Thiruvananthapuram has lost much of its historical fame for hygiene and cleanlines owing to lack of a proper sewerage, a vital part of urban planning.

Even before garbage started rotting on its roads, Thiruvananthapuram has lost much of its historical fame for hygiene and cleanliness. The reason is the absence of a proper sewerage, a vital part of urban planning.

Sewage from houses has been let into open drains and waterbodies for years, causing health hazards and water pollution. Compounding the problem are the frequent collapse of manholes and leaks on the sewage lines.

Statistics with the sewerage wing of the Kerala Water Authority show the city has only 89,965 sewage connections, which is 38 per cent of the buildings in the city. The population benefiting from the centralised sewerage network is just 3,67,500.

Even in places under the network, some households are not connected to the sewage lines, a KWA official says.

V.S. Padmakumar, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Works of the City Corporation, says 60 wards do not have sewage lines.

Untreated waste from residential and commercial buildings finds its way into open places. The fate of Parvathi Puthanar and the Karamana and quality of groundwater give a clear picture of the pollution.

Poor maintenance

Deficient maintenance of the sewerage, ostensibly because of proper planning and poor coordination among departments, has taken a toll on the ageing pipelines, resulting in sewage-line bursts and collapse of manholes, a KWA official says.

P.S. Harikumar, Scientist and Head (Water Quality Division) of the Centre for Water Resources Development Management, Kozhikode, says, however, that the situation in the city is much better than in Kochi, which has got only about 5 per cent sewerage connectivity.

“But that is no excuse for improper collection and disposal of sewage. When there is no proper disposal of sewage, it will seep into groundwater, leading to contamination. Several studies confirmed the presence of high total coliform and faecal coliform bacteria count in groundwater. The contamination is directly related to seepage of sewage into the groundwater,” he told The Hindu over the phone.

The problem of letting out sewage into surface water, he says, is more serious than dumping solid waste in public places.

The existing sewerage is not enough, says C. Jayakumar, environmentalist and member of Thanal, a non-governmental organisation. Efforts should be made to provide connectivity for the entire city and facilities for treating sewage, but at the same time, the authorities should encourage people to set up toilets that require less water, such as compost or dry toilets, he adds.

“We should try to emulate the practice adopted in South-east Asian countries. There, the sewage is piped into the biogas plants in houses. The plants have an inbuilt mechanism to separate sewage. It is one way of looking at managing effluents at source,” he says.

JNNURM plan

Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the KWA has evolved a plan to provide sewerage connectivity to all peripheral wards. The work on the Rs. 337 crore project, including laying of pipelines and construction of small pumping stations, did not take off for a multitude of problems, among them delay in sanctioning tenders and land acquisition, a KWA official says.

“Given the nature of the problems we confront, it is unlikely that the project will take off in the current financial year,” an official says.

The Corporation, entrusted with the task of acquiring land for constructing 23 pumping stations under the JNNURM scheme, is yet to identify land for 13, Mr. Padmakumar says.

For managing the sewage collected, an official says, the trial run of the Muttathara sewage treatment plant, which has the capacity to process 107 million litres of effluents per day, is on. To reach its full capacity, the network has to be spread to all 100 wards. After the trial run, the plant will be able to process 40 million litres per day, the KWA official says.