CHENNAI: ‘En Peyar Palar,’ a documentary, journeys along the Palar starting at its source in the Nandidurg hills in Karnataka till it joins the Bay of Bengal.
Charting this course, the 85-minute documentary delves into how activities such as sand quarrying and discharge of industrial effluents are sucking the life out of one of Tamil Nadu’s prime sources of drinking water.
As the Palar enters the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, the screen fills with murky water coated with a layer of slime.
This state of the Palar at Vaniyambadi and Ambur stands testimony to the unchecked release of effluents from tanneries in these regions. In the last 30 years, crops such as betel leaf and coconut have almost disappeared, says A.C. Venkatesan of Vaniyambadi. And then the scene shifts to bits and pieces of rotting skin, mixed with hair and other refuse. Zoom out, and the riverbank is dotted with mounds of tannery waste. No surprise, health issues crop up.
Yaazhan Adi, a resident of Ambur, says people there tend to have discoloured teeth. Water-related diseases such as jaundice and stones in the urinary tract are common.
The canvas changes with the river reaching Kancheepuram. An unending train of brightly painted lorries etched on a brown, sandy backdrop forms a picturesque sight, only if the ecological disaster they wreak dissolves into the background.
These lorries are carrying an irreplaceable resource: the sand of the Palar riverbed.
This sand has a secret. It traps water within. It can be dug out during lean seasons. But if the riverbed starts to resemble a quarry, water scarcity becomes inevitable.
The new economy ushered in by sand quarrying has some unexpected dimensions. Children don’t go to school anymore, says a resident of Sevilimedu, a village near Kancheepuram. They get paid for either lifting sand at the quarries or providing food to the workers.
Moving towards Chengalpattu, cement structures of distilleries and soft-drink giants come into focus. For washing bottles and preparing drinks, lakhs of gallons of water are sucked up every day, the documentary reports. Frame after frame, director R.R. Srinivasan weaves testimonies from people with the river watching in the background. He is an independent filmmaker and photographer with films, including ‘Old man and the sea’ (about post-tsunami relief), to his credit.
The documentary, released on June 30, has been produced by Social Action Movement and Water Rights Protection Group, both from Chengalpattu.