Arkavathi interrupted

ECOLOGICAL IMBALANCE

There are many instances where development has eaten into verdant forests, pristine rivers, vast tracts of farm lands and has upset the ecological balance. Rampant sand mining, quarrying coupled with industrialisation have led to the virtual death of River Arkavathi near Bangalore.

Arkavathi takes birth in the Nandi Hills near Chikkaballapur and merges with the Cauvery, all the way connecting 45 tanks and 375 storage tanks. River Kumudavathi from Shivaganga Hills joins the journey at Thippagondanahalli, Suvarnamukhi and Vrushbhavati at Doddamudavadi.

The long course of the river, however, has shrunk over the course of time. The death of the 190-km journey of the Arkavathi can be attributed to three major factors, including rampant encroachment, industrial pollution and thirdly, sand quarrying.

The extent of encroachment can be gauged from the fact that the river has changed its course, thanks to sand quarrying.

As a result, 90 per cent of the tanks which the river was known to feed have not been full in the last 15 years. Encroachments can be spotted right at the Bashettyhalli railway gate. Water from the river is not reaching the nearby Nagarakere tank. Industrial effluents are being discharged into the dry tank, which flow to Veerapura and Majarahosahalli villages downstream.

More than 200 industries discharge their effluents into the river on the outskirts of Doddaballapur. “Stagnation of polluted water has led to contamination of ground water. Water in the open wells is unfit for human consumption. Repeated complaints to the Pollution Control Board have gone in vain,” said Shivakumar, a member of the Village Welfare Committee.

Two decades ago, all the villages on the periphery were dependent on the tank. Now, water from the tank have been declared unfit for farming by the Irrigation Department. The contaminated water has also affected the local economy. Vegetables were cultivated on about 350 acres utilising the tank. Following pollution, the yield dwindled and the crops too became prone to various diseases.

Unable to bear the increasing expenses, a majority of the farmers stopped growing vegetables, points out Prakash, another member. Taluk Panchayat member Vijaykumar, a doctor himself, explains that the pollution has led to an increase in incidence of skin diseases and infections of the upper respiratory tract.

The polluted water then flows to Doddatumakur and Chikkatumakur. The degree of pollution goes up along the course, near an aluminium factory, where more effluents are discharged into the river, which ultimately reaches Thippagondanahalli reservoir through Madavara tank.

According to a circular issued by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, sand quarrying and industrial activities are prohibited in a one-km radius of the river’s course.
According to a study conducted by the Cauvery Neeravari Nigama Limited on the Arkavathi basin in the year 2010, widespread sand quarrying, formation of layouts, encroachment by industries, preference for water-sapping trees (such as eucalyptus, casuarina, acacia etc) and switching over to commercial crops has narrowed down the river course.

There has been a significant change in farm practices over the years. The once flourishing betel and areca gardens have vanished now. The population in the river basin has increased manifold. The number of borewells has gone up in spite of which it has not been possible to meet the demand for drinking water, according to Mahesh Bhat, a resident of Hesaraghatta.

The flow of the polluted Arakavathi does not stop at Thippagondanahalli. It further flows to Ramanagara. Vrushabhavati and Suvarnamukhi join Arkavathi at Doddamuduvadi and all the three confluence into the Cauvery at the Sangama in Kanakapura. It is the same Cauvery water which is supplied to Bangalore in four stages.

Villagers allege that the Pollution Control Board has failed to prevent industries from discharging effluents into the river. The programmes chalked out for rejuvenation of the river basin have not taken off in a big way. The need of the hour is a community action to restore the river to its former glory.

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