The River Bharat or Bharata Puzha is called Dakshina Ganga. Just like the Ganges, its southern counterpart too watered and nourished a unique culture on its banks.
Bharata Puzha mentioned Pratheechi in Bhagavatham, is also called Perar and Nila. The word ‘Nila’ indicates the culture more than just a river.
The Bharata Puzha’s banks hosted Mamankam fair lasting 28 days in 14thcentury. Like Kumbha Melas, Mamankam used to take place once in every 12 years and carried colossal economic, social and political significance as history noted. The geographical position proves the participation of envoys from Arabia, Greece and China for trade as well as various martial art performances, intellectual contests, cultural festivals, folk arts and Hindu ritual ceremonies at Thirunavaya the river bank. And it was believed that the Goddess Ganga descended into the River Bharat during Mamankam and by her miraculous advent made the river as holy as the Ganges itself.
The Bharata Puzha was a perennial source of inspiration for many generations. The river holds its rank in the modern time of state as it upholds a rich cultural heritage – its basin has given birth to voluminous laureates in the field of fine arts, literature, and poetry, and even remain a stone plank in history of hordes of warriors too. Historians are of the opinion that a cultural migration across Western Ghats had taken place during erstwhile rule of Pallava dynasty. A part of the populace from Deccan plateau is said to have migrated to this side and settled for the fertile strip to make it their domicile, giving rise to a rich tradition through a cultural integration.
Bharata Puzha is the second largest river that originates from Aana Malai hills at Tamil Nadu in the Western Ghats and flows through one district, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, 3 districts, Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram in Kerala and finally empties into the Arabian Sea at Ponnani. The river basin caters to 90 panchayats and four municipalities, nurtures vast paddy fields on both the banks and a few other agriculture activities including rubber plantations on its catchment area.
However, the river which gave birth to a rich cultural heritage and provided livelihood to agriculturists, labourers and brought huge revenue to the Kerala, is now dead with vast dry stretches. It fills up for a few days only during the periodical June-August monsoon.
The rise in population, urbanization, industrial developments have increased the water demand in the basin. The frightening fact is that 52 percent cultivated area has shrunk to precisely nominal on the river basin, which has affected the productivity and thus lead to a panic situation of socio-economic adversity in the region. This reduction in the cultivated area has also lead to bigger problems such as illegal mining, land encroachment and other several debauched activities.
According to one study submitted at Madras School of Economics by scholars in 2016, the grave causes for the degradation of the river are –
- Dams and impoundments – The eight dams built across various tributaries of Bharata Puzha have resulted in the reduction of river flow at the lower levels of tributaries, especially during summer months.
- Deforestation – In last two centuries massive deforestation of the rich evergreen forests have taken place. Use of midland hillock for cultivation, submergence and cutting down of forests for dam, and for raising forest plantations are some examples.
- Over-exploitation of ground water – Unscientific ground water development for industrial and agricultural purposes in certain blocks has resulted in critically low water levels.
- Climate change – The analysis of mean annual and daily temperature in the basin shows an overall upward trend. The increase in the annual mean temperature has affected the rainfall and local climate. It was found that the annual rainfall in the basin shows a decreasing trend.
Amongst the many causes for the degradation of the river, sand mining is the gravest and dominant one.
Illegal sand mining in the river is regular and has flourished in the absence of checks and prohibitions from concerned authorities, and lack of stringent laws. Undeniably the river was affected by pollution, however, sedimentation, sand mining and unscientific irrigational activities have made the condition worse.
The drying up of Bharata Puzha has become a matter of grave concern for the scientists, researchers, environmentalists and more importantly for the people who have livelihood at the basin. A serious intervention of state governmnent, non-government organisations and public is required for the revival of the river.