Effluents from Kozhikode Medical College reach three oxidation ponds to create ‘pollution in all dimensions’

At Mayanad, no one offers you a glass of water to drink. The request is usually politely refused with a smile.

Venda mone, ivide vellam nallathalla (No son, the water is not good here),” Tharackyal Kamala, in her late seventies, who have been living in the area for the past 40 years, said during a pause while sweeping her courtyard.

She points to three overflowing oxidation ponds about 100 metres from her house. They resemble lagoons, covered by lush green foliage. But they brim with effluents and biomedical and municipal waste incessantly flowing in from the Government Medical College campus nearby. A sharp dank odour rising from them fills the air.

More than 100 families live in the area. They dare not use the water in their wells — it has that abominable smell. Once a week, probably, the Kozhikode City Corporation sprays pesticide in the area. Water comes for two hours a day through the five or six public taps.

Of the four million litres a day (MLD) of water used on the medical college campus, 80 per cent (3.2 MLD) released as sewage finds its way into the three ponds.

A court-ordered investigation in 2006 by K.V. Narayanan, senior hydrologist and the then district officer of the Groundwater Department, in the area “on the contaminations from the effluents from Medical College, Kozhikode” revealed that the area was “polluted in all dimensions.”

The investigation report said the three tanks, meant to reduce the movement of effluents and allow the insoluble fluids (silt) to settle down, are nearly filled with silt and hence the outgoing water spreading into the fields and marshy areas of Mayanad contains “solid part” also. Mr. Narayanan blamed the “poor maintenance” of the three ponds for the problem.

The situation has hardly changed in six years.

“For decades, waste water from the medical college has been flowing into the water systems of the neighbourhood,” N. Mohanan, Chairperson, Public Works Committee, Kozhikode Corporation, said on Monday.

Suresh Nechivayal, cashier at a local restaurant, is an active member of the Mayanad Parisara Malinikara Nirmarjana Samithi, a residents’ group which has been engaged in public interest litigation for a clean Mayanad before the Kerala High Court for about a decade.

“We go home to home collecting Rs. 10 for the case. Our fathers failed to raise their voices because they feared being ostracised from society. But we are not ready to cheat our children,” Mr. Nechivayal said.

He recalled how the effluent discharge gained political colours when the residents boycotted the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. In the civic elections in 2010, the samithi had fielded its own candidate.

“About two years ago, on my housewarming day, the underground pipe going through my plot to the tanks burst. I had prepared a feast for 500 people, and there I was, helpless, with the smell of sewage everywhere,” M. Vishwanathan, a plumber, said.

Hardly a kilometre from his house, a sewage treatment plant, set up at an estimated cost of Rs. 5.75 crore, lies abandoned within the medical college campus. The plaque on the main building shows it was inaugurated on August 16, 2010 by the then State Health Minister.

“The plant is a joke. There is no outlet for treated water,” Mr. Nechivayal said.

Court records of the litigation chronicle how authorities had dished out several solutions to get rid off the effluents.

They included a project to dispose of the treated water from the plant to Canoly Canal through a pipeline through KSHB-Irigadampally Road. Another was using a “part of the effluents for flushing toilets and in-house fodder cultivation on the college campus.”

All were met with “heavy protests” from the local population, a September 2012 affidavit from the Kerala Water Authority in the High Court said.

Recently, a revised plan to dispose of the treated water from the plant to the Canoly Canal via Mavoor Road was proposed. The alternative route, estimated at Rs. 8.75 crore, is still in the backburner.

“Not a penny has been allotted for this plant in this year’s Budget,” Mr. Mohanan said.

The 2006 investigation report confirmed the presence of infective agents, both biological and chemical, leaving residents prone to water-borne diseases such as leptospirosis, cardiovascular diseases and cyanosis in infants.

The residents say the report’s predictions are slowly coming true.

“I hope I don’t die in an afternoon. People may refuse to come here to take me away because of the smell,” Ms. Kamala said.

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