S. S. Kavitha

98-year-old ‘bungalow’ fast losing its distinctiveness

MADURAI: Yet another heritage structure in Madurai and a model sewage farm are fast losing their uniqueness.

Enter Vellaikal area, you are sure to close your nostrils but not your eyes as a visual treat awaits in the form of a 98-year-old building, popularly known as ‘bungalow.’ The pink building on a hillock beckons you. The stone-laden path or rather a staircase leads the way into the building as the visitor marvels at the structure. Like any other old building, this heritage structure has been left uncared for. “The exact history of the structure is not known except the fact that it was built by the British in 1910, ” said Jeyasingh Gnanadurai, former superintendent of the nearby sewage farm.

Served twin purpose

The building served a twin purpose — as an office room at the ground floor and residence on the first floor. The wooden staircase leads to a verandah and an open space from where the officials looked after the 385-acre sewage farm. The farm was established by Madurai drainage division of Public Works Department on behalf of the municipality and in 1927 it was handed over to the civic body.

It has two methods of water treatment — lagoon method in oxidation pond and French-drain method. Of the two, French drain method is rare and many dignitaries from various countries have complimented the method that has now become defunct. In the French drain method, earth will be dug out and earthen pipes with loose joints will be buried and filled with stone, gravel and pebbles. Water will get filtered through the soil and stone and freshwater will enter the gap between pipes. This filtered water will be further treated in the pond under oxidation method that allowed the solid waste to deposit as silt.

When the filtration methods were in use, people used to drink the water as they were, not aware of the process, Mr. Jeyasingh said and noted that “sewage water is also precious and it has to be used as a harmless and beneficial resource.”

S. Chandran, lecturer of Thiagarajar College of Engineering, who had done a thesis on environmental impact of urban sewage irrigation, warns that care and importance should be given to manage used water.

As there was an overflow, and filtration methods failed owing to lack of maintenance, people involved in vegetation used the untreated and concentrated sewage water not only for growing vegetables but for cleaning greens as well.

Concurred 75-year-old P. Periyandi. “Growers believe that the green remains afresh if it is washed in sewage water. If it is washed in freshwater, the leaves become dry soon.” But a Plus One student, M. Rakesh, said that people suffered from various health problems apart from the nuisance created by houseflies and mosquitoes that swarmed the area.

Mr. Jeyasingh said that he had tested the greens and brinjal grown in the sewage farm and found that they had more heavy metal content such as lead and cadmium.

Initially, the farm was treating 17 million litres a day (MLD) and it was able to treat up to 30 MLD.

As the inflow was more than 42 MLD, the system had become defunct.