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Holy River Pampa Crying for attention

N.K. Sukumaran Nair


Inadequate sewage disposal and sanitation facilities coupled with very thin water flow in the Holy River Pampa in Kerala State during the recently concluded Sabarimala Pilgrim season, January 2005, have raised pollution level in the River water at an alarming stage.

Anticipating such a worst situation the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had approved Pampa Action Plan under the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) in 2002, as a result of representation by the Pampa Parirakshana Samithy to the then Central Minister Sri. T.R. Balu. The National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) has accorded administrative sanction for the first phase of Pampa Action Plan consists of 11 pollution abatement schemes to be carried out at Sabarimala and Pampa estimated to cost Rs.18.45 crores to be implemented in a period of 4 years from 2003-2004. The NRCD had also accorded expenditure sanction for Rs. 12.9 crores as 70% as Central share during May 2003. The Cost of the scheme will be shared on 70:30 by the central and State Government. but the implementation of the project is moving at a snail's pace.

The implementation of the project on a warfooting is inevitable as millions of pilgrims from all over the country visit Sabarimala every year. Pilgrims are using this water of River Pampa for their Holy bathing (Punya Snanam) and drinking as Holy water (Theertham). Congregation of very large number of people in a limited area within the reserve forest for a limited period exerts inormous pressure on the environment especially in the water quality of River Pampa.

It is imperative that water quality of Pampa River be improved in its entire stretch, not only for the benefit of the pilgrims but also for improving water quality in the downstream stretches especially in the water loged areas of Kuttanad and Vembanad lake which is one of the identified Ramsar Site.

Eventhough the State Government appointed Kerala Water Authority as the nodal agency to impliment Pampa Action Plan none of the 11 pollution abatement schemes could not be started till now due to lack of coordination between various government departments and Travancore Devasam Board (TDB) which is the administrative body of Sabarimala Temple. The half hearted attitude of the State Government and the TDB in Pampa Action Plan which is the only project in the State under the NRCP, would deprive the State of conservation and cleaning programmes of the Holy River Pampa.


N.K. Sukumaran Nair


Water Shortage Problems that the Holy River Pampa is facing

N. K. Sukumaran Nair

Pampa, the third longest river among the 44 rivers of Kerala. It is the holy river of Sabarimala. Of its two main tributories River Manimala joins it at Valanjavattam near Thiruvalla and River Achankovil converges with it at Veeyapuram. The entire area of Central Travancore is literally enriched and enlightened by this riverine system. They provide the life giving water to the whole of Kuttanad, as they meander to the grant backwater Vembanad. The greatest contribution of the Pampa system is that is had caused the formation of Kuttanad, the most important granery of Kerala. The influence of the Pampa riverine system on the economic, social, cultural and spiritual life of the region is immense indeed.

Table 1

Water flow through the system

No. River Length in Area covered Water flow

in km. in Sq. Km. in m.c.m.

1 Achankovil 129 484 2017

2 Pampa 179 2235 3961

3 Manimala 90 847 1217

These rivers which had a plentiful flow of water in the past is now facing water shortage by the close of the rainy season itself. Kerala recives an average annual rainfall to the tune of 3000 mm. This land is finding itself in acute water scarcity by the onset of the summer season. This is the direct consequence of the pathetic decadence of its riverine system.

A study by CWRD Kozhikode predicts that by 2050 the water availability in Pampa will fall short by 3537 m.cm., in Achancovil 359 m.cm. and in Manimala by 398 m.cm., from the minimum expected requirements.

A river is an organic system. The water that flows through it, the sand led that supports it, along with the fauna and the flora of the associated land mass, all form integral part of the eco-system of the area. They are the veins and arteries of the Mother Earth. When a river is destroyed the very life flow of the organic system is getting destroyed. The irony is that we do it inspite of the fact that we know the danger.

The reckless over exploitation of the rivers during the last few decades has ruined the entire system. Ofcourse it is equally true for all the rivers of Kerala.

The famous Aranmula boat regata (Jalotsav) was conducted this year without its essential competition part, due to the low water level in the river. This was a territle disappointment to the millions who gathered to witness the gala meet. This boat race is a unique cultural feature proudly preserved by the people of the Pampa basin. In sufficiency of water stood in the way of boat races at Ayroor and Ranni as well. If things go as it is we shudder how long we will be able to carry on with the religious conversions at Maramon and Cherukolepuzha. The Kulathoor and Mallappally congregations are no more held on sand beds of the rivers.


There are so many reasons for the water shortage in rivers. Of the total rain fall 60% is received during the June, July, August months. 25-30% is received during September, October, November months and 10 to 15% during the remaining six months. The forests on the hilly terrains on both sides of the rivers used to play a crucial role to check the water flow down the hills and also to store up the same in the subsoil to ta great extent. The forest soil is rinch in organic substances and the roots web up to form a reritable mesh in the soil. Such a soil behaves life a sponge. Part of the water held up in the such a soil gradually oozes out to enrich the canals and streams. The other parts sinks down to strengthen the under ground sources. The reduction in the forest coverage in the catchment areas causes the rain water to rush down the surface rapidly. The natural forests are getting reduced day by day; Wanton deforestation has destroyed the natural water sheds that used to nourish the rivers during the days of sacarcity. So the natural forests that was a god given controller of the water sources and thereby a great climate leveller, is no more there to play its role.

Sand Mining

Deforestation did disturb the riverine system; but it took decades to do so. But the uncontrolled and unscientific sand mining took only a few years to devastate the entire system. To generate a sand deposit of 10 to 12 ft. depth it needs a century of geographical processing. Sand beds regulate the water flow and it helps the water to percolate to the riparian stetches. Sand mining has transformed the rivers into mere river skeletons.

Table 2

Sand Mining

River Sand deposit Sand Mining Sand replenish No. of Labour No. of

in 106m?in 106m?yr ment in in 106m?yr. mining ghats No. Panchayat

Achankovil 2.1 0.50 0.005 68 2032 17

Pampa 9.97 0.42 0.013 64 1872 21

Manimala 2.912 0.66 0.008 153 2286 19

Water level in the riparian areas depends on the water level of the river. Due to uncontrolled sand mining the river beds in these rivers have gone down by 3 to 4 meters in the last 20 years. This causes a propotionate lowering of the water levels on land mass on both sides. Their also changes the ground water gradient on the hilly terrains on both sides. This eventually makes the water sources to dry out more quickly than what it used to be.

Pampa and Sabarimala

The water level at Pampa sector near Sabarimala adds to the woes of the pilgrims. Pampa water is holy water for the pilgrims. Holy dip in Pampa along with Pampa Vilakku, and Pampa Sadya form an integral part of the package of the rituals for the Sabarimala pilgrims. The pampa of the Sabarimala region has lost its pristine naturality when the Travancore Devaswom Board and theGovernment of Kerala got artificial embaukments made on both sides of the river. The vast riverbed that used the be the abode of pigrims at Pampa is now converted into a busy commercial centre and a place for a row of latrines.

The sacred river during the pilgrim season has become the dumping region of the acumulated filth and dirt. The count of Coliform bacteria which was 95000 mpn./100 ml in 1996-97 has shot upto 2,50,000 in 1999-2000. This has exceeded 3.2 lakhs in 2002-03 according to the State Pollution Control Board. This count is to be read against the safe limit count of 500. The water flowing from Erumeli to Manimala via. Karati has also crossed the safe limits long back.

The rate of flow of water at the Pampa ghats is estimated to be 1m?s. in the month of December. To this comes the extra pollutants. To offset the pollution effect the flow rate must go up to about 5.2m?s. Of course the KSEB opens its dams to increase the flow rate by 1.3m?s. during the close of the pilgrimage season. All along the length of the river all effluents all round the year from both sides are opened to Pampa. The annual inflow of pilgrims at Sabarimala is estimated to be around 150 lakhs. The inhabitants on both sides of Pampa who use this river for their daily chores is about 30 lakhs.

Swami Saranam Project

On the upper regions of Triveni there are 8 dams constructed by KSEB in river Pampa and its tributories. From all these dams water got diverted to the Moozhiar power house and from there via. Kakkattar it reaches Perunadu. In lien of this diverted water for the Sabarigiri Project, it is essential to supply water to Pampa, atleast during the pilgrim season. With this aim in mind KSEB had planned for a dam 1.5km. down the pampa dam. Work for the same was started in 1980. But unfortunately it was abandoned after doing half there work. In case this is completed it can supply enough water during the pilgrim season. At other times it can supplement the power generation capacity at Moozhiar. It is also possible to construct a few check dams in Pampa and Kakkiar to angment the water flow to the Pampa ghats during the pilgrim season. This can also enhance the ground water sources.

Pampa Action Plan

With a view to make Holy River Pampa Pollution free, this river has been included in the National River Conservation Plan. This is the first river from Kerala to found a place in this scheme. The State Government had submitted a project estimated to cost Rs. 320 crores to Government of India on 19/12/02.

Taking into consideration the special importance of Sabarimala, that part of the project pertaining to the Pollution Control measures of Sabarimala Pampa region worth Rs. 18.45 crores was given approval by the Central Government. 70% of this project expenses amounting to Rs. 12.9 crores has already been sanctioned. This part is to be completed in 4 years. Though the Central approval was given on 3rd May 2003, no visible steps for its implimentation is taken yet. It was in pursuance of the representation of Pampa Parirakshana Samithi submitted to Shri. T. R. Balu Central Minister for Environment and forest through our M.P Shri. Ramesh Chennithala, Pampa was included in the National River Conservation Plan on 15th June 2001. There are 27 rivers in India included in the scheme from 18 different states with a total outlay of Rs. 4000 crores.

For the implimentation of the scheme the State got and the Travancore Devasow Board have to take active interest. This is to bring relief to lakhs and lakhs of Ayyappa devotes as well as to millions who use Pampa for their daily chores throughout the year.


16 & 17 January 2004 Pampa Parirakshana Samithy


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