Adding to a slew of plans and attempts to control pollution in the Periyar river, another action plan has been drafted by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to address the persistent issue of the city’s filthy drinking water source.
Earlier this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered the drafting of an action plan to deal with solid waste and septage polluting the Aluva-Eloor-Kalamassery stretch of the Periyar. The plan has been submitted to the State Level Monitoring Committee for approval, after which it requires approval from the NGT before implementation begins.
The plan focuses on containing the presence of sewage and organic pollutants in the water and does not take chemical parameters into account.
“Industrial pollutants can be easily controlled and monitored. Pollution from sewage is more difficult because we need public participation and the cooperation of local bodies,” said P.B. Sreelakshmy, environmental engineer at the KSPCB Environment Surveillance Centre, Eloor.
“Besides, industrial pollution has been controlled through regular monitoring and inspections,” she said.
Of the 14 effluent-generating industries, eight have been allowed to discharge treated effluents into the river and all have installed treatment plants, as per the KSPCB plan.
But according to residents, frequent colour changes of river water, fish kills and foul smelling water in the Kuzhikandam creek point to the continued discharge of chemicals into the Periyar.
The water that the 2018 flood brought into the houses in the area destroyed clothes and plants like acid would, said Supriya Rajendran, who has been living beside the Kuzhikandamthodu for 21 years. The red oxide flooring in her house turned into the colour of cement after the water receded and the plants outside dried up, she added.
“When the industries were flooded last year, the waste and chemicals on their premises would have flowed into the entire area,” said Purushan Eloor of the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi.
“Though industries like Binani Zinc have closed down, their hazardous waste is still stored in tanks on their premises,” he alleged.
The last fish kill in the river was in the first week of August this year. “There is hardly any fish any more. We used to be able to spot the fish in the water and catch them without nets,” said 66-year-old Shashi, who has been fishing in the Periyar for 24 years.
“The KSPCB boat goes past once in a while. Their explanation is always that the fish do not get enough oxygen. What about the chemicals that flow in from the industries upstream when the shutters of the Pathalam regulator are open?”
Ms. Rajendran said a few years ago, the Kuzhikandamthodu was filthier. “After Merchem Limited, which manufactured rubber chemicals, closed in 2015, the condition of the creek has improved,” she said.