Aranmula is a small temple town, located in the district of Pathanamthitta, Kerala. Thirteen years ago, it was home to fertile paddy fields, and a beautiful stream, which the locals called Karimaramthodu.
However, when an airport project was announced, the land was sold for development, and subsequently, the stream was filled.
While many were lured in by the promise of development and commercial opportunities, some of the local people protested.
The stream had been a crucial source of water to the paddy fields for some, while others, such as notable writer and activist Sugathakumari, had a nostalgic connection with Karimaramthodu.
According to a report by The Hindu, 60-year old V Mohanan filed a case in the High Court, with the aim of restoring the stream to its former glory.
A court order was issued in 2012 but to no avail. In 2014, the High Court once again issued an order stating that the river would have to be filled within the month. Again, this fell on deaf ears. Eventually, the case became marked as contempt of the court.
This was when IAS officer, R Girija took charge as the new District Collector in Pathanamthitta.
Previously stationed in Alappuzha, Girija was faced with the monumental task of reviving a near-extinct stream, issued by court order. A task which had not been completed, for the last four years.
“It was definitely a challenge. I was new to the district, and the task at hand was urgent,” she says.
When Girija visited the site for the first time, she was shocked at the level of damage that had been done. “You couldn’t even see the stream. The entire place looked just like a dirt road. I wondered how I would ever turn it back to the way it was,” she explains.
Even then, she would not be deterred and began to develop a plan, one that was clever enough to benefit everyone. In what could be termed as a “swap,” Girija commissioned the Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), as well as the Kerala Railways to dig out the dirt, with the condition that they could use it for their own construction purposes.
Not only was the stream restored, but KSTP would use the dirt for their road construction, and the railways were able to use it while doubling the railway tracks.
“I took the initiative to arrange the meetings with various departments involved to make sure things ran smoothly. From the initial stages of the operation and determining the flow of the stream to coordinating the various officials involved including irrigation and revenue, I did it all,” she says.
Around 44,000 tonnes of earth was removed, for a royalty revenue collection of Rs 8.8 lakh. The restoration work was completed in January 2018.
Today, if one were to visit Aranmula, Kerala, they would see the shimmer of Karimaramthodu, flowing with vitality, thanks to the determination of one IAS officer.
However, for R. Girija, the work does not end here.
“I don’t want to promote myself. This isn’t about that. It is about everyone in the department doing their work as a team. If every official performs his or her role, then a district can be transformed. If we work together, we can make our area a beautiful place to live in. The possibilities are endless,” she adds.