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Pampa Pollution Set To Soar As Pilgrimage Season Draws Near  
Source:   Business line City   : Kochi Published On   08-11-2009  


As yet another Sabarimala pilgrimage season is round the corner, pollution of the Pampa river is threatening 40 lakh inhabitants in the river basin with serious water-borne diseases.

“Even though not well-documented, from mid-November to mid-February, several water-borne diseases and multi-drug-resistant diseases are on the rise in the Kuttanad region, which could be attributed to the increased contamination and pollution of the Pampa river during the pilgrimage season which begins on November 16 and lasts till January 19,” says Dr B. Padmakumar, Associate Professor, General Medicine, Alappuzha Government Medical College.

The only solution to this serious problem is “setting up of required infrastructure such as high-capacity sewage treatment plants at Pampa and Sannidhanam and proper drainage system, keeping in mind the increasing number of pilgrims every year, so as to arrest the discharge of faecal and other hazardous wastes into the river,” he told Business Line.

“Water-borne diseases appear to be have become endemic in Kuttanad, which is surrounded by water and lies below the sea level, because of water contamination, including that used for drinking purposes,” Dr Padmakumar said.

A major water-borne disease which has become common throughout the year is Hepatitis caused by drinking water contaminated by human excreta. Typhoid has also become endemic in the region with 28 patients admitted to the medical college in January and February. In 2008, the total number of patients admitted with the disease was 154.

Typhoid is common in Kuttanad of late and “the peculiarity is that it is resistant to common antibiotics. In fact, incidence of this disease is noticed only during the monsoon season in the State. But in Kuttanad and surrounding areas, it is reported throughout the year and has become endemic,” Dr Padmakumar said.

Similarly, acute diarrhoeal disease is also endemic with 42 patients admitted in January and February, while the total admission with this ailment was 100 in 2008.

According to a recent study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, on the contamination of the drinking water in Kuttanad, the presence of coliform bacteria was very high, Dr Padmakumar said.

According to the WHO standards, drinking water should not contain coliform bacteria at all, he pointed out.

Realising the seriousness of the issue, projects aimed at keeping the river clean were included in the first phase of Pampa Action Plan (PAP) under the National River Conservation Programme approved by the Centre about 7 years ago.

In fact, the decision to include the river in the NRCP scheme was taken following findings of high presence of coliform bacteria in the river water after quality monitoring done by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) as per the directions of the Kerala High Court. The Court has brought to light the urgent need for an action plan for cleaning up of the river, Mr M K S Nair, General Secretary, Pampa Parirakshana Samithi told Business Line.

In addition, dozens of super-speciality hospitals and hotels have come up on the banks of the Pampa and the complete wastes from these institutions except for very few are discharged into the river aggravating the situation further, he alleged.

Given this situation the KSPCB sources said “water quality of Pampa river be improved/upgraded in its entire stretch not only for use of water for pilgrims and in the townships situated within the basis, but also for improving water quality in the downstream stretches, especially in the water logged areas of Kuttanad and Vembanadu Lake.," Non-implementation of the first phase of PAP designed to arrest fully the discharge of all kinds of wastes including chemicals and faecal materials in to Holy river Pampa has become a cause of concern as the next Sabarimala Pilgrimage season is to begin from Nov 16, he said.

The Directorate of National River Conservation (DNRC) under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had accepted the Rs 319.70-crore project, submitted by the State Government on December 19, 2002, to be completed in three phases, following the inclusion of the River Pampa in the NRCP in June 2001.

Subsequently, for the implementation of the first component of the project involving a total investment of Rs 18.45 crore the NRC Directorate had sanctioned its 70 per cent share of the cost — Rs 12.91 crore in June 2003. The Centre had also made available Rs1.75 crore as advance to the state which said to have utilized Rs1.46 crore for constructing two check-dams and two bathing ghats.

But, even after seven years it had not set up the highly essential infrastructures required to stop pollution of the river Pampa such as sewage treatment plants at Sabarimala and Pampa, toilets and bathrooms for the pilgrims, and an incinerator at Sabarimala besides putting in place a better drainage system. The authorities had announced at a meeting in June 2007 that the work on these projects would be taken up by Feb 2008 so as to be completed before the commencement of the next season in mid-November. "But, nothing has happened so far", official sources said.

The government has, however, set up full-fledged cardiology centres en route the steep 4-km climbing path from Pampa to Sannidhanam and it would help the pilgrims with heart ailments. According to Dr Padmakumar, the devotees above 40 years of age and have previous records of heart ailments should undergo a pre-pilgrimage medical check up and obtain clearance from qualified physicians before embarking on the pilgrimage.

According to doctors who have performed duty at Pampa most of the pilgrims report with complaints related to heart ailments said have not observed the austerity measures for the specified period.

There should also an awareness campaign launched in all the states amongst the devotees about the need to keep the trekking path mainly from Pampa to Sannidhanam and the environments clean. Besides, they should be aware of the arduous climbing stretch in this area, they said adding “the cooperation of the pilgrims and others engaged in commercial activities is also essential to ensure overall safety.

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