Manikandan R, an environmental activist and social worker has been on a mission to revive the water bodies across Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu for over 20 years.
When one of the community wells in his village dried up, Manikandan recounts how much difficulty it caused his family who depended on it for domestic purposes. While people spoke about the issue across the village, a 17-year-old Manikandan decided to find out the root cause of this occurrence.
After a thorough search, he identified that a nearby irrigation stream that replenished the underground aquifers was also dry. Further investigations by him revealed that a check dam a few kilometres away was partially damaged and this prevented the storage of water during the rainy season, as a consequence the canal and the well dried up during summer.
Understanding the root cause, Manikandan wasted no time informing the right government authorities and within a short period, the water woes were resolved.
This was in the year 2000.
Since then there has been no turning back for Manikandan, who later formed an NGO — Kovai Kulangal Padhukappu Amaippu (KKPA) meaning Coimbatore Ponds Protection Organisation — that is on a mission to revive and rejuvenate water bodies across Coimbatore.
Manikandan’s work even won him several accolades, including the Water Warrior award by the Ministry of Jal Shakthi this year.
Reviving one pond at a time
Growing up in a poor family in Sundarapuram, Coimbatore, Manikandan didn’t have the privilege to complete his schooling. He had to drop out of his school after Class 8 and joined a workshop as an apprentice.
But ever since he solved the water woes in his village, he realised that such local issues could be solved with a bit of effort and contacting the right authorities. “Later, I started working towards solving such community-specific problems. I was involved in more and more social work and formed a group that assisted senior citizens and handicapped people to apply for government aid. Our group also conducted sports and cultural activities, helped government officials during population enumeration, voters list verification drives and also involved in tree planting, blood donation camps, de-silting of stormwater drains and so on,” says the 39-year-old who has been involved in social work for over 20 years.
His work took a different turn in 2017 when Coimbatore faced the challenge of severe water shortages. “That’s when I formed a small citizen group of 14 to do something about solving the issue of water scarcity in the area. Thus Kovai Kulangal Padhukappu Amaippu was formed and took up projects to revive, recover, rejuvenate and reclaim the water bodies in and around Coimbatore,” he explains.
Today, the NGO has around 100 regular active members including students and professionals who have been involved in desilting lakes, ponds, canals, check dams, etc.
“We decided to focus on reviving those water bodies that were neglected and needed maintenance and to establish a bond with the local community to ensure future maintenance,” he adds.
The first project taken up by the NGO was the reclamation of the 264-acre Perur Lake in 2017. “The cleaning work was done with permission from the government by volunteers who came forward to work after seeing the appeals through social media platforms. It took around four Sundays for us to complete the cleaning work which involved removing thorny trees, shrubs, plastic waste and other waste from the dry lake bed and bunds,” explains Manikandan adding that with the monsoon rains the Perur lake was filled after 12 years. “We have so far removed around 150 tonnes of plastics from different water bodies,” he claims.
Thereafter, in the following years, the NGO picked up more voluntary work across Coimbatore. “About 21.5 km of three canals namely Vellalore Rajavaiykal, Kuniyamuthur canal and Kattampatty were desilted, levelled and cleaned. This resulted in three lakes such as the Vellalore lake (85.9 acres), Perur Big Tank (265 acres) and Kattampatty Lake (160 acres) filled with water after almost 15 years,” he says.
“Additionally, we have so far fully desilted around five ponds across the city. After desilting, the Malumichampatty pond (11 acres), Vellachi pond (3.61 acres), Mahaliamman Kovil pond (3.5 acres) Kadaikaran pond(1.12 acres) and Odaikadu pond(1.15 acres) have yielded almost 1.412 million cubic feet of excess water,” he elaborates, adding that these ponds were dry for prolonged periods before the desilting work.
The water table has increased substantially in these areas and helped farmers expand their cultivation. “The Malumichampatti pond was left dry for around 15 years and as farmers, we had to source water from outside for agriculture. But after the NGO desilted the pond a few years back, it has been filled,” says Ramaswami, a local farmer.
“There are more than 900 such ponds in Coimbatore and we are now trying to work on desilting the rest of them,” says Manikandan.
Apart from reviving water bodies, the NGO has also been planting trees and conducting plantation drives. “Around 10,000 native tree saplings including 90 varieties of herbal plants and over 40 varieties of flowering plants were planted as Miyawaki forests near the Vellalore Lake. Also, around 2,000 trees were planted for biodiversity enhancement near Perur Big Tank,” he says, adding that a butterfly garden was also established with over 40 varieties of flowering plants to provide food to butterflies, bees, wasps and other insects.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)