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
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.
The state government has failed to act despite the rivers
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.
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.