In a strange bonhomie that appeared to benefit aqua farmers, both the ruling Telugu Desam Party and opposition YSR Congress joined hands to shrink the area of the famous fresh water lake Kolleru located in Krishna and West Godavari districts from its present contour of level 5 to level 3. A resolution urging the Centre to reduce the contour level was unanimously passed by the AP Assembly on Tuesday . If reduced, the lake area would diminish to contour 3 and free the area below for fish and paddy cultivation.
Though Naidu promised that he would help about 3 lakh farmers without harming the ecology of the lake and added that an expert committee and a technical committee would be appointed to guide the government, the decision to reduce the contour level of Kolleru is bound to have lake lovers and environmentalists up in arms.
The power to decide the boundary contour lies with the Centre and the empowered committee appointed by the SC on ecological issues. The total area of the lake, which is a declared wildlife sanctuary, is 95,400 hectares at contour plus level 10.7. The area came down to 30,855 hectares when Naidu’s 1999 GO 120 fixed the contour level 5 as the boundary. Now if the contour is brought down to level 3, the lake would shrink to just 13,500 hectares. The land thus released due to the contour change would be available for farmers for activities like aquaculture and paddy cultivation, which in fact played key role in devastating the lake’s ecosystem.
Reproduced from a Times of India report
The picturesque Kolleru lake which is home to various species of flora and fauna once covered an area of 960 sq km. Over the decades it has reduced to half of its original size and now, if the Centre accepts the proposal of AP government, it will further shrink to 40% of the existing area. The Kolleru is the only fresh water body in the state to be protected under the Ramsar convention of wetlands. Reduction in the lake area will spell trouble for people living in Vijayawada, Eluru and other places along the course of rivulets Budameru and Tammileru, which empty into the Kolleru. Experts warn that any further cut in the lake size will impede draining of flood water by about 30 agricultural drains and channels, besides Budameru and Tammileru. This will lead to inundation of low-lying areas particularly in Vijayawada and Eluru, as the Kolleru lake acts as a natural reservoir to balance the flood flow system in the Godavari and Krishna deltas.
During monsoon the water level in this shallow lake goes up to “contour 10” (10 feet above mean sea level), and comes down to “contour 3” during summer. Now, the state government plans to declare water level up to contour 3 as protected water body.
This will severely impact the ecology of the lake as it will be left with just three feet of water.Due to the decrease in the area of their habitat, several migratory birds have already stopped flocking the lake during the annual breeding season.
To put its plans of reducing the lake size into action, the state government needs to obtain the permission of the National Board of Wildlife (NBW), which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Moreover, a ‘contempt of court’ petition is pending in Supreme Court. The petition is likely to come up for hearing next month. Environment activist T Pathanjali Sastry filed the petition seeking action against the state government for “failing to obey the Supreme Court’s previous order on lake protection.” Presently, the area under the lake at contour 5 is about 77,000 acres. The government wants to reduce the lake area to 45,000 acres.
“The state assembly is free to make any resolution. But it is not binding on the Centre and Supreme Court,” observed Sastry. Agriculture scientist V Suresh said the state government wants to reduce the area of the lake for the benefit of aqua farmers and encroachers. “This is nothing but a breach of environment laws,” he said.
Zoologist Srinivasa Rao pointed out that the state government should provide alternative employment to fishermen without reducing the area. Moreover, the Kolleru lake is now controlled by influential persons. “As per law, no commercial fishing activity should be allowed either inside or outside the lake,” Rao said. As much as 30,000 acres of lake’s area will be converted into fishing ponds, disrupting the ecological balance, once the Centre accepts the state’s proposal, he warned.