Will Vaippar river’s glory days return?

Today, neither that river nor the verdant farmlands along its banks exist in Sattur town; both are dead, and has been so for the past three decades.

Published: 26th September 2021 05:32 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th September 2021 05:32 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

VIRUDHUNAGAR: Ask old-timers here about River Vaippar and they will turn raconteurs. Be it for drinking or for irrigation, all the Sattur region turned to its mighty currents, and entire railway tracks were laid to carry agricultural produce from its bustling shores. 

Today, neither that river nor the verdant farmlands along its banks exist in Sattur town; both are dead, and has been so for the past three decades. In its place flows a ‘sewer’ carrying waste from the Sattur Municipality and nearby villages, and effluent from industries in Sivakasi-Virudhunagar-Thoothukudi belt. “Despite the existence of strict government laws, effluent from factories and untreated sewage from the towns/villages are discharged into the river,” said Sundarapandian (45), an activist trying to revive the Vaippar.

He dismissed discourses that Sivakasi-Sattur-Vembakottai belt has nothing but firecracker industries to depend upon and claimed that the entire region once composed of swathes of agricultural land, with Vaippar being its throbbing heart. 

“It was only in the late 1980s that the river started drying up rapidly,” he said, adding: “Two things occurred simultaneously to make this region dependent on cracker industry: 1) Machineries replaced labour in safety-match industries with the implementation of the new economic policy; 2) the river started drying up because of sand mining and associated activities such as felling of trees and breaking the river banks,” said Sundarapandian. Following this, thousands of farmers and farmhands became workers in cracker units, while some left the region for cities. 

Seventy-five-year-old farmer Ellapparaj said the riverbed had been mined for sand for nearly 12 feet, exposing the rocks beneath. “We pose this question to the government: Will the Vaippar be revived?” he said, adding: “If that’s done, Sattur and nearby regions won’t have to depend on any external sources of water.” Stating that the river used to flow even during the  dog days, Bajanai Krishnan (72) said Sattur town and nearby villages have now been forced to depend on the Thamirabarani water supplied via pipelines. “If there are repair works on the pipeline, we won’t get water,” he added. 

Partial revival works
When contacted, Executive Engineer (PWD) of Vaippar Basin, Raja, told TNIE that arrangements are being made to remove seemai karuvelam from the riverbed and proposals have been sent to the government for regradation of rivers, construction of floodbanks, and related activities. 

Moreover, works on an underground drainage (UGD) system, worth Rs 37.66 crore, under the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT) are underway in Sattur town since 2019. The construction of a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) with the capacity to treat 4.63 MLD  (Million Litre per Day) is underway; this would help treat sewage from the 24 wards in the municipality, said officials from the TWAD board. 

“Also, permission has been sought from the Public Works Department (PWD) to release the treated water into the river. The residents, however, oppose this scheme,” said an official, seeking anonymity. Further, the treated water would be purchased by SIPCOT for their ongoing construction works, said official sources.  As we celebrate the World Rivers Day today, TNIE looks at the problems plaguing the rivers flowing through TN.

Three major issues preventing waterflow

Damage on the Shenbagavalli dam, leading to loss of water at the river’s origin

Seemai karuvelam (juliflora) forest on the riverbed and other water pathways

Discharge of effluent and sewage into the river


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