HEALTH, HYGIENE, HERITAGE
A PROJECT TO REVIVE ALLEPPEY AS A TOURIST SPOT
The fact is that we are blind to our blessings and brag about attracting tourists without doing even the spade work to make the place at least tolerable to them. The tradition that we boast of is only imaginary and we do nothing to concretize it into reality. I have a few suggestions to make, on this eve of the Tourism Minister announcing his decision to invite global tenders for the renovation of Alleppey.
The tradition – a little history
Alleppey earned a name in the trade map of the world when Raja Kesavadas designed the two canals running along the town from east to west to enable easy transportation of hill produce from the east to the western coast through country boats. That was the Golden era, when the whole town was bubbling with brisk activity, the banks of the canals being the busiest centers of trade and affluence. But that was long before surface transport developed. Transportation of goods on motor-driven vehicles caught up with the time and improved momentously. Gradually,
developed into a prime sea-port. The arrival of container traffic tolled the death knell for water-transport and the canals. The canals ceased to carry country-boats and goods anymore; the factories around them closed down or were shifted to other places one by one. The once-busy areas fell into gloom and the solitary pier was left to crumble down. Kochi
The ill-conceived and partly executed Thanneermukkom Barrage Project then came into being. That was the final death blow for the canals. Flow of water through the canals got blocked. The tides that used to keep them clean stopped functioning. As the saying goes, stagnant water pollutes. All sorts of weeds took root and multiplied so as to cover the surface of the canals from sunlight and it became a safe breeding place for mosquitoes and germs. Not even the narrowest boat can now pass through them and no one touches that water for fear of itches and other skin diseases. Add to this the ‘civic’culture of dumping all sorts of waste materials into them on a daily basis, plus the comfort of defecating on their shores in the mornings.
How can any planning do good to the town when our ‘hold on tradition’ is so strong as to insist on maintaining this 8 Km. long, 20 feet wide mass of putrefied water in the midst of the town? Nobody realizes that they serve no purpose now other than being the breeding ground for water-born diseases. Any talk about closing it down for ever meets with sentimental outcry and hysterical craze for holding on to tradition. True, they are part of Alleppey’s glorious past, but now they are worse than putrefying carcasses emanating stench and worms for years together. They are not natural waterways, but dug out in the historical past for a specific purpose. They served that purpose meritoriously no doubt. There is no harm in closing them down for good and it cannot cause any serious environmental or ecological problems.
Though I am a strong advocate for this drastic step, I suggest here a few steps to bypass it with a little effort. In my opinion, these canals are, at the same time, our tradition and the curse. No serious studies have taken place so far on how to handle them. Only fleeting comments by some unconcerned minds have ruled their fate till now. Any number of political and administrative gimmicks of ‘cleaning the canals’ has been demonstrated during the past twenty-five years with no success other than piping out government funds. Remedial treatment is sometimes successful in minor ailments, but not in cancerous afflictions.
The title ‘
Proper sanitation should be the prime concern of any local authority. Here in Alleppey, this is the most neglected department. Alleppey does not have an effective drainage system, neither can it boast of regular removal of waste. All waste materials, including the remains of carcasses, are conveniently dumped into the canals by anyone who chooses to do so. All the wastewater from nearby hotels, houses and business places find its way into the canals. The banks of the canals are open-air ‘comfort stations’ for the public in the mornings. Both the sides of the canals are overgrown with trees, plants and weeds, polluting the water further with shedding leaves.(if the water can be polluted anymore!)
What Alleppey needs badly is a proper drainage system, especially the area around the canals. All the wastewater that is now generated from the houses, hotels and business places should be channeled into this system constructed along the four sides of the canals.
Big concrete pipes, with manholes wherever necessary, should be fixed along the eight Km. stretch of the canals, into which all waste water should flow. The water collected thus should be led to a purification system to be installed at either ends of the drainage pipes on the east and the west. The organic materials sieved out can be used as manure and the purified water can be used for agriculture. The tops of the pipes may be properly covered and leveled so that it can be used either to widen the roads or to rent out for shops. ‘Bridge buildings’ that span both banks of the canals can be constructed wherever possible and leased out to generate revenue. This will easily cover the investment on the drainage system.
Placing drainage pipes along the banks of the canals will necessarily involve the removal of the trees and plants on either side, which gives us a multifaceted advantage. One thing is that dry leaves will not pollute the water in the canals, the second is that it provides enough space to widen roads and construct shop-buildings and the third biggest advantage is that it will stop sheltering the public from anti-social activities in the mornings.
Let us not have the impression that this is not feasible because Alleppey lies on the sea-level or below that. A good number of studies involving Dutch experts have taken place here and their projects are still sleeping on the shelves of some government departments. It is not impossible to invite them once again and devise a project if we have the will to do so. In any case, there must be drainage systems in places like Alleppey in some parts of the world and what is needed is the determination to implement it.
Once the canals are saved from the inflow of polluted water, the rest is easy. They were once clean when seawater used to enter it from either side. The tides used to do the duty of flushing and cleaning them, which can be easily reinstated by opening (or creating) sluice valves on the west and allowing seawater to flow into the Vembanad Lake in a controlled manner. This will be far cheaper and efficient than creating artificial flow using pumps or other devices. The imbroglio created by theThanneermukkom barrage is on the verge of being solved, thanks to the efforts of Irrigation department, which will greatly assist the cleaning of the canals.
Another department where the local authority exhibits callous unconcern is the disposal of waste materials. Now only a minor percentage of waste produced is removed occasionally and the rest lies where it is and putrefies, giving the town the stench of a garbage bin. Heaps of such material can be seen lying around even major roads and streets for weeks, waiting for disposal. Even what is collected is carried away in the most unhygienic conditions and dumped callously into vast heaps close to inhabited places causing great health hazards. No proper mechanism to separate the materials or incinerate them functions there.
A proper garbage treatment plant is highly needed for Alleppey, if possible two at the southern and northern ends of the Municipality. Garbage collection has to be efficient and regular. For this, the system prevalent in many major townships outside Kerala can be implemented without much difficulty. I have the following suggestions in this respect:
- Each house-owner and owners of other establishments should be directed to collect the solid waste produced in their places in plastic/polythene bags, tie them neatly and place such bundles in front of their houses.
- The Municipality is already divided into 50 wards. Under the supervision of each councilor, a required number of people may be employed to collect these bags in trolleys/handcarts regularly and bring them to specified spots on the main roads and streets and stack them.
- The Municipality should provide enough lorries/tippers to collect the garbage at regular intervals and carry them to the treatment plants.Their job will be much easier, faster and hygienic, once the material is collected in bags.
- In the plants, the material should be separated with the help of modern machines into organic and non-organic materials. Bio-degradable products may be used as manure and other items like plastic and polythene can be disposed in the proper way.
- Instead of keeping open cans on the roadside, expecting people to bring their waste and throw them into it, collecting waste materials from their houses has many advantages. Sides of the streets will not be littered with uncollected polluting dumps; the plastic menace can be properly handled.
- This may not cause much additional burden to the Municipal exchequer. The owners of each house or shop from where the waste is collected may be persuaded to pay a nominal sum on monthly basis, which will generate enough income to pay the laborers to be commissioned under the supervision of the Municipal councilors.
- Let us not have the impression that we will not get enough people to do this. We are witnesses to the rush for even menial jobs when the government staff went on strike for weeks together. By and by, the culture of disposing off garbage in this safe manner will catch up with the people. This has happened in many modern townships.
- Once this becomes a habit with the people, our streets and, more importantly the canals, will not be littered with waste materials. Streets and roads, when covered edge-to-edge with tar or concrete will have a more decent look and will be much cleaner.
These are some of the primary things the local authorities and the government should try to implement before we plan to attract global tourists in great numbers. We are blessed by Nature in abundance, but we fail to cash in on them with our negligence and greed for temporary gains. The tourist amenity center recently inaugurated is a good step towards improving our basic infra-structure. Many such centers should come in different parts of the town to look after the needs of local men and visitors. ‘Cleanliness’ should be our watchword in all our actions. Tourists prefer to to places better than their own hometown. Tourists are god-sent messengers who carry all over the world news about the good and bad of the places they visit. Our asset is their goodwill; that is what makes others visit this place.
We are proud to announce that Kerala is “God’s Own Country”, but we do nearly nothing to make it a tourist’s haven. Alleppey, with its resplendent backwaters, abundant waterways, majestic houseboats, enchanting snake-boats, gorgeous resorts, restorative treatment of the physique and endearing cultural bounty has a rich heritage. It can very well be a ‘Heaven on Earth’ for the visitors. It is the bounden duty of this generation to complete the platform to raise the town to its ancient glory through dedicated efforts forgetting partisan divisions and personal rivalries.
(This project dated
25 June 2002 was sent to all Government authorities, but no action was taken except giving some cosmetic changes to the Canals.)