Pilgrims visiting the temple town of Chottanikkara continue to suffer as the spat between the grama panchayat and the Hotels and Restaurants’ Association on waste water being let out into public drains remains unresolved.
A decision on the issue was deferred to later this week at a meeting of affected parties on Monday called by the Revenue Divisional Officer, Fort Kochi. Last Sunday, some stretches of the public drains were closed on the RDO’s orders on the basis of the panchayat’s allegations that septage and solid waste from commercial establishments around the temple were flowing into the sewers.
Over the week, there have been at least two hartals and protests by the hotels and lodges against the panchayat’s move that resulted in the RDO issuing the orders. The hotels’ petition to the RDO had necessitated Monday’s meeting.
The assistant commissioner of the Cochin Devaswom Board and representatives of the Hotels and Restaurants’ Association, have been pressing the RDO to reopen the drains so that the pilgrims visiting the temple town are not put to difficulties.
The temple representatives said that the district administration has equal responsibility in providing basic facilities to the pilgrims.
M.A. John, president of the Chottanikkara panchayat, said the temple authorities need to seriously take up the issue of setting up a sewage treatment plant (STP) to treat the waste water coming out of the devaswom facilities. The temple facilities let out the most amount of waste water into the public drains. Under its cover, lodges and hotels too were letting out their waste water into the public drain, he said.
The High Court had ordered the construction of an STP in 2011 when the issue came up just as the Sabarimala pilgrim season was round the corner. The court had allowed the use of public drain only for the pilgrim season at that time, said Mr. John.
The hotels were eager to follow the High Court direction, said M.P. Shiju, the district president of the Hotels and Restaurants’ Association. All hotels have built their own septic tanks as well as filtering pits, he said. The sanitation certificates for the year were awarded only after inspection by the health department, he said.
Mr. Shiju said that the association members were open to taking a relook into the sanitation facilities at each establishment and would seek closure of any hotel that did not have these facilities. The demand for an STP plant is a longstanding one. The hotel owners too are keen that 2.5 lakh litres of water that flows into the public drain should be treated scientifically. The hotels would support such a move, Mr. Shiju said.
N.G. Sreedev, a hotel owner at Chottanikkara, said that the RDO had failed to inspect the sanitation facilities at the hotels before issuing the orders to close the public drains. He also accused the panchayat of not cleaning up the drain for years, resulting in the poor condition of the sewers.
Mr. John said that the Janakiya Samithi that had been protesting against the PWD drains becoming a septage drain, had objected to the previous panchayat’s move to build an STP where the PWD drain ends. As the drain terminates in agricultural lands, the wells and ponds in the area have become polluted, he said.