It’s time to clean Kochi’s canals

With the city receiving unexpected showers in January, Kochi residents are already anticipating another harrowing flood during the next  monsoon.

Published: 16th January 2021 05:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th January 2021 05:57 AM   |  A+A-

The petti and para water-regulating system near the Revenue Tower in Kochi | A Sanesh

Express News Service

KOCHI: With the city witnessing intermittent showers, residents are demanding the reinstallation of ‘petti’ and ‘para’ -- the mechanism installed in the city canals for regulating water level during ebb and flow to avoid flooding during the monsoon

As the mayor has prioritised the waterlogging issue, many activists and residents’ associations are demanding long-term plans as a follow-up to Operation Breakthrough

With the city receiving unexpected showers in January, Kochi residents are already anticipating another harrowing flood during the next  monsoon. Amid the growing mosquito menace, many feel that these ‘surprise showers’ will be a double whammy for city residents. While some residents and organisations are hopeful about the promises made by the new corporation council on pre-monsoon cleaning, several others are demanding the introduction of the ‘petti’ and ‘para’, the traditional dewatering system to regulate water flow as a long-term solution to the problem.

“The existing two petti and para systems have been dysfunctional for a long time. They must be repaired and the presence of regular staff must be ensured for maintenance.  These were effective earlier and should be made operational again. Simultaneously, all drains and sewer networks must be cleared in advance. Mosquitoes are a nuisance and the intermittent rains have only made it worse. Only petti and para can flush out stinking water and ensure free-flowing canals all year long,” said P Rangadasa Prabhu, president, Ernakulam District Residents Associations Apex Council (EDRAAC).

However, officials pointed out that reinstallation of the traditional system wouldn’t make a difference. 
“Reinstalling the system will not solve waterlogging. Sreedharan sir (E Sreedharan) installed the system in the Mullassery canal primarily as an emergency measure. If we consider the high rainfall and amount of water surging into this canal alone from the backwaters during high tide, we might have to install at least 50 such systems with a capacity of 30hp.

We need to address is the uneven bed levels of these canals that are directly connected to the backwaters. We must provide a seamless flow of water through the canals by reclaiming encroachments and removing obstructions in drains,” said R Baji Chandran, executive engineer, Minor Irrigation Department, who headed the technical committee in the second phase of Operation Breakthrough project.

Earlier, Kerala High Court directed the Kochi Corporation to bring back the Mullassery canal to its earlier state. Ironically, flooding occurred only in the Thevara-Perandoor canal and its tributaries like Mullassery which were not part of Operation Breakthrough. “The last monsoon, major flooding happened near the KSRTC bus stand and colonies nearby. If we fix the water flow issues of Mullassery canal, flooding near the bus stand and railway station can be avoided. As many as 21 canals that were directly linked to backwaters existed between Atlantis and Vaduthala earlier. Water must be drained out to nearby outlets to avoid flooding,” he said.

New council all set to begin pre-monsoon work
Meanwhile, the new council has started the measures to begin pre-monsoon cleaning by March. “Usually, estimate preparation will only begin by March and the cleaning drive will start around May. This time, we almost completed the estimation and are moving towards the tendering process. We hope to start the pre-monsoon cleaning from March with specific responsibilities to officers,” said M Anilkumar, Kochi Mayor. However, he has clarified that reclaiming the encroachments are on the cards. 

“As a follow up to Operation Breakthrough, we have decided to hold a meeting of corporation engineers and engineers who were part of the initiative to continue the drive efficiently. The system of ‘Pettiyum Parayum’ will also be considered in the meeting. Ultimately, we need to remove the encroachments to 
resolve the issue once and for all,” he said.

How does it work?
Petti and para is a popular method used for de-watering agricultural fields. The local adaptation of propeller pumps was used in Kochi’s canals in early 2000. The city had almost 11 similar systems. A single unit will cost around Rs 30 lakh. The system can pump out around 2,000 litres of water in an hour from canals to backwaters and pump fresh water from backwaters to remove the mosquito infestation in canals.  “Kochi never witnessed flooding when petti and para functioned efficiently.

All of them were placed at the fag end of boundary canals. Obstructions like slush or other objects will not interrupt its functioning. They smoothly remove the excess water coming through high tides during monsoon season. Canals like Thevara-Perandoor badly need such a system as high tides are frequent from both ends and dredging alone won’t solve waterlogging. Now, even minor drizzles are causing inundation,” said an expert.

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