Bharathapuzha nearing death as waste dumping continues

via Pioneer News Service | Palakkad published on May 7, 2008

Dying river Bharathappuzha, also known as River Nila, is fast becoming a source of health hazards for the people of several panchayaths and municipalities on its banks. An examination of the water of the river by the Kerala Water Authority has revealed that it was not fit human consumption. The river is the source of drinking water for lakhs of people living on its banks from places east to Ottapalam to Ponnani in the west.

Years of steady dumping of effluents, pollutants and waste into the river from human habitats on both banks have contaminated the water of Bharathappuzha, which is already in the process of a cruel death due to incessant and unscrupulous sand-mining and encroachments.

The Water Authority, which took the sample of water for examination from the river near Pattambi town, found that it posed health problems to the people who depend on it for life. Analysts found that 100 ml of the water contained an average 1,100 coliform bacteria. Health experts say that the water being distributed from the river for drinking and other purposes would not be free of the harmful bacteria however much it was treated.

“There is no technology available to purify water with presence of such quantity of bacteria. Even if there is a technology, the KWA does not have it. In this situation, the people depending on this river are drinking this contaminated water. The wells on the banks of the river are sources of diseases. So far we have not had a water-bourne epidemic, but we will soon have it,” said an environmentalist in Pattambi, who has been leading a movement for the past many years to keep the river clean.

Lack of good flow of water and the presence of check dams in the river are projected as the reasons for the presence of pollution in the water, but environmentalists are not ready to subscribe to this theory entirely. The bridge-cum-regulator at Thrithala, which has helped in keeping the water level in theriver even in harsh summers, is pointed out as the biggest reason for stagnancy of water.

“You cannot blame check dams for such situations. Check dams are necessary for keeping the water level in the river in days of drought and to keep the waterbed rich so that people do not die of thirst. The point is to keep the river in good health considering that there are check dams in it and that it is not to be polluted,” he said.

Health workers and environmentalists say that the KWA finding might not contain the entire truth. Therefore, they are calling for a better expert analysis. They want the water supplied by the Water Authority also to be analysed thoroughly.

A travel by either bank of the river would reveal the cruelty of humans to the river and so ultimately to themselves. Comfort stations of almost all the adjacent panchyayaths and municipalities push wastes including human excreta to the river. Drainages of all these civic bodies and towns like Ottapalam and Pattambi open to the river. Wastes from the general market, slaughter houses, etc also are removed to nowhere but to the river. All this contribute to contamination of Bharathappuzha.

Unlike many other rivers in Kerala, Bharathappuzha’s plain of flow is not all that slanted which makes the water to move slowly even during monsoon. The rapacious sand-mining mafia has already ensured that this aspect of the river is complicated through creation of vast troughs in the riverbeds. An environmentalist says such troughs become virtual septic tanks as wastes get trapped in them. “You do not need any other thing to create health hazards,” he says.

Several crusades have so far been carried out to save Bharathappuzha, the depth of which has been increased by more than 20 feet in several places due to sand-mining – legal and illegal. But none has achieved its desired result. As sand-mafia and the Government continue to make money by plundering the sand of Bharathappuzha and encroachers add more acreage to their property by making the river narrower and narrower, Bharathappuzha is nearing its death.

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