“Onno rando kavilalla, vayaru niraye kudikkumayirunnu njangal ee pozhayile vellam,” (Not just a sip or two, we used to drink from this river till our thirst was slaked,” says Abdul Fathah, a 42-year-old wood craftsman, who lives on the banks of Iruvanjhi river at Mukkam in Kozhikode.

But that is the old story. Let alone drink, Mr. Fathah would think twice before taking a dip in it now. It has become almost a dead river with its colour changed, flow hampered (by a regulator cum bridge), sand mined, and all kinds of wastes dumped in it, says Mr. Fathah.

The famous Iruvanjhipuzha, which had even found its romantic place in the works of writers such as S.K. Pottekkatt, is no more the same pristine river, in which people from faraway places would come to bathe, reposing faith in its medicinal properties.

Its decline did not happen in a day or two. It come about with the growth of towns around it, clubbed with population explosion, insensitive dumping of waste, use of chemical fertilizers in the adjoining fields, economic growth — which took people away from the kulikkadavus (bathing points) to bathrooms — and the unfortunate situation where migrant labourers had to use its banks for defecation.

The water-level in the 30-km-long river, which originates from the foothills of Vellarimala, part of the Western Ghats, has increased considerably after a regulator-cum-bridge was set up recently across the Chaliyar river, to which Iruvanjhi flows.

“However, the quality of water has gone despicably down due to various reasons,” says Salam Nadukkandy, a social activist and environmentalist. Some hospitals drain untreated waste water into the river, he says.

Fishes are gone

The fish wealth of Iruvanjhi has suffered a lot due to pollution. “A study conducted by the CWRDM has established it,” says T.P. Abdul Azeez, a teacher and a Puzha Samrakshana Samithi member. Even trees such as Aattuvanchi, which were once common on the banks of Iruvanjhi, are rarely seen these days, he says.

Though several reasons contribute to the plight of the river, the absence of awareness and sensitivity among people, lack of farsightedness among decision-makers, and the failure of the authorities in implementing the laws strictly are major concerns.

A number of wells, which are part of the drinking water projects in Kozhikode, are situated at different points of the river. “Even larva of mosquitoes and unsafe level of e.coli bacteria were found in the water samples,” says P. Unnikrishnan, an environmental activist he says.

Public wakes up

However, not all hope is lost. An action plan is being chalked out for the protection of Iruvanjhi under the joint initiative of six panchayats through which the river flows before it joins Chaliyar at Koolimadu.

The Kodiyathur panchayat had initiated an action plan last year by taking out a boat journey through the river, cleaning its banks, and sensitising people to the river’s significance. “This time, the plan will include all the panchayats concerned,” says N.K. Asharaf, former vice president of Kodiyathur panchayat.

They are planning to start the awareness programme right from the schools by introducing a local textbook on river protection with special reference to Iruvanjhi. “It will be an ongoing mission with cleaning drives, sensitisation programmes, and periodic water quality testing mechanisms, capped by strict monitoring by separate committees from different panchayats,” says Mr. Asharaf.

For, an entire population on its banks is dreaming of a day when they could drink straight from the river — not just a sip or two, but a stomach-full till their thirst is quenched.