Many people have abandoned Kattithara due to the lack of connectivity.

There are around 15 families remaining here. While clearing the waterway benefits them directly, it will also positively impact hundreds of people living on both banks of the river,” Anil added.

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