Local bodies reluctant to take stringent action against polluters

Health activists have raised serious questions about the quality of water supplied to rural homes since many establishments, including those of official agencies, have been found to release, often clandestinely, their wastes into rivers and other water sources.

Complaints are also rife that water supplied under rural water schemes is not properly treated and that contaminated water reaching rural households triggers water-borne diseases like jaundice. Large quantities of water from private sources are also supplied to hostels and lodges before treating it properly.

Local bodies are reluctant to take stringent action though under the provisions of Panchayat Raj Act they are empowered to punish the offenders for contaminating water sources.

The gravity of the problem came to light when Health Department officials recently brought an offender to book. Early this week, the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Thamarassery, ordered a hotel owner to pay Rs.11,400 as fine and towards litigation charges for repeated violation of provisions of the Madras Public Health Act of 1939 and for releasing waste water from his hotel to drainage.

The hotel owner was earlier fined Rs.1,525 for the same offence but the magistrate enhanced punishment when her was booked a second time.

Though the offender had been convicted, the local body is yet to take action – clearly indicating it has a soft approach to such offences. Under Panchayat Raj Act, local bodies can even order closure of establishments that cause pollution.

Though the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) deny it, health activists believe often water that is meant for irrigation is released through public taps and to domestic consumers before being properly treated and made safe for drinking.

Tests in government labs had shown even water from government-sponsored Jalanidhi wells is sometimes not safe for drinking. There have been instances of health inspectors being transferred to distant places when they book offenders who are politically well-connected.