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Pollution in Pampa posing health hazard

By Radhakrishnan Kuttoor

PATHANAMTHITTA JAN. 4 . The high level of pollution in the Pampa during the annual Mandalam-Makaravilaku pilgrim season at Sabarimala is posing a serious health hazard to lakhs of people living in the downstream reaches of Attathode, Vadasserikkara, Ranni, Kozhencherry, Aranmula, Chengannur, etc. Periodic flushing of the squalid waters from the Pampa bathing ghats in the foothills of Sabarimala has increased pollution in the downstream reaches.

The Pampa Parirakshana Samithi (PPS), an eco-group that has been campaigning for the cause of the Pampa for the past one decade, alleged that the State Government was primarily responsible for the pollution menace, which posed a high health risk to the over 30-lakh population in the Pampa river basin.

The State Pollution Control Board (PCB), on its part, appears to be indifferent to the problem.

Studies conducted by the PCB show that in spite of the flushing of the Pampa bathing ghats on alternate days, the average coliform count at the Pampa-Triveni was 60,000 to 70,000 per 100 ml, mainly due to the heavy inflow of filth from the Sannidhanam through the Njunangar stream and Kakkathode. The maximum permissible limit of coliform count is 500 per 100 ml of water.

The PPS general secretary, N.K. Sukumaran Nair, said the flushing out of filth from the bathing ghats would not solve the problem. Instead, it would pose high health risk to the people living in the river basin, he added.

Mr. Nair said a fool-proof pollution abatement scheme with a scientific waste disposal mechanism was the only way to check pollution in the Pampa.

The Pampa houses 18 major drinking water supply schemes.

As per the Central Water Act-1974, pollution of the Pampa amounted to criminal offence and both the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the State Government were primarily responsible for this, alleged V.N.Gopinatha Pillai, general secretary of the Manimalayar Samrakshana Samithi.

The Supreme Court has maintained that "clean drinking water is a fundamental right of all citizens". "Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees the right to life also includes the right to clean drinking water and the State was duty-bound to provide it," said Thomas P. Thomas, an environmentalist from Maramon, near Kozhencherry.

Dr. Thomas alleged that the criminal negligence on the part of the PCB in checking the flow of hospital waste into the Pampa through drainages at Kozhencherry and Ranni was also posing a high health risk to the people living in the river basin.

Dumping of solid waste by slaughter houses added to the problem, he said.

The policy guidelines prepared by the Union Government as part of the 10th Five-Year Plan envisaged cleaning up of the major river systems in the country by 2007 and cleaning up of all the rivers by 2012.

Pampa Action Plan

Though the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD), under the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment, had sanctioned the Central share (70 per cent) of Rs. 12.92 crores for the first phase of the proposed Pampa Action Plan (PAP), estimated to cost Rs. 18.45 crores, on May 3, 2003, the State Government was yet to take the necessary follow-up action. The Pampa is the first Kerala river to be included in the National River Conservation Programme (NRCP).

The NRCD had sanctioned 11 works in Sabarimala and surrounding areas even without obtaining the detailed project reports from the State Government, in view of the importance of Sabarimala.

Though seven months had passed, the State Government was yet to complete even the essential prerequisites for the implementation of the action plan aimed at checking pollution in the Pampa.

As per the NRCD guidelines, the State Government should submit detailed project reports (DPR) with cost estimates for various sub-components to the Union Ministry if the scheme is approved.

The State Water Resources Minister, T.M. Jacob, has announced that the Kerala Water Authority would be the implementing agency for PAP.

Meanwhile, the Government has decided that the Travancore Devaswom Board, the administrative body of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, would implement the 11 works sanctioned by the NRCD for Pampa and Sabarimala.

The TDB president, N. Babu, said the Board had already intimated the Government of its willingness to bear 30 per cent of the total project cost of the 11 works to be implemented in Sabarimala.

Ironically, the State Government was yet to comply with even the basic NRCD guidelines for the implementation of the Pampa Action Plan.

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