Nilgiri constituency: Vote for Water
Dharmalingam Venugopal [Nilgiri Documentation Centre, Kotagiri]
Since 1957, Nilgiris has been a separate constituency for the parliamentary elections. However, no election has put forth a Nilgiri agenda, except for an occasional mention about some local issue. The Nilgiris was taken for granted as a happy district with no need for parliamentary attention or intervention. The Nilgiris should not lose the forthcoming watershed elections also by default.
The regional, national and global significance of the Nilgiris as a major eco-system service provider is established beyond doubt now. The economic significance of the district as a major provider of tea, hydel power and tourism also cannot be disputed. Any party contesting for the Nilgiri constituency must put forth an exclusive Nilgiri agenda for the next five years.
Foremost is a long term solution to the water needs of the district. It is a travesty of natural justice that when Nilgiri waters are providing drinking water to Coimbatore and Tirupur nearly hundred kilometers away and irrigating 2.5 lakh hectares even farther in the plains below, the Nilgiri district has been facing acute water scarcity for decades and thousands of local farmers have abandoned cultivation for want of irrigation. With tourism and habitations expanding every day, water scarcity may reach a crisis point sooner than later.
Ooty, Coonoor, Gudalur and Kotagiri are no more Hill Stations catering for a seasonal population but are Mountain Cities serving a huge population round the year. Most of the villages are still dependent on local streams and community pipes. Younger generations are leaving the villages for want of piped water and toilets. The desperate and widespread rush for sinking wells is seriously jeopardizing the hydrology and geology of the district, according to experts.
Parties should announce a comprehensive water plan for the Nilgiris by diverting adequate waters from the existing hydel reservoirs to the towns and villages. Till then all new schemes in the plains below for utilizing the waters of Nilgiris from Pillor dam and Lower Bhavani Dam should be put on hold. The Nilgiri people have a right to their waters for domestic and farming purposes. More reservoirs should be constructed to meet the needs of the expanding habitations and remote villages. A massive programme to increase grass lands in the catchment and other areas should be undertaken to preserve ground water and increase flow into the reservoirs. Modern irrigation methods and rain water harvesting can be subsidized to economize and augment domestic water supply.
May the party which promises and commits itself to provide more water to the Nilgiris win the Nilgiri constituency.