Rivers of poison

The unabated pollution of Nilgiris’ water bodies poses a grave risk to the region’s fragile ecosystem, its people and wildlife At first sight, Neerkasi Mundh, a Toda hamlet about 15km south of Udhagamandalam (Ooty), near the Sandynallah reservoir is the epitome of pristine, montane beauty.
The Todas are a pastoral tribe who used to be entirely dependent on their buffaloes.
“We’re pastoralists, and until a few decades ago, this entire region — surrounded by pines and eucalyptus — was grazing ground for the buffaloes.
“There are some major catchment areas in the Nilgiris, and parts of the Mukurthi national park receive more than 6,500 mm of rainfall,” says K Mohanraj, long-time resident of Ooty and consultant to WWF.
Four major river basins criss-cross the Nilgiris — Bhavani, Moyar, Chaliyar and Kabini.
Proving pollution The WWF’s three-year study of the water quality in the upper reaches of the Moyar and Bhavani has pinpointed the primary polluters — untreated sewage from Ooty and Coonoor; and effluents from the Indian Ordnance Factory in Aruvankadu and Sterling Biotech in Sholur.
Sanket Bhale, senior manager — water stewardship at WWF says, “Wildlife and communities living downstream from these pollution sources are most exposed to the risk of gastrointestinal diseases.” Coonoor town discharges five MLD of untreated sewage into the Kallar river, which flows down to Mettupalayam.
The Pykara empties directly into Moyar river, and through underground piping into Singara river.
Ooty, too, needs an upgrade of its sewage treatment plants, since it generates more waste than we can treat.” Officials of the State pollution control board are yet to acknowledge the severity of the situation.
When there is good rain, the pollution load doesn’t show; it’s a problem only when it doesn’t rain,” says S Panneerselvam, district environmental engineer, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

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