On Wednesday evening, shortly after 4 pm, Babu, holding a purple umbrella in the heavy rain, stood gazing at Chengal, a canal linked to the Periyar river, as it pummelled its way through Kanjoor, 40 kilometres off Kochi. In his 40s, Babu has rarely seen the canal in the destructive form it has assumed over the past week. Lashing and swaying at either bank, uprooting rubber trees and banana plantations on its way, the canal has swollen to twice its regular volume after water was incessantly released into the Periyar from the Idamalayar reservoir.
Till the 90s, the canal’s natural course would pass through the neighbourhoods of Kanjoor, Chengal, Thuravankara, Manjali, Chovara to flow back into the Periyar or the backwaters. But the people of Thuravankara say that after the Cochin International Airport came up at Nedumbassery in the mid-90s in what used to be cultivable paddy fields, its boundary walls ended up becoming a sort of a ‘check dam’ for the canal which suddenly found its natural course blocked. Ever since in heavy monsoons, an overflowing Chengal would cause severe flooding in nearby Thuravankara, inundating hundreds of houses.
“When the Periyar reaches Kanjoor-Thuravankara areas, the Chengal canal is formed. After the Cochin airport came into being, our village of Thuravankara got isolated. The airport’s walls act as a dam blocking the canal’s path. So the canal water rises, swells into our village, flooding our homes. In 2013 also it happened. The solution is simple: reinstate the flow of the canal,” says Ashokan, a retired agricultural officer, whose house has been flooded this time as well.
“There has to be a natural course for the canal to end up in the Periyar or the backwaters through Manjali,” he adds.
As Kerala faces its worst floods in history, the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) has also been subjected to the disastrous effects of flooding. The swollen Chengal canal broke the northern wall of the airport, gushing inside and flooding the runway. CIAL announced that airport services have been suspended till August 26, forcing a large number of flights to be diverted to Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Coimbatore.
A majority of the people who have been sheltered at a relief camp in Kanjoor are from Thuravankara. Many, in the dead of night on Wednesday, abandoned their homes, swimming through waist-deep waters to reach the relief camp. They are housed at a high school, sleep on mats in the classrooms and given regular meals, essential supplies and consultation by government doctors.
“The airport has only given us misery, nothing else,” complains Babu VK, a retired central government employee, at the relief camp in Kanjoor.
When Education Minister C Raveendranath paid a visit to the camp on Wednesday, he was exhorted by the residents of Thuravankara to find a lasting solution to the problem.
“Please don’t trouble us anymore like this. Please don’t force us to drown. This is the third time that we have had to come to a relief camp,” a man told the minister.
In return, the minister told the audience,”I understand that one of the primary problems here is linked to the airport. Water is rising up. It is a problem that needs to be solved after the flood situation eases. Special care will be taken to address the problem and special talks will be held with the chief minister. At the cabinet meeting, I will raise the issue.”
Thuravankara’s residents hope that the devastating floods this year, particularly due to the Chengal canal, will force the administration to take corrective steps after the monsoon. If it rains again in this fashion in the post-monsoon of October-November, they are already portending a return to the relief camps.
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