Saturday, October 21, 2006



Alleppey, the ancient port town, popularly nicknamed the Venice of the East, is now passing through a significant phase in its development. On one side, there is the infinite tourist potential provided by the backwaters and abundance of house-boats; on the other side is the pathetic living conditions occasioned by water-born diseases and deplorable lack of basic infra-structure. The two canals, which were once the nerve-centers of all trade and activity, have now deteriorated into gutters that breed mosquitoes and all kinds of disease germs. The whole town has the look of a heap of waste-dump for lack of proper sanitation and cleaning. The nauseating smell that enfolds the busy areas is enough to deter the tourists from visiting this place once again.

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, Kochi 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.
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 Venice of the East’ is now a total misnomer. The only claim is that this putrefying body of stagnant water filled with germs and worms, that breeds mosquitoes aplenty, was once canals. It is akin to describing the local whore as Miss World. Something drastic has to be done to improve the condition. The canals cannot be allowed to continue like this anymore because of the health hazards it arouses in the town.



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!)

Drainage System

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.


Waste Management

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.)

Friday, October 20, 2006


Urgent need for road dividers
The increasing number of road-accidents in Kerala is a matter of great concern.. Most of these can be avoided, if there were enough road dividers along the important roads in the State.
It is certainly the duty of the Government to provide its citizens with the right to drive their vehicles safely and comfortably along the roads and not just collect road tax without fulfilling this requirement.
Most accidents occur when vehicles come face to face. The number of vehicles coming on to the road every month is increasing rapidly and the roads do not expand proportionately to accommodate them. When the number of vehicles doubles, the chances for accidents increase exponentially. The occasions of vehicles coming face to face increase multifold. Accidents are highly fatal when this happens; such occasions can be drastically reduced if the roads are modified in such a way that vehicles move only in one direction along a single lane.
We do not have enough roads to make them one-way, but most of them are wide enough to allow two-way traffic in either direction. Such roads shall be divided with ‘physical’ dividers, instead of drawing just a white line as is done at present. The white line does not prevent the drivers from crossing them whenever it suits their fancy, to speed along or to overtake. Most accidents occur when fast vehicles overtake others. Many drivers are overconfident about their ability to swerve the vehicle at the last moment, but frequently this fails them. While overtaking other vehicles, the drivers increase the speed, and when they are in doubt about clearing the oncoming vehicle, they increase it further. Such accidents are highly destructive.
Many studies regarding accidents have come to the conclusion that 90% of the accidents are the result of the negligence of the driver. But my reading is that we provide them with enough opportunities to err and put the blame on them. I believe that nobody ever drives a vehicle to commit suicide. Reducing the chances of vehicles coming face to face will reduce such incidents to a great extent. That will also save a lot of life.
Most of the roads in Kerala are typically accident prone because of the absence of road dividers. Roads are wide enough for three or four vehicles to pass either way, but there is nothing to prevent them from coming face to face. If only dividers were provided, a major share of the accidents could be averted. Also, shoulder lanes should be provided wherever possible to allow the movement of slower vehicles. Wherever possible, bus bays also should be provided.
The dividers don’t have to be permanent or stable. They can be structures made of steel, plastic or cement blocks, propped up along the white line. Vehicles might hit them occasionally, but that will not cause such a great disaster as loss of life. The government may not have to spend a lot on such dividers, because the cost of installing them can be passed on to local business houses, who will be happy to display their advertisements on them. Corporations, Municipalities and other local bodies can take care of finding the sponsors for this in their respective areas. The role of the government is almost restricted to giving permission or enacting a law to enable this. It can also help in designing the most effective structure of dividers.
This is an urgent necessity because lots of lives are sacrificed everyday for want of this safety precaution. The pain is felt only by those who lose their kith and kin. It is high time that the Government acted on this.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Kerala - an ideal State!
What an ideal State is Kerala!
Here, no farmers commit suicide.
Nobody dies of chikungunya.
Crime rate is the lowest here.
Molestation is unknown here.
Goonda act is superfluous for us.
Blade mafia doesn’t threaten us.
None dies in Police custody.
We top the States in personal hygiene.
We have won awards for sanitation.
Primary health is the best here.
We have the highest literacy rate.
Education for the poor is for the asking.
People below BPL are minimal here.
Our standard of living is very high,
because ration shops are deserted,
liquor shops have long queues.
We have achieved all this
Because our politicians don’t tell lies!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Hydro Electric Power – the raging controversy
What has gone wrong with us?
Keralites are known for their intelligence and hard work. They are recognized as the champions of dedication anywhere outside Kerala. But inside the State, they are ridden by cross-purposes and retrograde activities. We elect governments with vast majorities in the Assembly, but do not allow them to do anything. Any progressive move is quickly stifled by opposition and dialectical differences. We need institutions of higher education, but we will not pay for them. We have no money of our own, but we shall not borrow from those who have it. Private enterprises we look for, but they should not make profit. Unemployment is increasing at a fast pace, but we do everything to prevent factories from working. The rights of labourers are more sacred to us than labour itself.
Hydro Electric Power (HEP) is by far the cheapest and most sustainable source of energy. It is the most eco-friendly form of producing electric power. It will go on as long as there are rains and rivers and the water used is not wasted. It runs on to irrigate uncultivated land, thus increasing our agricultural output.
But a controversy arises every time we plan further Hydro-electric projects. Environmentalists cry out against them, writers and poets and the so called ‘intelligentia’ rise in agitation. Many projects have had to be discontinued half way. We have to take a fresh look at such things and arrive at a consensus, in view of the future generations.
Mostly, I believe, such controversies arise as a result of our setting wrong priorities. It usually happens in Politics where we put individuals before the People. In the modern world of scientific achievements and technological development, there is no doubt that we need a lot of electricity, much much more.
During the days when electricity began to be used, it was primarily meant for lighting up the house. Then slowly it came in handy for running fans, and replacing traditional household gadgets. Nowadays, even the AC is not considered a luxury; leave alone the scores of electrical equipments that come in handy for the housewife. The computer has revolutionized our whole way of life – beginning from the advantages of personal computers, we have passed into a world where electricity is required 24 hours a day, non-stop. The rise in job opportunities provided by BPOs and other computer-related opportunities demand an exponential growth in the supply of electricity. In short, we have become so dependent on this source of power that life is not virtually possible without it. Other sources of energy like thermal, nuclear and solar power are stilted with either high risk factor or low productivity.
I believe that it is the duty of every generation to provide for the future generations. We live on what our predecessors did for us. We should never be the cause for blocking the unending process of human progress. The comforts in our life, the facilities that we enjoy, are the results of what our previous generations did. The electricity that we use now is the gift of some great minds who took the risk of ‘destroying’ a little environment for the sake of greater benefits to humanity. If the creators of Pallivasal and Idukki projects had not taken the risk, what would have been our plight? If some people had not chosen to cut a few trees and construct palaces and houses in ‘Ananthan kadu’, the city now known as Thiruvananthapuram would not have been there. Why, the house that Sugathakumari lives in would not have been there. The electricity that she now uses up in running her house, in making speeches and glaring through the visual media would not have been there, if some ‘thoughtless’ people had not constructed the power generating stations.
It is inhuman to say ‘enough is enough’. We have been gifted by the deeds of our previous generations and we have no right to deny the rights of the coming generations.
We should not behave like ‘the people who have got into the bus’ and deny entry for others.
Progress necessarily means a selective destruction of environment. We cannot achieve anything without sacrificing something. It is one thing to speak of Nature and write poetry on it, but interfering emotionally with the requirements of the future is another thing. Let us not confuse our priorities. Surely, Sugathakumari et al. do not expect our children to live on traditional jobs like pot-making, mat-weaving and hoeing in the fields.
The times when a person could make a living by writing poems and singing ritualistic songs before the serpent god are far gone; not everyone does win the Booker Prize. Those who enjoy all the comforts of life can be philosophic, but it doesn’t provide bread for the future. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of progress have no right to deny it for their children.
The world is growing at such a pace that we need to tap all the available sources of energy. The wrong priorities set in the political arena and the dictates of outdated labour policy have already put our State some 20-25 years behind other southern states. Our potential in the IT field remains unexploited because of our craze for frequent hartals and bandhs. Foreign investors dread to step in because of our uncertain work culture.
Already, electricity is in short supply. It is high time that we did something about it. Unless some firm steps are taken, the State will enter into a dark age. Many projects have been dropped half way and the latest one, Pathrakkadau, is facing stiff objection. Environmentalists have to realize that any progress is possible only by making certain concessions. Here again, we have to set the right priorities. Some forest area and some living area may be inundated, but we have to suffer this necessary evil. The question of endangered species will have to be assessed in the face of the larger benefits to the State and its subjects. Those who have to be evacuated should be rehabilitated properly.
The disturbance caused to the environment will have to be limited to the minimum. We have to admit that much more interference with environment takes place when the cities develop, natural waterways are blocked and large areas of backwaters are filled up as in GCDA. After all, the survival of human beings, their freedom to work and earn a living, their right to live comfortably, and the overall progress of the State where they live in should be placed far above the discomfort to some monkeys and birds which have no present bearing on human life.
Writing poetry and short stories can be a pastime for the affluent, but it does not fetch a living for the great majority. Emotional entanglement with the world of facts only results in confusion and arousal of unwanted sentiments. Nature is no doubt a beautiful subject for poetry and fiction, but attempts to import them into real life to block the progress of humanity and deny the coming generation their job opportunities and necessities of life tantamount to violation of fundamental human rights.
Well, regarding the argument that the engineers and politicians think up such projects and try to implement them for the sake of making money for themselves, speaks volumes about the corruption prevalent in the higher echelons of power. I do not deny such possibilities, but they can indulge in such things in any other field too – not necessarily in the construction of Hydroelectric Power Stations alone. The interference of the environmentalists is in fact a blessing in disguise to them. They can always make money out of incomplete projects and blame the environmentalists for not allowing them to complete it. They can conveniently look for another project, make budget and estimates, get the commission for whatever is done and wait for someone to ask them to stop. I am afraid we spend most of our efforts in this vicious circle – propose new power projects, hinder them, then look for newer ones.
To sum up, it is the need of the day to put the horse before the cart. Let us prioritize our requirements and work towards achieving them, even though we have to make some concessions and sacrifices. If Mahatma Gandhi and his people were worried about losing the lives of some of them, we would not have got freedom. If our researchers had qualms about trying their medicines on a few guinea pigs, many of our medicines would not have been found. If we were sorry about killing animals, the world would have experienced a terrific shortage of food materials. All progress, even human existence, depends on some casualities; let us sacrifice a few woods and birds for the larger benefit of humanity around us, ultimately for the progress of our State.