Kochi: While the much-hyped Kerala River Basin Authority proposal is still dormant, a floodgate of protests is set to open soon as part of a conservation campaign starting with the Periyar. From June there will be a massive protest against failure to save the Periyar and those involved with it say this stir will soon spread to saving other rivers in the state.
A section of legislators say a model of legislation for the authority was being readied with the support of experts so that the government could go ahead with fulfilling its promise.
Greens allege that they are forced to take the agitation path as the government and the State Pollution Control Board are doing little to save rivers. In these times of climate change when several rivers are dying and water levels are sinking to abysmal levels, there is need for concerted efforts to save these 44 water resources. Industrial pollution to indiscriminate sand-mining have become regular features of the state rivers and the Periyar ranks highest when it comes to industrial pollution.
And a start to the protest will be made here on June 4 when environmentalists led by poet Sugathakumari will hold a ‘jala satyagraha’ on the Periyar which will be intensified from June 23 if the government does not take steps to have in place the river basin authority, they say.
“Political interference should be avoided in matters pertaining to river pollution. To curb industrial pollution and to save the Periyar and other rivers, there should be in place a powerful body with legal support and involvement of local residents. Since the PCB is only a politically nominated body, it is unable to take decisive steps on companies responsible for pollution,” said former Kerala Biodiversity Board chairman V.S. Vijayan.
The level of industrial pollution which had reduced considerably during the term of Local Area Environment Committee (LAEC) in Eloor, appointed by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee(SCMC) on Hazardous Waste, has increased manifold in recent years. In the last two years, dissolved oxygen has depleted to alarming levels, resulting in massive fish deaths and this has become a regular feature of the river and its tributaries even during monsoon.
Though the SCMC recommended several measures to bring down the pollution level, neither PCB nor the state government have initiated steps to implement even a single recommendation, allege greens. There are 282 industries along the banks of the Periyar of which 110 are chemical units.
The companies which were discharging treated effluents when the LAEC was active are now dumping raw effluents through the outlets into the Periyar, allege activists of the Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi. Pollution of the river and surrounding wetlands has almost wiped out traditional occupations, including fishing and farming.
Several studies have pointed out that the riverbed has deposits of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, nickel, cobalt and zinc and the ecosystem of the river has many dead zones.
Some of the major recommendations are ensuring zero effluent discharge from the industrial units in the Eloor-Edayar stretch and zero emission from companies.
“The Pollution Control Board should be reconstituted to a scientific expert body with no political appointment. It should be made an independent organisation with judicial powers,” said Purushan Eloor of Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi.
Greens also want a green rating agency to assess the performance of the industries that are believed to be polluting rivers. They also say environment protection awards should be given. In view of the increasing pollution level in March last, the PCB chairman and its member secretary held a meeting with green activists who submitted a detailed report. Though the PCB chairman had agreed to take action before April, nothing has happened, say greens.
Meanwhile, refuting the allegations of environmentalists K. Sajeevan, PCB chairman said, “The pollution level is very low in the industrial belt with companies discharging less volume of effluents. The condition has improved and there is no critical situation.”
A major factor that ails the river is indiscriminate industrial pollution coupled with waste dumping from hospitals, hotels, commercial firms, slaughterhouses and toilets. Indiscriminate sand mining is catalyzing the death of the Periyar river.
“PCB officials are silent on the unchecked toxic effluent discharge from the around 18 companies in the Eloor-Edayar region. Though green activists have submitted details about the chemical discharge of each company, the PCB is least concerned about taking up any follow-up action,” he added.
Kerala River Basin Authority in limbo
The state government has proposed to constitute Kerala River Basin Authority as part of the effort to check pollution of rivers. The authority will be chaired by the Minister for Water Resources and will have experts and representatives of NGOs as members.
The Authority will be the single agency which will address all river related issues related to pollution, sand mining, irrigation and drinking water supply and ensuring minimum water flow. The Authority will co-ordinate the activities of various stakeholder departments involved in river protection.
A research wing will also be formed as part of the Authority and will prepare a comprehensive databank with satellite mapping of rivers, its origins, details of deforestation, meteorological data, people living along the banks, farming practices and sources of pollution. Recently, the green brigade of Congress legislators took out a river conservation campaign. They demanded legislation for setting up the Authority with statutory powers.