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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Krishna River

Krishna River 
Originating from the western flanks of the Western Ghats near Mahabaleshwar, Krishna is the fourth largest river basin in the country. It flows 1,440 kms through the staes of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. The rivers Koyna, Vasna, Panchganga, Dudhganga, Ghataprabha, Malaprabha and Tungabhadra join Krishna from the right bank; while the Yarla, Musi, Maneru and Bhima rivers join the Krishna from the left bank.

Krishna's long journey makes it vulnerable to all sorts of pollution. The river receives effluents and wastewater from a number of large cities, including Pune, Satara, Kolhapur, Hyderabad, Kurnool and Vijaywada, among others. More than 500 important industrial units operate from the Krishna basin, 200 of which are large-scale industrial units. 

Most tributaries of the mighty Krishna are reeling under pollution today. Sewage from Pune is choking the city's river Mula-Mutha. Musi, Krishna's tributary on the west of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, is in a bad shape with nearly 350 mld of polluted water and sewage originating from the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad flowing into it. 

Decades of industrial pollution have also damaged the Tungabhadra river. Two units of Gwalior Rayon Silk Manufacturing (Weaving) Company Ltd (Grasim) are located on its banks in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. Together, the whole industrial complex generates approximately 33,000 cum of effluents. 

Villagers downstream of the factory felt the affects of pollution almost as soon as the industrial unit was commissioned. The river water has since become dark brown in colour and has a pungent odour. Inspection also revealed that the Harihar-Grasilene effluent treatment plant did not function at all times, and between 70-80 per cent untreated effluent was being released into the river. The pollution of Tungabhadra affected 1,00,000 people in the sub-basin. Instances of stomach ailments and skin rashes were recorded by the local administration as most villages used the river for drinking water, bathing, irrigation, fishing and water for their livestock. 

But the worst affected are the fisher folk. Regular fish kills have exhausted Tungabhadra's fisheries. A study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, showed that the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels in the raw effluents released into the river were 1,000 mg/l. The effects of pollution were felt 40 kms downstream in the summers.

Government Action
The state government has failed to act despite the river’s grim pollution scenario. Despite protests from the villagers and farmers all that the state government has formed several committees to study the problem, with no results on the ground.

In 1973 the Karnataka state legislature instituted a three-member committee to look into the issue. The committee filed its report in 1974. Farming communities on the banks of the Tungabhadra continued to suffer and all further protests fell on deaf ears.

In December 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the Rs 296 crore National River Conservation Plan project to beautify the river. However, till May 2002 nothing had been done.In fact, instead of solving the problem, the state government proposes to merely remove the sewage out of sight and into another river. In compliance with a 1998 Supreme Court order on curbing pollution in Patancheru industrial belt and its adjoining area, the state government intends to divert effluents from this region into the Musi river through a pipeline.

With the situation showing no signs of progress, protests forced the local administration to carry out a joint inspection report headed by the then District health officer in Dharwad in August 1979. The inspection revealed that the Harihar-Grasilene effluent treatment plant did not function regularly, and that 70-80 per cent of effluents were being released into the river untreated. Harihar-Grasilene's new treatment plant was built in December 1983. In February 1984, a massive fish kill was reported in the Tungabhadra, downstream of the factories. Seriously worried by now, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) issued orders to the company prohibiting production.

In 1981, a plan was floated for shifting the worst affected Nalvagul village to the adjoining Kodiala village; the entire cost was to be borne by the Grasim factory. However Grasim refused to fund the transfer because it claimed it had adequate treatment facilities. Although the Birlas argued that villages were not affected by pollution, in 1999 they agreed to pay Rs 261.11 lakh under government pressure. A year later they released another Rs 50 lakh to the district collector of Haveri district.

In 1994, after another fish kill downstream of Harihar and Grasilene factories, residents of nearby Airani village collected water samples and took them to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board. The KSPCB issued a show cause notice alleging that Grasim was operating without permission under the Water and Air Act.

People's Movement

As is evident, all the government has done is form committees. That too was brought about by the incessant protests of the villagers and several non-governmental organisations (NGO's). The joint inspection report headed by the district health officer in Dharwad in 1979 was also a result of the rampant protests.

Any hope of compensation for the victims of pollution also owes itself to people's protests. In response to the 1994 fish kill, the Tungabhadra Parisara Samiti, an organization of affected persons and their sympathizers, held regular protests and processions. Activists also wrote letters to senior politicians as well as the district administration, to little effect. Then, 62 members of the Harihar Taluk Guttooru fishermen's co-operative society filed a case against the industry asking for medical aid and a compensation of 18,000 per person for their loss. Thereafter, the industry agreed to give a meager sum of Rs 2,000 as compensation after 8 years in April 2002. In protest, the fisherfolk society filed an application with the additional civil judge, Harihar and the free legal aid cell, for their mediation. However, so far little has come out of the legal battle. Some of the members are now ready to settle the case with whatever compensation the industry is ready to offer.

However, the plight of the Tungabhadra underscores the fact that beyond a point, most industries put up their hands, saying that they can do so much and no more -- acceptable pollution levels can well go for a toss. The state needs the industry's revenue and gains -- direct as well as indirect. If, in the bargain, public health and a national property (the river) are destroyed, well, that's too bad. The industry continues making money at the cost of everything else. The media goes on discussing the problem. But nothing ever seems to change for the better.

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