Black and unquiet flows the Periyar in Kerala

Sorry state: The Periyar is highly polluted by effluent from industrial units in the Eloor-Edayar region.  

The wind blowing over the newly-built Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge, yet to be formally opened to traffic, carries with it the gut-wrenching stench of putrefying animal bone.

The smothering stink emanates from an animal bone processing unit, one among the eight such units in Edayar industrial area, a few metres down the bridge on the banks of the Periyar river – the lifeline of the region that is visibly in the throes of death.

Mounds of animal bone in various stages of decay occupy the company’s premises, in the open and in a shelter, and as you cover the face muffling the urge to throw up, uncomplaining inter-State workers go about their routine, unloading fresh truckloads of bone.

“They make animal fat for the toilet soap industry and fertiliser from bones,” says environmentalist Purushan Eloor, who is part of the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi, an anti-pollution council, pointing to the two greasy furnaces located some 50 metres from the river. “One such unit was recently made to forfeit its bank guarantee for draining effluents into the river,” he says. A swarm of flies and birds pecking on slivers of meat from bone pieces hover about.

The air is thick along this stretch of the Periyar, its clammy waters changing colour every now and then. Most recently, when the shutters of the Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge built to prevent the ingress of saline water were raised – amidst resistance from locals clamouring for a slew of measures to arrest river pollution – the river downstream turned black and flowed with a pungent odour. “Massive fish kills used to be commonplace in the river, with hazardous effluents form the industrial units along the stretch turning the waters toxic.

That has stopped after the closure of the Sree Sakthi Paper Mills in mid-2016 after it was found to be discharging untreated effluents into the river. The river flowed in various hues in the days preceding its closure,” says Muhammed Iqbal, who lives across the river and is an activist of Janajagratha who sought action against the company.

Chemical pollution of the Periyar and the vast tracts of paddy land in the region – which even contaminated ground water – has been an issue environmental activists have been fighting for decades now. “Various studies have ascertained beyond doubt that the river system has been sullied with discharge of heavy metals, hazardous chemicals and radioactive material. Even some public sector undertakings were found to have flouted the norms. But ever since we raised a hue and cry, several firms have taken stringent pollution control measures, but the goal of ‘zero discharge’ still remains at bay,” says Mr. Purushan.

An organo-chemical firm at Binanipuram, which was forced by environmentalists to seal an unauthorised duct that had been outstretched into the river, still has piles of magnesite lying in the open in its backyard on the river bank. “It is being shipped out for landfills,” says a worker.

Over the decades, scientific investigation by various agencies followed by timely intervention by the now-defunct Local Area Environment Committee have led to several firms complying with the pollution norms while other companies were forced to shut shop for an interim period.

But the long arm of the law hasn’t made everyone to fall in line.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 6:27:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/black-and-unquiet-flows-the-periyar-in-kerala/article17326681.ece

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