Rivers under siege

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The Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation has issued an advisory on conservation and restoration of waterbodies in urban areas. BIJU GOVIND has the details

Dark water: The Karamana river at Thiruvallom in Thiruvananthapuram. — Photo: S. Gopakumar
Dark water: The Karamana river at Thiruvallom in Thiruvananthapuram. — Photo: S. Gopakumar

Great cities are known by their rivers. London has the Thames and Paris the Seine. In India, however, as cities grow, rivers shrink. The expansive waterbodies become drains, receptacle of refuse and cesspools causing diseases.

Coming down to Thiruvananthapuram, the Karamana and the Killi are sad examples of this river destruction. Their waters have become dark, and they carry sewage and solid waste, spreading diseases along their course. Or take the case of the Periyar in Aluva and the Kallai and the Chaliyar in Kozhikode.

Across Kerala, canals, lakes and rivers are getting polluted from untreated sewage, industrial waste and garbage. Rapid urbanisation is taking a toll on waterbodies in cities and towns. Improper management of storm water, exploitation of waterbodies for recreation and fishing, land reclamation and encroachments are problems.

The rise in urban population is adding to the woes of the State. The urban population grew from 26 per cent to 48 per cent from 2001 to 2011. Kerala is one of the 10 States with the highest population density.

Now, the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation, a technical wing of the Union Ministry of Urban Development, has come up with an advisory on conservation and restoration of waterbodies in urban areas. The initiative gains immense importance in the sense that urban lakes and other waterbodies are first victims of urbanisation and their conservation, and restoration is a sign of sustainable urban living, Sudhir Krishna, Secretary, Union Ministry of Urban Development, says.


The advisory, released in August this year, is for the use and guidance of State governments and urban local bodies. It comes in the wake of reports that cities depend on water brought from distant points to meet the needs of the growing urban population. An estimate reveals that a city of 30-lakh population produce nearly 10-crore litres of waste water a day.

It has suggested the identification of lakes and ponds in urban areas. The waterbodies should be notified in land-use records as municipal assets.

Their shoreline should be fenced to ward off encroachments. A well-planned awareness campaign should be conducted in the localities to highlight the benefits from conservation of waterbodies. If any encroachment exists on the banks, it needs to be resettled or relocated in consultation with the affected people. The inlets and outlets of the waterbodies should be identified and they need to be monitored at frequent intervals. Any obstruction should be removed. Flow of sewage into the waterbodies should be stopped, and only effluents treated to the standards set by the State Pollution Control Board may be allowed into them.

Measures such as dredging, weeding, aeration, reduction of nutrients and removal of floating and other invasive aquatic plant species may be taken up.

Comprehensive plan

Comprehensive waterfront development, preferably on vacant government land around the lake, may be taken up, keeping in view an ecosystem-based approach for the aquatic body, conforming to prevalent environmental legislation and maintaining the social and cultural sanctity of the place.

The land around a lake and at a certain distance from its shore perimeter should be declared an eco-sensitive area. Dumping of solid waste into these areas should be made a punishable offence.

The water quality of the waterbodies needs to be monitored every week by the civic bodies. If any parameters are found to be beyond the limit of designated use, action should be taken.

Permission for commercial use of a lake and its immediate surrounding areas should be done after a study.

A State-level advisory committee may be set up by drawing members from the departments of Water Resources, Public Works and Health and experts in the field of lake conservation. The committee will suggest the State-level development authorities to formulate steps for conservation of urban waterbodies.Lakes and wetlands protection authorities should include experts such as water-quality specialists, integrated water management professionals, groundwater experts and city planners. A holistic understanding and acknowledgement of a lake system should be an important part of a lake management plan, focussing on water quality and quantity.

The urban waterbodies should be given a separate legally tenable land-use classification. Urbanisation should be planned and executed in such a manner that high priority is accorded to local water availability as well its appropriate uses. Adoption of a water-centric approach in concurrent and future urbanisation will result in a more balanced growth of cities.

Non-conventional approaches to sewage treatment may be integrated with the conventional treatment process based on local requirement. Available methods of non-conventional treatment should be integrated into any plan for lake restoration and revival.


The land around a lake and at a certain distance from its shore perimeter should be declared an eco-sensitive area.


  • Waterbodies should be notified as municipal assets

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  • Commercial use of waters only after a study

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  • Water quality to be monitored every week

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