Pollution control board issues notice; university to take immediate action

Residents of Saralebettu-Kodi area are a distraught lot as the water from a sewage treatment plant (STP) of Manipal University, which joins a stream, has contaminated their wells, besides creating health problems and damaging crops.

About 50 houses, most of them belonging to the Marathi Naik community, a Scheduled Tribe, are located in this area. Some of them still farm on their small land holdings. This area, which is downstream to the STP, is close to the river Swarna, and about 1.5 km from the Deputy Commissioner’s office.

When there were similar complaints in February 2011, the then Environment Minister Krishna J. Palemar had visited the area and directed the officials of the Karantaka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to take action. The university authorities had then swung into action and stopped the leakage. But the problem has cropped up again.

Sudhakar Naik, who cultivates betel leaves and areca on 40 cents of land, said that untreated water was being released from the STP thrice during the day and in large quantities at night. As a result, most of the wells in the area got contaminated. Since there was no drinking water connection in the area from the Udupi City Municipal Council (CMC), people depend on their wells for drinking water. We boil the well water and drink it. It is causing health problems. The betel leaves I cultivate were destroyed because of the water. Some have stopped farming. When we complain to the university authorities, they stop discharging untreated water for some time, but after a few days, it is back to square one,” he said.

Vittu Naik, who grows paddy on his one acre land, said that he had developed rashes on his feet. The health of his cattle was affected and his crop damaged. “The problem has been there for the last 15 days. Either the university authorities should solve the problem or we will storm their STP,” he said.

Gangu Poojarti, who owns two acres of land, said: “Our area is filled with mosquitoes due to the untreated water and its stench. At night, we are chased by a swarm of mosquitoes.”

Congress leader Ganeshraj Saralebettu said the university authorities were lax in dealing with the problem. They should visit the area regularly and attend to the complaints, he said.

University reaction

G.K. Prabhu, Registrar of Manipal University, admitted there was overflow of water from the STP because of some problem with the pump. But it was treated water which had overflowed. The officials of KSPCB had held a meeting with the university on Monday on the issue. “We will take immediate action to deal with the problem,” he said.

Notice issued

Rajashekhar Puranik, Environmental Officer, Regional Office, KSPCB, told The Hindu that the KSPCB had issued a notice to the university and asked it to submit a time-bound action plan to deal with the problem. A KSPCB team had collected water samples from the area. The problem had occurred because of negligence of workers at the STP.

Treated water from the STP overflowed to the nearby sludge-drying bed and joined the stream with the sludge, for one day.

“We have made it clear to the university that water from the STP should not join the stream under any circumstances,” he said.