Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 22, March 1-15, 2023
I spent four days in Calicut, Kozhikode, in Kerala. And as I always do, I soaked in well and also learnt much.
The idea of a literary festival on the beach partly drew me there. But I was not expecting the mela atmosphere that this annual event creates and sustains. Five tents pitched on the beach front, a series of talks, conversations and discussions that roll from one hour to the next, celebrity buzz from people like Shashi Tharoor, Prakash Raj and Kamal Hassan and a steady sales of books.
I loved the sight of hundreds of young people hanging around: some sat under the tents, some had a good time and some bought lots of books. I also loved the sight of young parents bringing their children to this Festival and guiding them to buy their first set of books.
And I also realised the power of the digital pop. The duo who make JordIndian, who have 1.6 million followers and make fun videos based on you and me and no profanity. Under one beachfront tent, some 3,000 young people jumped, screamed, laughed and made merry at the duo’s act, drowning the neighbourhood conversation of writers!
The host, DC Books does know how to mix a cocktail when it curates a Lit Fest.
The Fest gave me the opportunity to explore heritage Calicut and if you know the histories of this part of Kerala, this world is so, so huge and deep. Senior historian and story-teller Mohan took me on a Walk through the wholesale bazaar, the Silk Street with Chinese histories and the Gujarati Street, once the hub of the community, which first came here centuries ago, perhaps with Jain monks and easily took to trading, big time. So big that one family, which still trades here owned about 50 ‘urus’, the traditional, large sailing vessels, still built in nearby Beypore.
But lessons on heritage, conservation and community popped up when we chatted with one Gujarati family head. Some 80 per cent of the members here are now senior citizens – how and why would they continue sustaining their fantastic houses? Almost all youths had gone to Kochi and Bangalore and Dellhi to study and then, got employed in India or abroad: they visited but had no plans to resettle in this zone of Calicut. So how could the community preserve its heritage?
I saw small boutiques, art and craft shops, bistros and such businesses had rented some of these old houses. But the signages and decor over-ruled the traditional architecture and design.
And I wondered – how long would Mylapore’s old houses, even the Madras-tiled bungalows which are perhaps 1970s built, survive?
What character had the new-age stores on North Mada Street, which cannibalised the old garden houses created today? And why does a state minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments and his team want to demolish the old temple-linked zone on the south side of Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple, to build a large complex of wedding/community hall, lodging rooms, washrooms and parking spaces when, smart conservation of this slice of old Mylapore would be in keeping with highlighting local heritage?
Unless people express themselves and show their interest in public issues, and not leave it to individuals, we are bound to lose what we have inherited. – Courtesy: Mylapore Times.
– Vincent D’ Souza
One assertion often made by water experts, government officials, academicians and politicians in seminars, panel discussions and workshops is that “Tamil Nadu is a water-stressed State”. This indirectly implies that Chennai city, being the capital of Tamil Nadu is also water stressed.
What does this mean? On what basis does one make such a statement? What are the parameters that decide whether a city, State or country is water stressed? When did T.N. become water stressed? Was it always one? These are questions that remain unanswered.
Assuming the State has come under stress for water only in the recent past, how did it get there? What were the wrong strategies adopted, the incorrect decisions made that led to this situation? What remedial measures were taken?
It is understandable if the State and the city turned water-deficient for one or a few years at the most, when the monsoon failed during consecutive years, but not permanently.
But the assertion has been made several times and it is taken for granted and assumed to be real, never questioned.
Has the State and city suffered water stress due to a rising population and subsequent demand hike or just mismanagement? In other words, is it because of expansion or is it man-made?
It is true that rain is the primary source of freshwater for both Tamil Nadu and Chennai and it rains only for a few days in a year. Harvesting is the only way to sustain both surface and subsoil water. Therefore, rainwater harvesting (RWH) is the keyword in any wise water management exercise.
But is that being done completely and efficiently at the scale of the State and Chennai city? The answer is a loud no. Having failed to harvest rain, it is unfair to call both T.N. and Chennai water stressed. It can be true only after we harvest every drop of rain.
Both T.N. and Chennai have been turned into a water-stressed State and city. Water managers have always gone in for new, hitherto unknown sources instead of making attempts to understand the reasons for failure of water sources and the remedial measures needed. Here are two examples – one each from the rural and urban areas.
In rural areas, agriculture being the predominant profession, water is an essential input. This was obtained mostly from traditional water bodies called erys, which collected rainwater during monsoon and retained it for a few months. This was augmented by groundwater from open wells, a large number of which tapped the shallow layer of the groundwater source sustained by seepage from the erys. Tapping the shallow aquifer through open wells is an age-old practice.
Erys were under the control of the State during British rule and the practice continued in Independent India. Failure to carry out maintenance led to a considerable reduction in collection and retention of rainwater. This impacted the open wells too, as ery seepage stopped.
The erys were not given due importance during colonial rule mainly due to indifference, and after independence, erys were not only ignored but also abused by way of encroachments and dumping of solid and liquid waste. Large scale sand quarrying in rivers resulted in erys not getting filled up.
Did it happen due to a lack of awareness or contempt for anything traditional? In the last three decades or so, permission was granted by the State to construct factories and also housing colonies in such water bodies.
Farmers, having no role to play in ery maintenance and their open wells having gone dry, tapped the deeper layers of groundwater. This source is neither predictable nor sustainable, and suicides by farmers followed. Free power granted to farmers led to over-extraction of both shallow and deep aquifers.
Something similar happened in urban areas too. Here, the problems are of more recent origin. The shallow aquifer, the traditional source, due to over-exploitation, got depleted and shallow sources such as open wells and tube wells went dry. Citizens went in for deep bore wells.
In rural areas, traditional waterbodies such as erys and ooranies should not have been neglected. This may have been impossible to prevent during British rule, but after independence there was no excuse not to nurture them. To do this, the State should have involved the society in desilting the water bodies, strengthening the bunds, repairing the sluices, overflow weirs and so on.
Citizens living in both rural and urban areas, instead of understanding the reasons behind the depletion and the steps to sustain them, switched over to deep aquifers through deep bore wells. There was a lack of awareness that the shallow and deep were two discontinuous sources of groundwater and that the shallow could be sustained through recharge – GWR – which is one aspect of RWH. The citizens were also misled by bore well diggers.
Though erys were created and meant only for agricultural use, several of them, found in extended urban areas have lost their agricultural relevance. Therefore, they were considered useless and encroached upon by both the society and the State.
What if they have lost their agricultural relevance? They are still good traditional rainwater harvesting systems to collect rainwater during monsoon and for use in supplying freshwater for domestic and industrial uses. For example, four erys – Red Hills, Sholavaram, Chembarambakkam and Veeranam – meet a large percentage of Chennai’s fresh water needs.
Why not adopt the same policy for erys in the extended areas of Chennai city and CMA as well as Chengalpattu, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts, which stand shorn of agricultural relevance?
This plan can eliminate the need for bringing water from Veeranam ery or for requesting Andhra Pradesh for water and last but not the least, desalinating seawater into freshwater, as is being done in Minjur and Nemmeli plants. All the three are expensive solutions drawing heavy electricity and proving to be unsustainable.
Dr. Sekhar Raghavan
Director, Rain Centre