KOCHI:Small country boats gliding by, children splashing around, bamboo trees on the banks swaying in the breeze, small and big houses surrounded by agricultural farms sitting serenely on the banks- a cruise through the eight kilometre long Piravom puzha (Piravom stretch of the Muvattupuzha river) in a country boat is simply exhilarating.
As the boat glides on the still water of Piravom puzha, James Onassery, the boatman, too sails down the memory lane. He describes the good old days and his relationship with the river. He used to fish, swim and transport goods. After all these years there is no love lost between him and the river. But today he finds no excitement in venturing out into the river. “The stench makes me sick,” he says.
A river, which used to carry produces in ‘Kettuvallams’ from Idukki to Vaikom, to be transported further to Alappuzha and Kochi, has now become a dump yard and cesspool of toxins. While the banks present a picturesque scene, the river itself looks less serene. The water has turned black and waste including plastic bottles, used diapers and sacks full of slaughter house waste has polluted the river.
The gravity of the problem can be understood from the fact that the Piravom stretch of the river is the source for four major drinking water projects - Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission project, JICA aided drinking water project, Kakkad and Veliyannur drinking water projects. These projects cater to over 10 lakh people in Central Kerala.
According to local residents, sewage and intrusion of saline water have badly affected the river, raising concern over the possible health hazards.
Recently, a group of people led by Piravom municipality education standing committee chairman Jils Periappuram formed an NGO called‘Save Piravom Puzha’. They launched a drive to clean the Piravom stretch of the river. During the drive they removed plastics and other waste. Despite receiving good response to the drive, the NGO says their efforts are not enough to save the river from the disaster its facing.
“We cleaned a portion of the river. But that is not enough. Dumping of waste including that from the slaughterhouses continue unabated. A permanent system should be set in place to protect the river,” said, Jils Periappuram of ‘Save Piravom Puzha’.
He further said measures should be undertaken to create awareness among the people besides initiating steps to tackle dumping of waste in the river. “We are doing what we can to save the river. Local bodies should also take responsibility and initiate measures to protect the water body in their respective areas,” Periappuram added.
Although a Suchitwa Mission team had visited the river recently, no measures have been so far announced to protect the river.
The confluence of Thodupuzhayar (Thodupuzha river), Kaliyar (Kali river) and Kothayar (Kothamangalam river) forms Muvattupuzha River (Muvattupuzha Aaru). It covers a total of 121 km before emptying into Vembanad lake. Its major source of water is Thodupuzha River. Due to inflow of water from Idukki Arch Dam, the river maintains a constant water level throughout the year.
But pollution has reared its ugly head over the river. Not just the Piravom stretch, pollution haunts the entire Muvattupuzha river. Encroachments along the river bank, dumping of wastes including septage from hospitals, hotels and commercial establishments threaten the river. A study conducted by the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) in 2015 said the surface water samples collected from various places in Muvattupuzha river basin were found to be of poor quality. The samples showed high E coli presence. The report notes that biological analysis of water samples showed moderate organic pollution.
Another survey conducted by Kerala State Pollution Control Board reveals high contamination of E coli in the river water. According to the report, the samples taken from the river showed 3,733 counts of coliform bacteria in 100 ml of water. Although environmentalists and various organisations are calling for the protection of the river, a coordinated effort is yet to be launched.