ALAPPUZHA: The Vembanad Lake is all set to witness the annual 41-day cleaning mission by fishers during the season of Mandalakalam pilgrimage to Sabarimala hill shrine. Organised jointly by Vembanad Lake Protection Forum and Community Environmental Resource Centre (CERC) of Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) the drive begins in the second week of November.
It aims at restoring the country’s largest lake, over-crowded by some 1,500 houseboats and other motorised vessels, clearing plastic materials from Punnamada to Thanneermukkom and sending them for recycling. They have formed "task forces" for the purpose. Forum secretary K. M. Poovu said the government should take the issue seriously as the waterbodies were getting polluted day by day by encroachers.
"We have collected ten sacks (20kg sacks) of plastic from every two kilometres, and we have sent it to recycling centres. Plastic is a big enemy to the fish breeding. Bottom dwelling fishes and clams are the most affected," he said. "They will clean while fishing without affecting their livelihood." The fishers say they chose the Mandalakalam as it was the time everybody keeps their mind and body clean. "The pollution affect not only fish breeding but also our traditional livelihood. So it’s our responsibility to do our bit to keep it clean," says Lal of Thanneermukkom. Main polluters, he says, are houseboats that allow tourists to throw used plastic bottles and covers into the river.
In December 2014, the then district collector N. Padmakumar had announced a major clean-up drive here seeking a report from various departments, including fisheries, ports, irrigation and agriculture. But it reached nowhere. Ashish George, a research fellow at ATREE, says the annual drive initiated by the non-governmental organisations had helped spread a good message. But the illegal encroachments and tourism continue to pollute the lake. "It’s high time our government looked into it seriously. The banning of micro-bead plastic could be an initial step," he said.