A number of instances in the past few weeks of sections of the Periyar river turning black near the Pathalam bund have left residents worried, while officials of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) maintain that the colour has nothing to do with discharge of chemical waste from industries in the Eloor-Edayar region.
Shaji K., an Eloor resident who fishes frequently in the Periyar, said the water had turned black after the shutters of the bund were opened on Friday and Saturday. “By tomorrow morning, fish in the river will be dead,” he added.
Zakeer Hussain, member of Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samiti, alleged that industries in the area had been using the lockdown and the consequent preoccupation of officials with COVID-19-related matters to release piled-up waste into the river.
Several such instances of water near the Pathalam bund turning black had been brought to the KSPCB’s notice since the last week of March, said P.B. Sreelakshmi, Environmental Engineer, KSPCB Environment Surveillance Centre, Eloor. “This is an issue we face every summer. The flow of water in the river has reduced drastically, leading to water stagnation and low quality of water near the shutters of the bund,” she added.
All industries in the area were shut during the lockdown and have only resumed minor operations since Friday, she said. “In a situation when industries are closed, the colour cannot be attributed to chemical contamination. Our tests have found that the organic load in the water is high, which means that waste like sewage or domestic waste coming from upstream and collecting at the bund is high, resulting in the colour,” Ms. Sreelakshmi explained. Anaerobic action on waste also results in foul smell emanating from the river when the shutters are opened, she added.
“The shutters will have to be opened up more frequently to maintain the natural environmental flow of the river and deal with the issue of stagnation and prevent fish deaths,” she said.
The shutters of the bund were being opened once a week so far. “The Irrigation Department had recently decided that shutters would now be opened once in three days to improve the flow of water,” said Koshy P.S., Executive Engineer, Major Irrigation Department.