Vellayani Lake in Kerala, India: Conservation Efforts

By Sreejith Sreedharan
The author is a Reporter with Siraj Daily, Thiruvananthapuram

Vellayani Lake (Vellayani Kayal) in Kerala, India

Vellayani Lake (Vellayani Kayal) in Kerala, India

Thiruvananthapuram, India, April16, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) Vellayani Lake, also called Vellayani Kayal is one of the three rain-fed freshwater lakes in Kerala.  This very vast picturesque lake surrounded by lush greenery is located about 9 kms away from the Thiruvananthapuram city. Vellayani lake is a rich repository of flora and fauna, and the biodiversity supports the livelihood of people around the lake. About hundred species of wetland birds frequent the lake, including migratory ones.

The local legend regarding the origin of the lake is that a saint used to meditate under a banyan tree at this place. One day, a beggar came up to him and asked for some water to drink. When saint found that his pot was nearly empty, he poured the last few drops in the pot into his palm and with a prayer, threw the drops as far as he could. And the land till the point where the drops touched the earth turned into a big lake. Two temples dedicated to Vishunu and Devi are situated on the banks of this lake. It is believed that till 1953, the lake was solely used for the cultivation of lotus flowers for the famous Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But later the water from the lake was extensively used for drinking and irrigational purposes.

The Vellayani fresh water lake is the major source of drinking water for the people of Kalliyoor, Venganoor, and Vizhinjam grama panchayats.  However interventions in the form of paddy cultivation has deteriorated the quality of water and drastically reduced the water spread area. The area of the lake which was 750 ha in 1926, was reduced to 397.5 ha by 2005. As a result the villages bordering the lake have been experiencing acute water shortage. During 1950s a rice cultivation project after dewatering the lake was taken up which resulted in intensive agriculture operations around lake area and reduction in the lake area. 

Studies and Recommendations

The environment committee of the Kerala Legislative Assembly which studied the environmental issues associated with the fresh water lakes submitted a report in 1993. The committee recommended that the State Government should identify and demarcate the encroached portion of the lake and steps should be taken to evacuate illegal encroachers, prevent pollution of lake water, increase the depth of the lake by dredging and prevent further siltation of the lake.

A study made by the College of Agriculture, Vellayani warned that dewatering the Vellayani lake for cultivation would endanger the reservoir and threaten several drinking water projects servicing the neighboring panchayats.  In 2005 Kerala State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) study report recommended a revenue survey to demarcate the reservoir area and identify the encroachments. In 2006, the SHRC directed the state government to withdraw the order relating to paddy cultivation in the land around the Vellayani Lake. The Commission has also directed the state government to work with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to take steps to protect the lake as a source of drinking water.

Conservation Initiatives

Public demand for the conservation of Vellayani lake began when water shortage intensified in villages around Vellayani during 1990s. There are now participatory movements taking place to conserve Vellayani fresh water lake and its ecosystem by several NGOs with the help of local public. Understanding the importance of this unique ecosystem the State government has taken steps for the ecological preservation and beautification of Vellayani Lake, by setting up the Vellayani Lake Conservation Society.

The Trivandrum district Pachayat has taken the initiative to include Vellayani Lake in the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme for the ecological preservation of the lake and its vicinity. As part of the project the panchayat is taking steps for strengthening bunds, cleaning up of wetlands etc. The Panchayat has decided to use Coir Corporation’s Geo textile technology for strengthening bunds instead of cement and rock. Kalliyoor and Venganoor Gramapanchayats are responsible for implementing the project. The conservation project will be undertaken in phases for the only rain-fed freshwater lake in the Thiruvananthapuram district.

Vellayani lake presents a unique ecosystem and a multipronged strategy is required to preserve this lake’s unique ecology while at the same time ensuring adequate drinking water for the villages dependent on lake water.

- PIB Feature

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the writer in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB or WBRi.