Kerala High Court constitutes expert panel to study fish kill, pollution of Periyar

Updated - June 11, 2024 07:25 am IST

Published - June 10, 2024 08:33 pm IST - KOCHI

A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Monday constituted an expert committee to suggest measures to prevent the pollution of the Periyar river and consequent fish kills.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice A.J. Desai and Justice V.G. Arun asked the committee consisting of officers from the State Pollution Control Board and Central Pollution Control Board to visit the portion of the river where fish kill was reported and suggest measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

The court issued the order when a batch of writ petitions filed by activist K.S.R. Menon, Green Action Force, and others came up for hearing. The counsel for Green Action Force, A.X. Varghese, submitted that fish kill had occurred several times in the past. But the PCB had not taken steps to prevent them. He submitted that most industries located on the banks of the Periyar did not have proper effluent treatment plants. In fact, the river was the main source of drinking water for people in Kochi and its suburbs. The PCB had also not initiated any prosecution measures against companies that discharged untreated effluents into the river.

Kuriakose Varghese, counsel for Mr. Menon, submitted that the pollution of the Periyar had been going on for years. The board was trying to put the blame for the recent fish kill on the Irrigation department. It was statutorily bound to undertake remedial steps under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Environment Protection Act of 1986.

The State government, in an affidavit, submitted that a protocol on tackling fish kill had to be developed at the State level. The current sampling and testing methods are not regulated by any protocol, leading to samples being collected not in time or from all required points, and consequent confusion in fixing responsibility and loss of precious time in the initial response period.

A continuous real-time monitoring of the water quality at the Pathalam regulator and its downstream areas where fish kill incidents are a regular phenomenon has been mooted. An analysis by the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos) had recommended a real-time monitoring and regular sampling system on the 3-km Eloor-Edayar stretch of the river. The allegations that industrial units were discharging waste water through illegal channels and tunnels had to be inquired in a scientific manner, using modern techniques and equipment like ground penetrating radars.

A minimum flow of water had to be maintained in the river during the lean period to prevent hypoxia due to water stagnation. A comprehensive study had to be conducted by a competent agency on how the ecosystem of the river was affected.

The government also said that a study by an independent agency or a committee consisting of experts from NEERI, NIIST, IISER, and CUSAT should be conducted to understand the exact cause of the mass fish kill and suggest remedial measures to prevent them in future.

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