Mining ban around Sasthamkotta lake

Conservation plan in the works for Kerala's biggest freshwater lake

By Sushmita Sengupta
Published: Saturday 17 July 2010

imagePeople living near Sasthamkotta Lake in Kerala have received a notice banning them from taking bath, washing clothes and dumping garbage in the lake. The notice also forbids mining in the catchment of the lake.

Sasthamkotta lake is a drinking water source for over 700,000 people in Kollam district. It is one of the 25 sites in India included in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance. An alarming fall in water level, and pollution have put the biggest fresh water lake in Kerala at risk.

The District Collector of Kollam handed over the notice on June 28. A State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) circular enforcing similar bans was issued earlier on May 11. Susan Jacob, Managing Director, Kerala Water Authority (KWA) said mining has reduced flow of rainwater into the lake. “The surrounding small hillocks which serve as the catchment of the lake are vanishing rapidly due to soil digging and laterite mining,” she said. 

K V Jay Kumar of the non-profit Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) in Kozhikkode said that construction activities around the lake cause debris to fall into the lake and decrease its depth. Planting of water depleting acacia trees around the lake by the forest department has equally contributed to the drying of the lake bed, he added.

S Babuji of the non-profit Lake Protection Council said mining in West Kallada village, south of Sasthamkotta, has also affected the lake's water level. “Unmindful mining of sand and clay in the flood plains of West Kallada panchayat has caused formation of big pits. Water from the lake empties into these craters which are at lower elevation than the lake,”  Babuji said. He added houses and hotels around the lake dump their sewage in the lake and use the lake’s water for bathing and washing.

Last monsoon, Kollam district received rainfall far below normal. The lake’s level started to recede in March. In the month of May, out of the total 373 hectares (ha), about 24 ha was dry. Kerala Water Authority had to stop operating a few pumping stations. “Kollam corporation along with four panchayats suffered a severe water crisis due to this,” said Babuji. A KWA official said the storage capacity of the lake has decreased 30 per cent and admitted the lake’s water is highly contaminated. But Jacob said KWA monitors the lake’s water. Every year the algae is cleaned. During the lean period, when there is huge demand of water, KWA makes sure that the municipality sewage is diverted from the lake, the KWA director said.   

The representatives of the Lake Protection Council had launched an indefinite agitation in the Sasthamcotta town on April 24.  For the improvement of the ecology of the lake, the council demanded: an autonomous body for management and protection of the lake; an expert committee to prepare a master plan; a detailed water balance study; pollution control and ban of mining in the catchment area.

Within a few days, the Kerala government called the council to discuss the condition of the lake. CWRDM was called by the state and asked to draw a comprehensive master plan of the lake in the middle of May. Jay Kumar said the preparation of the master plan is in the works and it will be completed by August.

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