Translated literally, Subarnarekha means 'streak of gold'. With
a drainage area of 1.93 million ha this smallest of India's
major inter-state river basins is a mute host to effluents from
various uranium mining and processing units. While most rivers
in the country are classified -- depending on the pollution
load -- on a 'best designated use basis, the Subarnarekha
defies any classification, as the existing parameters do not
The rain-fed Subarnarekha originates 15 kms south of Ranchi
on the Chhotanagpur plateau draining the states of Jharkhand,
Orissa and West Bengal before entering the Bay of Bengal. The
total length of the river is 450 kms and its important tributaries
include the Raru, Kanchi, Karkari, Kharkai, Garra and Sankh
The only streaks visible in the river are those of domestic,
industrial or - incredibly - radioactive pollution. Subarnarekha's
rich resource base has spelled doom for the basin. Between Mayurbhanj
and Singhbhum districts, on the right banks of the Subarnarekha,
are the countrys richest copper deposits. The proliferation
of unplanned and unregulated mining and mineral processing industries
has led to a devastating environmental degradation of the region.
Improper mining practices have led to uncontrolled dumping of
overburden (rock and soil extracted while mining) and mine tailings.
During monsoons, this exposed earth flows into the river, increasing
suspended solid and heavy metal load in the water, silting the
dams and reservoirs.
Quarrying of construction material, such as granite, basalt,
quartzite, dolerite, sandstone, limestone, dolomite, gravel,
and even sand, has created vast stretches of wasteland in the
river basin. Used and abandoned mines and quarries are a source
of mineral wastewater and suspended solids.
Subarnarekha also has to bear radioactive waste that enters
the river through seepage from tailing ponds of the Uranium
Corporation of India at Jadugoda. It has three productive uranium
mines, all within a 5 km radius: Jadugoda, Batin and Narwapahar.
The uranium ore is mined from underground and brought to the
surface. Uranium is then extracted and processed to make 'yellow
cake', an ingredient used to fuel nuclear plants. What is left
behind are 'tailings' or effluents comprising radioactive products,
which are mixed into slurry and pumped into tailing ponds. These
ponds, each covering about 160 ha of land and about 30 metres
deep are situated between adjoining villages.
No standards have been met in their construction and no measures
taken to control the emissions. Overflow and seepage from the
tailing ponds ultimately ends into the streams that feed Subarnarekha.
These radiations pose the greatest threat to human health, as
they harm living cells, often leading to genetic mutation, cancer
and slow death.
Subarnarekha is the lifeline of tribal communities inhabiting
the Chhotanagpur belt. Once these communities made a living
out of the river's gold and fish. But today the polluted Subarnarekha
has little to offer. Between 5,000-6,000 families of local tribals,
including the fishing community of Dharas, residing on the riverbanks
from Mango in Jamshedpur to Bharagora, have been affected by
the rivers pollution.
Oil and slug deposits on the riverbed deter the growth of moss
and fungi, vital food for fish, hindering the movement of Hilsa
fish from the Bay of Bengal to Ghatsila. Even sweet water fish
like sol die in large numbers during their breeding season.
Reports reveal that villages in the region around Ghatsila such
as Kalikapara, Royam, Jadugoda, Aminagar, Benasol and Baraghat
are suffering from skin diseases. The male fertility rate has
also declined. Unfortunately, people have not been active in
protecting the river as yet, when they could do well and take
an example from other social movements in other river basins.
Government action has been all but absent in the basin. Although
the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) intends to clean
domestic waste generated from Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Ghatsila,
industrial pollution and runoff from mines is supposed to be
tackled by respective State Pollution Control Boards.
As most industries and mines in this basin fall in Jharkhand
state, the onus of checking pollution falls squarely on the
state's Pollution Control Board, which has a particularly poor
record in this regard. While the NRCP would definitely provide
welcome amenities to the three earmarked towns, it would be
premature to hope for an overall improvement in the quality
of the Subarnarekha's water until the pollution control board
carries out its duties.
Till then Subarnarekha, the stream of gold, will
continue bearing the brunt of industrial indifference and government's