Untreated sewage, including septic tank waste, from various lodges and hotels flowing into open drains and polluting agricultural land in Chottanikkara has provoked a huge public outcry, resulting in the grama panchayat sending notices to many commercial establishments in the area to close down.
The hotel owners are now up in arms against the panchayat, with the merchants union demanding that the panchayat set up a sewage treatment plant in the area where the PWD drain ends.
Call for hartal
The Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithy in association with the Hotel and Restaurant Association has called for a 24-hour hartal on Saturday in support of the hoteliers. Of the eight lodges and 17 hotels in Chottanikkara, five hotels have been closed down.
The Revenue Divisional Officer, Fort Kochi, who had inspected the drains earlier had ordered its closure but stayed the procedures on Sunday after the hoteliers submitted a petition. The status would be reviewed after hearing all parties concerned on Monday, said the RDO.
This is the second time in about two years that the issue has created problems in the pilgrim town that witnesses about 2,000 tourist arrivals every day.
The Hindu Aikya Vedi has also jumped into the fray calling for better facilities for pilgrims visiting the Chottanikkara Devi Temple.
Lodges in the town remained closed from Tuesday noon to Wednesday noon in protest against the panchayat move.
In a representation given to the RDO, panchayat president M. A. John accused lodges, shops and hotels in the area of misusing the PWD drain that was originally constructed to drain rainwater into the paddy fields.
Mr. John’s representation said health authorities, who had inspected the water from the nearby tank of the Kerala Water Authority (KWA), found dangerously high levels of bacteria in it.
The issue had been creating trouble in the area for about seven years. Tension between the hotel owners and the panchayat intensified when the latter blocked drains in 2011.
In a writ petition moved by the hotels, an order had directed the executive engineer of PWD to submit an action taken report.
The executive engineer had told the court that all the hotels had enough land for constructing soak pits and the terrain of Chottanikkara was suitable for the functioning of soak pits.
One soak pit should be exclusively for sanitary lines from wash basins, kitchen and bathrooms and another for septic tank lines.
A High Court order in December 2011 had permitted the hotels to lay pipes not above four-inch diameter that would be approved by the PWD executive engineer.
Mr. John’s note said while the hotels continued to use the drain, they constructed the soak pits only after the panchayat issued another notice that necessitated the construction of a soak pit to renew the sanitation certificate from the health department.
Mr. John’s note alleged that the waste water from the lodges of the Cochin Devaswom Board flowed into the PWD drain and it was under this cover that other hotels and lodges also drained waste water into the drain.
Johnson Thomas, chairman of the standing committee (development), Chottanikkara panchayat, said the Chottanikkara Devaswom had also been asked to set up a sewage treatment plant in a stipulated time to take care of the waste water generated from the temple premises.
According to the Assistant Commissioner of the Chottanikkara temple, the Board had initiated steps and an expert committee of the engineering division was looking into it. The Devaswom had appealed to the Collector against the notice issued by the panchayat, he said.
A. K. Diwakaran, president of the Vyapari Vyavasayi Samithi, said that the earlier panchayat had earmarked funds for a sewage treatment plant towards which the hotels were ready to contribute. But the project was thwarted by vested interests, he said. He added that it was unjustified to stop the hotels from functioning without providing an alternate arrangement.
A lodge owner, Shaji George, who was also part of the previous panchayat council, said that the project of setting up a sewage treatment plant had not materialised.
He said the town had been facing the issue of faulty sewage drains for the past 30 to 40 years. However, the number of commercial establishments had gone up over the last 10 years. It was up to the panchayat to provide better facilities for pilgrims, he said.