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Offbeat
Suranga Model Water Harvesting
 
Author: Reji Joseph

Surangas continue to be one of the relatively less known and gradually disappearing traditional water harvesting systems of Kasargod district, in the Indian state of Kerala.

People in Kasargod cannot depend directly on surface water and the terrain is such that there is high discharge in rivers in the monsoon and low discharge in the dry months.

People here have to depend on groundwater and use surangas or surangams, as specially devised water harvesting structures. The word suranga is derived from the Kannada word for tunnel.

Surangam is a horizontal tunnel dug in the slope of laterite hill for about 30 to 40 metres. The tunnel uses gravitational force for extraction of the underground water and collects into a storage tank.

The idea of surangam had evolved in Persia. It is believed that the traders who used to travel along the silk route had spread the technique in South India.

Today there are around 5000 surangams in Kasargod and Dakshina Kannada Districts. They are constructed by local people who possess traditional knowledge.

Detection of water flow is done by taking into account the slope and elevation, growth of some specific plants, termite mound and texture of the soil. The tunnels are generally rectangular or dome shaped.

Surangas can be compared to a horizontal well or cave excavated in hard laterite soil formations from which water seeps out, and flows out of the tunnel to be collected in open ponds. Despite their decline, they continue to be a lifeline for a large number of farmers in Kasargod, who depend on surangas to meet their drinking water needs.

Suranga has many advantages compared to open well and borewell. It is easier as well as cheaper to dig in hilly regions such as Kasaragod.

There is an urgent need to create awareness about restoring and reviving these traditional water harvesting structures that are not only far more sustainable in the long run than borewells, but carry with them the remnants of the age old wisdom of treating nature with respect and using natural resources wisely.

Many local people use tunnel wells to draw water for domestic use. Some use them also for irrigation.

A suranga is about 0. 45 0.70 metres wide and about 1.8 2.0 m hight and the length can vary from around 10 to 300 metres. Apart from providing water for irrigation, in good old decades, this was the only drinking water source in this surrounding. The distance between successive air shafts varies between 5060 m.

Underlying laterite rocks found in most parts make the digging of open wells, the main means of groundwater in Kerala, an arduous and expensive task. For instance, 75 per cent of Kasargod district is covered by such hard but porous rocks.

Water seeps out of the rock and flows out of the tunnel like a narrow stream. It is collected in a reservoir made of mud, known as Madhaka, just outside the Suranga. The water flows into the reservoir round the clock, and it doesn’t need electricity to pump.

Digging a Suranga is a tedious task, combining traditional knowledge and the skills of a labourer. Kasaragod is facing a dearth of labourers with the technical knowledge to undertake the challenging job.

The reluctance of youngsters to take it up as a profession has only worsened the situation.


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