Lake is going!
Kolleru lake, a wetland located in Andhra Pradesh, is one of
Indias largest freshwater lakes and a bird sanctuary.
Between 1985 and 1987 a study identified more than 185 bird
species in the area, and new species continue to be found. The
lake harbours four rare bird species and 12 endangered ones.
It was declared a protected area for pelicans about 8,000
pelicans came in 1961 but since 1972, none have visited.
But today, economic and industrial development, expanding fisheries
and pollution threaten Kolleru.
The bed of Kolleru Lake has been used for ages
to cultivate yerra vari, a native paddy variety. Since
1940 the cultivated area increased as the British government
granted pattas (title deeds) on payment of market value
for the land. 1954 on, the government initiated cooperative
farming and organised 93 farming societies on 2.1 million acres
of the lake bed. By 1969, almost the entire lake came under
cultivation with huge bunds (embankments) constructed
to keep water out. The native paddy was replaced with shorter,
high-yielding varieties requiring more fertilisers and pesticides.
But floods threatened the cultivated areas every year. By 1980,
people got disillusioned and abandoned agriculture. Fishing
became the new fashion.
The roads and bridges that had come up with agricultural development
in the area, along with an increased demand for fish, especially
from Calcutta, created a new and vast market for fish by 1978.
Pisciculture suddenly became profitable. By 1984, 5,000 acres
of government lakebed land were converted to fish tanks under
cooperative societies. Says K Kanakaraju, inspector in the fisheries
department at Kaikalur, "The government meant well. Financial
help was provided by pledging the patta lands to cooperative
banks in order to construct fish tanks. Our department provided
technical help and training. Unfortunately, due to poor maintenance
and low productivity of these tanks, fisherfolk could not repay
the loans. The government auctioned the tanks to private investors."
Adds Saidu Anjaneyaly, a fisherman of Bhujabalapatnam village
in Krishna district, "We did really well [until] the two
cyclones and unprecedented floods in 1986 played truant with
our lives. [When we could not] pay back our loans, the benami
land holders with their bags full of money got into the game
of money spinning."
Today, land is leased out to private parties at Rs 10,000 to
Rs 17,500 per acre per annum. The Vaddi community, which dominates
the Kolleru villages, is prospering just by leasing out land
to third parties, as evidenced by the mopeds and motorcycles
used by people on islands on the lake.
Pressure on the lake has led to proliferating weeds and fewer
visiting birds. The catchment area has shrunk. This has led
to eutrophication, loss of drinking water and declining fish
catches. Obstructions on the lakes periphery lead to
flooded agricultural land even during normal rainfall.
The shape and area of the lake are difficult to assess because
floods submerge large areas. The water spread varies from
135 sq km at +3 msl (mean sea level) level to 901 sq km at
+10 msl. The average depth of the lake varies from 0.5 metres
to two metres: the lake is silting gradually, raising the
Sewage inflow from the towns of Eluru, Gudivada and even Vijayawada
and industrial effluents, pesticides and fertilisers from
the Krishna-Godavari delta region contaminate the lake. Eleven
major industries release about 7.2 million litres of effluents
into the lake every day. An Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control
Board report states that more than 17,000 tonnes of fertiliser
wash enters the lake annually. Studies have shown the presence
of organic pollutants in lake sediment and in the fast-growing
weeds. The sewage and discharge from factories have also affected
the growth of water-borne organisms that the fish consume.
An ecological survey conducted in 1978 by V Seshavatharam
and B S M Dutt, with financial assistance from csir, found
no evidence of algal blooms and no significant contrast between
the concentration of dissolved oxygen at the surface of the
lake and at the bottom. However, in 1980, a report by E Ramakrishnan
of the Administrative Staff College of India stated that the
weed problem in the lake was caused by high levels of pollution.
In 1982, state pollution board member Rajya Lakshmi warned
that a dead zone would be created if pollutants were not checked.
Another board member, Ramaiah Naidu, felt the diminishing
fish catch from the lake was due to depleting water levels.
In 1982, the Andhra Pradesh government set up the Kolleru Lake
Development Committee (KLDC), which set up a Rs 300-crore master
plan for Kolleru. The plan suggests that the lake level be maintained
at +5 msl, and irrigation and drainage regulators be constructed
across the Upputeru channel from the lake to the sea. It also
calls for the creation of a Kolleru lake development authority
to check encroachments, regulate and monitor pollution, clear
the lake of weeds and use it as compost and raw material to
produce biogas. Pisciculture, a bird sanctuary and tourism are
in the offing. The government, however is yet to allot funds
for the Upputeru project.
The KLDCs scientific laboratory is equally tardy. Equipment
worth Rs 3
lakh gathers dust for want of staff. The administrative officer,
A Satyanarayana Rao, says, "I cannot review anything in
the field as I have inadequate technical and executive staff.
Even all the committee members have not been appointed. We have
written to the government to wind up the office if matters dont
improve." Today, the KLDC staff just remove weeds from
can be done:
While the Kolleru conservation debate continues, there is no
movement worth its name among the locals to stop over-exploiting
the lakes resources. Says Anjaneyaly. I remember
as a child my people were content with the daily catch sold
locally. Today, though we earn a great deal, as a kilogram of
fish fetches us between Rs 8 and Rs 15 , we are still unhappy."
Politicians and landowners pass the buck. Worse, such exploitation
is carried out in the guise of development. With water channels
blocked by indiscriminately digging fish ponds bordering the
lake, the water level is depleting by the day. The need of the
hour is to implement the master plan to save the ecosystem.
changing face of India's lakes
LAKE Orissa: Chilika has shrunk from 2,200 square
kilometers originally to about 915 sq km now. Heavy
siltation has choked the northern mouth of the brackish
lake. Weeds have taken over in the past 13 years. Traces
of toxic metals such as mercury and cadmium threaten
the lakes marine life. Excessive fishing has brought
down the annual catch from 9,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes.
LAKE Orissa: Severe erosion of the catchment
area, heavy exploitation of vegetation around Ansupa,
accompanied by siltation and increased growth of hyacinth
and algae, are turning this large freshwater lake into
a swamp. The migratory birds and the tourists do not
LAKE Jammu and Kashmir: Houseboats and doongas
(service boats) that serve tourists discharge sewage
and other waste into the lake. Effluents from the paper,
carpet and wool industries also pollute the lake. Weeds
have taken over and the present area of the lake is
12 sq km, half of what it was a few decades ago. The
gardens and trees along the fringes of the lake have
also contributed substantially to the reduction of the
LAKE Manipur: The barrage on the Manipur river
at Ethai has affected Loktak lake because the river
is its only natural outflow. The waters from the hills
that flow into Loktak no longer flow out
at their former rate, causing siltation. Thousands of
hectares of cultivable land have also been submerged.
However, the same amount of fertilisers and pesticides
are used on reduced land holdings to try and maintain
output. The run-off from these fields is polluting the
lake. In addition, fisherfolk pour toxins to kill fish
and increase catches.
LAKE Bombay: Siltation has been caused by heavy
erosion in the hills. The construction of unauthorised
structures, deforestation and quarrying are the main
causes of soil erosion. In addition, domestic garbage
and sewage from 14 outlets in the area flow into the
LAKE Hyderabad: Every day, upto 8 million gallons
of liquid waste slither into the lake. Damage is also
caused by silting of solid pollutants such as zinc,
lead, copper, manganese and mercury. As a result, thousands
of fish die. Besides industries and people, the immersion
of thousands of Ganesh idols also contribute to siltation.
Pulicat lake (460 sq km) is fed by three rivers and
empties into the Bay of Bengal. The lake runs parallel
to the sea and a narrow strip of island,
Sriharikota, separates them. Four decades and four projects
later, water is scarce in Madras city. Hope lies in
converting the brackish Pulicat lake into a freshwater
one, or so the engineers say. Two barges or dykes 300
to 400 meters long at each interface of the lake with
the sea could do the job.
Pulicat is a unique wetland system
declared by the Ramsar Convention to be preserved for
migrant water birds, including flamingos. It acts as
a breeding ground for several species of bird and marine
life. White and tiger prawns, mud crabs and oysters
fuel a major fishing industry. According to one study,
the export of prawns fetches Rs 90,000 to Rs 1,20,000
daily for the fish merchants. It provides work opportunity
to 30,000 fisherfolk directly, 20,000 agricultural labourers
during off-season and traders and prawn merchants indirectly.
P J Sanjeeva Raj, a professor of
ecology at the Centre for Research on New International
Economic Order (CRENIEO) in Chennai, explains that disconnecting
the sea from the lake not only prevents the exchange
of water, oxygen, nutrients and plankton, but also the
outward migration of breeding prawns, crabs and fish
and the inward migration of their eggs, larvae and juveniles.
Arivaghazan, coordinator of the Pulicat integrated fisherfolk
development project run by crenieo, adds that the government
could well prohibit fishing in a water body that is
meant to be used for drinking water.
The other problem is to do with eviction and rehabilitation.
Thirteen villages were evicted from Sriharikota island
to make way for the satellite launch facility. This
time around, the project will directly affect the 52
villages around the lake.
The other problem is to do with
eviction and rehabilitation. Thirteen villages were
evicted from Sriharikota island to make way for the
satellite launch facility. This time around, the project
will directly affect the 52 villages around the lake.
Rajashekar, a victim of an earlier eviction, asks, "How
does the government