Around 1,500 houseboats and a non-functional sewage treatment plant (STP) — this is the backwater tourism scene in Alappuzha. The STP at H-Block (Kunnumma), operated by the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC), was closed six months ago, after the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) found flaws in its functioning. Even now there are no signs of it being made operational as the DTPC and the PCB are at loggerheads over upgrading the plant.
It is mandatory for all houseboats registered in Alappuzha to visit the STP every four months to flush clean the toilets. However, in the absence of a functional waste treatment plant, the boats are now discharging waste water directly into Vembanad Lake, a designated Ramsar site and one of the most polluted waterbodies in the world.
Ajit Haridas, chairman, PCB, told The Hindu that it had suggested to the Tourism Department to set up a modern plant to treat waste generated by houseboats in a scientific manner. “We made some recommendations regarding septage treatment including setting up a world class treatment plant. But, they are yet to act on them,” Mr. Haridas said.
The PCB rejected the application for renewing the licence of the STP earlier this year.
Two weeks ago, the DTPC submitted a report to the PCB, detailing the upgradation it planned to carry out at the plant at a cost of ₹30 lakh. However, the PCB directed the DTPC to set up a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP). It suggested that existing tanks of the STP could be used as collection tank /aerobic/ anaerobic reactor. “The septage should be treated in a biological manner with the help of aerobic and anaerobic reactor. A disinfection unit, sludge digester and sludge drying bed/filter units should also be set up as part of FSTP,” reads the letter. DTPC officials, however, said the PCB stand would not help resolve the issue. “We are ready to upgrade the STP at H- Block. A few months ago, we had invited tenders, but no one was interested. Recently an agency submitted a detailed project report. We forwarded the detailed project report to the PCB, seeking their suggestions. The PCB rejected the report. It now wants the existing STP to be dismantled and construct a new one. The upgradation of the STP has hit a roadblock,” said a DTPC official.
Plea to authorities
With peak tourist season on, houseboat operators have urged the authorities to make the waste treatment plant operational soon.