Tributaries of Cauvery: symbols of purity or pollution?

TROUBLED WATERS: Disposal of untreated sewage has polluted River Lakshmana Teertha near Hunsur. PHOTO BY AUTHOR

A journey along rivers Cauvery and Kapila, the lifelines of the Mysuru region, reveals a sorry state of affairs of our river management practices and poor understanding of the river ecosystem. River Kapila, also known as the Kabini, originates in Wayanad district of Kerala and joins River Cauvery at T Narasipura. Nanjanagud and T Narasipura are the two major pilgrimage centres located on the banks of Kapila. Rivers Kapila, Koundinya and a rivulet, Suvarnavathi, converge near Nanjanagud. In both the places, devotees take a holy dip and offer puja to the River Goddess. 

Poor water quality

A visit to the bathing ghats of both these places gives us a larger picture of how a river is meeting a slow death due to public apathy. The bathing ghats are filled with bundles of used clothes. As most of the devotees throw them inside the river, aquatic animals are facing danger. Plastic waste, detergents and other waste dumped into the river add to the burden on these water sources. Civil construction works in both the places is curbing the free flow of water, and weeds and algae reflect the level of pollution. 

At Nanjanagud, there are allegations that local bodies release sewage water directly to the river. Added to this, Nanjanagud has emerged as a preferred industrial area outside Bengaluru, raising concerns about the possibility of discharging effluents into the river. But the pollution control board authorities deny the possibility. A recent water quality analysis report prepared by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) mentions the water quality index at the bathing ghat in Nanjanagud as unsatisfactory. 

Various studies have revealed that the water quality is sinking and urgent action is required to protect the rivers from pollution. A study on the impact of anthropological activities on the water quality of River Cauvery has recorded high levels of total suspended solids (TSS) and total dissolved solids (TDS), phosphate, zinc, lead and chromium in the waters at T Narasipura. The biological oxygen demand (BOD) value of T Narasipura water sample also exceeded the standards. In another study, researchers A H Rajanna and S L Belagali mention that detection of pesticide residues in the water and soil of River Kabini shows a serious threat to the ecosystem.

Apart from industrial effluents, overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture on the river basin has led to the degradation of the river ecosystem. Other studies have pointed at pollution due to heavy metals and uncontrolled tourism activities as the main threats to the sustenance of the river course. The sustainable management of tourist facilities is a major challenge as this area is a popular tourist place. The tourist activities on the river bank are of great ecological concern as they are altering water quality and aquatic fauna.

All these don’t mean that locals are not aware of river issues. Raju Kumbar, a local cab driver and tourist guide, feels that all the problems started with the commercialisation of religious activities. Raghu, an MSc graduate and a quality inspector with a local firm, says, “There is no need for any test to prove that river pollution is rising and the river ecology is in danger. The river water is used for both drinking and agriculture purpose. This water is also crucial for the survival of wild animals. Stringent measures should be taken to save these lifelines.”

Awareness drives

Environmentalist Vasanthkumar Mysoremath says that a few years ago, environment enthusiasts took the cleaning drive at River Kabini with the help of volunteers and villagers. “We lifted nearly 12 trucks of garbage from the river. This included clothes, plastics, puja materials, etc. Once in three or four months we visit these places and organise a clean-up and awareness drive. Though there are bins to throw unused clothes near the river, devotees throw it to the river itself. Though we have requested with the temple authorities to monitor devotees they have not shown much interest,” he says.  

Sangama Kshetra in Srirangapatna, which is the confluence of three rivers, Cauvery, Lokapavani and Hemavathi, is also getting polluted by humans. “The river is polluted in many places. The absence of basic infrastructure like toilets and bathrooms has further stressed the river ecology,” says a local resident.

Lakshmana Teertha, which originates in Kodagu, is another tributary of River Cauvery.

The crystal clear water of the river changes soon after it enters Hunsur as the town’s sewage water is pumped into the river without any treatment. Many locals throw the solid waste into the river. Even though Lakshmana Teertha is one of the town’s main water sources, water quality analysis report prepared by KSPCB confirms it as unsafe for drinking.  

There were several efforts to save the river from pollution. But none of them yielded results. “The river is witnessing a slow death due to the flow of town sewage, and toxic elements from seepage water of tobacco fields. For the past several years, we have been urging the government to grant heritage river tag to Lakshmana Teertha. But no one is concerned about the river,’’ Vasanthkumar adds.

When contacted, M G Yathish, KSPCB environment officer for Mysuru Rural, said that the board has already filed a case against the chief officers of Town Municipal Council in Hunsur, T Narasipura and Nanjanagud, and the court hearings are still going on.

“These rivers are polluted because of the discharge of domestic sewage water directly into the river. The quality of the river’s water comes under C category. If it is industry, we can take action and shut it down. But here urban local bodies are responsible for the situation. Proper sewage treatment plants are the need of the hour to curb pollution and rejuvenate the river,’’ he said.


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Tributaries of Cauvery: symbols of purity or pollution?


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