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River pollution worsens as restoration project gets bogged down

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stagnant waters: A man braves the heavily polluted waters of the Karamana river to take a dip at the bathing ghat at Thiruvallam. —
stagnant waters: A man braves the heavily polluted waters of the Karamana river to take a dip at the bathing ghat at Thiruvallam. —

T. Nandakumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The heavy pollution of the downstream stretches of the Karamana river has created unsanitary conditions for devotees visiting the Parasurama temple at Thiruvallam to pay obeisance to their departed forefathers.

The stagnant waters and the accompanying stench at the bathing ghats near the temple put off even the most determined devotee from taking the customary bath.

In a bid to obviate the need for devotees to immerse themselves in the polluted water, the Travancore Devaswom Board has installed showers at the ghats.

Local people are up in arms demanding governmental action to check the pollution of the river. They are joining hands with mass organisations to highlight the environmental and health problems caused by the polluted waters.

They also fear that the unsanitary conditions would lead to a public health crisis and affect the region’s nascent tourism industry.

Raw sewage

The Karamana river, flowing through the city, joins the Killi river at Pallathukadavu (upstream of Thiruvallam) and wraps around the Edayar island on its way to the Poonthura estuary. Both the rivers carry large quantities of raw sewage discharged from city drains.

Untreated waste water from the Milma dairy plant at Ambalathara is another source of pollution. The heavily polluted Parvathy Puthanar canal joins the river at Munnattumukku near the Poonthura coastal village.

The flow of water on the western side of the island is blocked due to heavy silting at Munnattumukku and accretion of sea sand at Kunnumanal.

During high tide, seawater from the estuary surges up to Thiruvallam through the eastern side of Edayar. When the tide ebbs, the dirty water from the Parvathy Puthanar rushes in, covering the upstream portions up to Thiruvallam and beyond.

Several projects to desilt and deepen the Parvathy Puthanar canal have fallen by the wayside due to the apathy of the government machinery. Last year, the Department of Water Resources took up a project to restore the canal. But that too was bogged down after the initial spurt of activity.

Local people feel that the pollution of the river can be prevented by dredging the waters on the western side of the Edayar island to facilitate tidal flushing. They point out that heavy silting obstructs the flow around the island.

Pollution

According to Kovalam MLA George Mercier, the pollution problem can be resolved only by stopping the discharge of sewage and waste water into the Karamana and Killi rivers.

He said the Corporation and the government failed to kick-start a major sewage restoration programme despite getting ample funds from the Union government.

“The funds sanctioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) have been locked up for two years now,” he points out. “As a people’s representative, I find it difficult to face the electorate,” he says.

Sand-mining

Scientists feel that sand-mining from the upstream portions has also aggravated the pollution of the river by depriving the river of its natural filtering mechanism.

In 1997, the Legislative Committee on Environment reported that the pollution caused by the release of raw sewage into the Killi river near the Jagathy Bridge was at an ‘explosive’ level. The same year, the Pollution Control Board (PCB) issued notice to the KWA to stop discharge of untreated sewage into the river.

But lack of political and administrative will has hampered efforts to clean up the river.

The mass death of fish reported from the Thiruvallam- Pozhikara stretch of the river has triggered alarm among the people living along the banks. They fear that the pollutant responsible for the incident will contaminate their water supply.

There are also fears that the larvicide used by the Corporation for vector control could have led to the mass casualty of fish. According to L.Thankamma, former mycologist at the Rubber Research Institute of India, there is a possibility that the larvicide being sprayed in the Parvathy Puthanar and Amayizhanjan canals and the sewage farm at Valiathura could have been lethal for the fish.

She calls for scientific investigation to assess the toxicity of the larvicide.

Dismissing the apprehension, Corporation officials maintain that the biolarvicide is non-toxic and eco-friendly.

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