Imagine the plight of those living in a village who use water, including for drinking, from wells into which human excreta flows from a nearby town.

This is the tale Chakkamkandam, a low-lying backwater village in Thykkad panchayat, neighbouring Guruvyaur.

Raw sewage containing human excreta and other wastes from lodges, restaurants and wedding halls in Guruvayur town are discharged into the Valiathode, a drain, which flows to Chakkamkandam Lake. (The Valiathode winds 2.5 km through the Guruvayur town before reaching the Chakkamkandam village).

?Many of these 200-odd lodges and as many restaurants have no septic tanks and they route their waste into the drain,? according to C.F. George, a Chakkamkandam Azhukkuchal Viruddha Samithi activist.

According to the estimates of the Guruvayur municipality, over 3.5 crore devotee visit Guruvayur each year. ?The people of Chakkamkandam are forced to live with a substantial portion of the bio-waste of these visitors,? he said.

The situation worsens during the rains. ?When it rains, the entire area gets flooded. The canal overflows and black filth gets deposited in our courtyard. The stink is nauseating,? says Chemberi Sulochana, a resident.

Bacterial contamination

On a directive from the Ombudsman for Local Self-government Institutions, M.R. Hariharan Nair, the Kerala State Pollution Control

Board (KSPCB) had recently tested water samples from 12 wells in the area. The results indicated faecal contamination with ?very high count' of coliform bacteria. The board had asked the local people to desist from using well water for drinking purposes.

Tests indicate that groundwater in Guruvayur as contaminated. A recent test by the Environmental Engineering Laboratory of the Department of Civil Engineering, Government Engineering College, Thrissur, had found that the coliform count in the ?theerthakulam' of the Guruvayur temple was 1,100 per 100 ml of water. (The permissible levels are 50 per 100 ml for drinking and 500 for other uses). The ?manikinar,' from which water is drawn for temple rituals, is hardly 100 metres from ?theerthakulam.'

The Chakkamkandam lake is the lifeline of 3,000-odd families in five panchayats. The residents of Thykkad panchayat are mainly farmers, coir workers and fishermen. Their lives are linked with Chakkamkandam Lake.

?We used to cultivate Pokkali rice (a salinity-resistant rice variety raised in water-logged fields) on both sides of the lake,? says Madhavi, local resident. The banks of the lake were then dotted with coir looms. Coir-matting was a key source of livelihood in those days, she says.

The scene changed some 25 years ago with the mushrooming of lodges and hotels in Guruvayur to cater to the needs of the rapidly increasing number of pilgrims. Chakkamkandam was directly hit, she adds.

?The people of Chakkamkandam are paying the price for the development of the Guruvayur municipality,? says Laila Hamsa, Thykkad panchyat member.

High levels of contamination have made farming impossible. Skin diseases and allergy conditions are common among residents of the village. The fish resources are also fast depleting, she says.

?People refuse to buy fish from Chakkamkandam,? says Sankaran, a fish worker. The coir industry collapsed as people do not want to venture into the water to soak and process coconut husk. ?Nobody from outside visits Chakkamkandam anymore,? says Ms. Hamsa. ?The young men here have difficulty finding brides from other areas because of the reputation of Chakkumknadam as a stinking place,? she says.

?The proposed Chakkamkandam sewage treatment plant will address the issues,? according to Guruvayur municipal chairperson Geetha Gopi.

?Why should the plant be here? The municipality should find space for the plant in Guruvayur. Why should we bear the brunt for the convenience of others?? say samithi office-bearers.

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