The Tamil Nadu Government has taken the battle with Kerala over the construction of check dams over the Bhavani river to the Centre.
But in Mettupalayam, residents who do have access to water, are waging a different battle, this against the river’s increasing toxicity.
On Monday, the Save Bhavani Trust, an organisation consisting of social activists from Mettupalayam submitted a memorandum to the Coimbatore district Collector demanding that the sluices of barrages constructed by TN government in the river, forcing the water to stagnate and collect sewage, be opened immediately.
On January 23rd, the National Human Rights Council had issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu Government over hazardous water supply from the Bhavani river in Mettupalayam. The NHRC has reportedly given the State Government eight weeks to reply to the notice with steps that can be taken to resolve the issue, time that residents in Mettupalayam claim they do not have.
A water quality report brought out by the Tamil Nadu water supply and Drainage board shows that potable water supplied to 1.5 lakh residents from the Bhavani river in Mettupalayam is unfit for consumption. The report dated October 19, 2016, says that water is bacteriologically unsafe due to the presence of faecal coliform, which comes from human and animal excreta.
“The NHRC has taken suo-motu cognisance of the matter but we still went to the collector today because the matter of toxicity must be addressed immediately,” says M Su Mani, secretary of the Save Bhavani trust. “Given the circumstances, allowing the stagnation of water to continue will only aggravate the existing problem.”
The main source of water contamination was found to be the discharge of sewage water from 28 canals in the municipalities and untreated water from industrial units. While the sources of pollution to the water body is not new, the prevention of the natural flow of the water has intensified the problem.
“In 2001, the Erode Unit of the Tamil Nadu Electricity board constructed 2 barrages in the river to generate electricity,” says M Jaikumar, Joint Secretary of the trust. “The project was supposed to generate 20 MW power. But the final power generated is only close to 4MW. Not only are these barrages of negligible use but what is worse is that stagnating the water has allowed sewage to collect in it. At least it used to be carried away by the running water before,” he adds.
The trust which claims to represent the people of Mettupalayam has listed out 5 demands in its memorandum to the Collector, chief among which is to ‘stop the practice of prevention of natural flow of the river in the name of meager power generation and immediately open the sluices of the barrages to clear out the stock of toxic water.’
Residents claim the number of people being affected by water borne diseases are on the rise. “The poor, especially those who cannot afford to access bore or canned water and are dependent on the river for drinking water, are the ones who are most affected,” says the Trust secretary. To counter this menace in the future, the Trust further demands the speedy implementation of an underground drainage water system.
According to data collected by the Save Bhavani Trust from the Government Hospital in Mettupalayam, 174 residents were treated for water borne diseases in 2012, the number doubled to 364 in 2013, rose to 427 in 2014 and stood at 489 in 2015. In 2016, 81 cases of water borne diseases have been reportedly recorded till February.
“We learned through certain people that TANGEDCO, which runs this project, did not even get a no objection certificate from the State Pollution board before the barrages were built,” says Su Mani. “We have sent them multiple letters, demanding clarification but they are yet to give us a satisfactory response.”