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Rubber dams to solve water woes!
Sreekumar Raghavan
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March 28, 2007 13:09 IST

Can rubber help solve the irrigation woes of Malapuram district in Kerala.?

Yes, if the Kerala government accepts a proposal by the state public sector Steel Industrials Kerala Limited to build a rubber dam in the district.

SILK will soon submit the proposal to the government to build a rubber dam for the Chamravattom regulator-cum-bridge on Bharathapuzha at an estimated cost of Rs 110 crore (Rs 1.1 billion).

SILK had recently signed an agreement with Hydroconstruct of Austria for construction, maintenance and marketing of rubber dams in the country.

A senior SILK official told CommodityOnline from Thrissur that the distinct advantage of using rubber shutters is that it has wider span of 60 metres compared to the normal span of 10-12 metres for steel shutters.

Another uniqueness of rubber dams is the deployment of pre-stressed beams that have more durability. Rubber shutters don't corrode as steel when it is not opened and shut for a long time. It does not require painting and has a longer life.

The Public Works Department had estimated Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) for the conventional regulators whereas the rubberised project is cheaper by 25 per cent. Rubber dams have been found successful and cost effective in China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Japan.

Chamravattom Regulator�cum-bridge along with Chaliyar Irrigation project are the two major irrigation schemes that were supposed to provide succor to Malapuram district that is devoid of any irrigation schemes despite the fact that three major rivers flow through the district.

Seventy five per cent of people in Malapuram district is dependent on agriculture with coconut, arecanut, tapioca and cashewnut being the major crops.

Paddy cultivation has lost its pre-eminence in this district. Work on Chamravattom project started in 1985 and so far only the bridge has been constructed. The original estimate for the project was Rs 13 crore (Rs 130 million) which has now risen to Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion), a cost escalation of over 800 per cent.

The Kerala government has provided a budget provision for Rs 215 crore (Rs 2.15 billion) for irrigation schemes this year of which Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) would be allotted to Chamravattom under the annual plan.

The first major rubber dam in the country was built recently along the Junjhavati river near Rajyalaxmipuram, Vizhianagaram by Hydroconstruct of Austria which helped solve the 30-year water sharing dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

Rubber has been very valuable among the various commodities, as it has been put across various industries. It is the principal raw material required for manufacturing of around 35,000 items of products ranging from toy balloons to types of giant earth moving equipments.

Use of rubber dams will go a long way in increasing the domestic utilisation of rubber and help the sector from the vagaries of the international market. The success of the chemically treated rubber wood has made cutting and replantation of old trees profitable.

However, despite the availability of technologies, rubber has not often been utilised to the optimum, rubberised roads being a classic example.

Kochi Refineries and other major refineries in the country started commercial production of rubberised bitumen in 1999-2000. Rubberised roads are found to be less slippery and requires less maintenance. Hardly 3-4 per cent rubber latex is added to bitumen to make it rubberised.

What comes as a hindrance in the utilisation of rubberised bitumen is the higher cost by Rs 1,000 a tonne and low production capacity in the refineries, according to Baburaj, chief engineer, Kerala PWD.

Therefore, the local self-governments are wary of utilising rubberised bitumen for laying district and local roads.

Altogether 25,000 km of rubberised roads have been laid in Kerala in the last five years including national highways, state highways and district roads.

Malapuram has been the test-bed of many unique programmes that have attained global attention - Akshaya , the highly acclaimed government-to-citizen services and e-krishi, the agri-business portal to bring farmers, buyers and sellers on a common platform being some examples.

By choosing the Chamravattom project in Malapuram for their maiden rubber dam project, SILK has gone by the precedence to adopt this backward district as a test-bed of innovation.

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