Signs of a decadent system become evident when a river, closely linked to the growth of not just nature, but music, culture, sports and livelihood of an entire city, suddenly has a signboard asking people to keep away from her.

The Karamana river, once the pride of the city, does not flow quiet anymore. It’s chaos on her banks, and the river does not flow freely anymore, and that is not just literally. A visit to the Thiruvallam region will tell why.

The much-chronicled pollution of the river has reached a state where medical officials have been forced to post posters on her banks, announcing to the people that the river’s waters are polluted. And then, warning them to keep their children away from bathing or swimming in the river, going on to cautioning people against even stepping into the river, because it was causing diseases including rat fever (leptospirosis) and jaundice.

In the last 10 days, out of 150-odd children aged between five and 15, whose blood samples were collected for analysis, 18 tested positive for leptospirosis.

According to N. Latha, medical officer-in-charge of the Thiruvallam Primary Health Centre (PHC) , waste disposal in the river and the low water levels have led to the river becoming stagnant in the Thiruvallam region. The PHC had in fact issued warnings to the public six months ago, asking them not to swim in the river since it could trigger diseases.

Little impact

However, with the public being hard-pressed for water, the warnings bore little impact. And the outcome was that children, students of a swimming club here, have become the casualties of the river’s condition.

“People are using the water for bathing and other household purposes. Children from the swimming club and others too swim in the river. Though we gave a legal notice to the club to ask its students to keep away from the river, the damage was already done,” said Dr. Latha.

The PHC has already conducted two medical camps in the region, one on April 10 and then on April 12 as well. The 150-odd children were screened in these camps and it was then that 18 tested positive. Two others were admitted earlier with symptoms of leptospirosis, taking the toll to 20. The 18 were admitted to the General Hospital, from where, Dr. Latha said, most of them have slowly been discharged.

“The cases have not been serious, but still they tested positive for leptospirosis and had to be given Penicillin injections. Most of them are back home after a week in the hospital,” she said.

What next is a major concern, because, apart from dumping sacks of bleaching powder into the river, particularly near the bathing ghats, local officials have no idea what to do.

RITES study

It’s not that there are no ways out. Major projects have been announced. But they, as is the norm, have been slow to get off the wheels. The RITES study for a Rs.500 crore project to clean up both the Karamana and the Killi rivers is yet to be over.

For the people of Thiruvallam, meanwhile, it’s not just about a health situation. They play host to the only Parasurama temple in the State and one of the main venues for the ‘Vavu Bali’ ritual. Whether the regular process of desilting and cleaning just the ‘Bali kadavu’ will be enough in such circumstances is a question.

Over the years, the official approach being more or the less the same, whether a near outbreak of leptospirosis and a jaundice scare can make a change remains to be seen.