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River Godavari


The second largest river in India, Godavari is often referred to as the Vriddh (Old) Ganga or the Dakshin (South) Ganga. The name may be apt in more ways than one, as the river follows the course of Ganga's tragedy: Pollution in this peninsular river is fast reaching unsafe levels. The Godavari originates near Triambak in the Nasik district of Maharashtra, and flows through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Although its point of origin is just 80 kms away from the Arabian Sea, it journeys 1,465 kms to fall into the Bay of Bengal. Some of its tributaries include Indravati, Manjira, Bindusara and Sarbari. Some important urban centers on its banks include Nasik, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Nizamabad, Rajahmundry, and Balaghat.

Like most other rivers, domestic pollution is the biggest polluter of the river Godavari, accounting for 82 per cent of total pollution, whereas industrial pollution accounts for about 18 per cent.

Over half of the river basin (18.6 million ha), is categorized as cultivable land. Most of the river’s water is drawn for irrigation purposes. Application of fertilizers is very high at 49.34 kg/hectares, almost double the country’s average. Pesticides are also applied at the high rates of 146.47 kgs/sq. km of which 79 per cent are organochlorines. However, the Central Pollution Control Board refuses to acknowledge the pollution created by such high levels of fertilizer and pesticide usage.

But the story of pollution in the Godavari river evolves around the tiny Nakavaggu rivulet, which joins the Manjira, a tributary of the Godavari. The rivulet is dead and supports no life. Highly productive agricultural land surrounds the rivulet. More than 150 small and medium industries and several large industries near the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad release their effluents into the Nakavaggu rivulet.

However most of the blame lies with the 72 industries in the Patancheru Industrial area that have been dumping their effluents into the river. Bereft of treatment facilities, industrial effluents are let out into streams that collect in ponds. This overflow later reaches the Nakavaggu. A drain leading to Nakavaggu also carries effluents from BHEL, Asian Paints, and Voltas industries.

Industrial discharge from such industries has severely affected public health, surface and ground water and agriculture in 22 villages in this area.

The river water is heavily used for agriculture, as it is the only available water source. However, the river’s water has turned the fertile soil toxic with heavy metals. The soil contains heavy metals like iron, nickel, zinc, copper, cobalt and cadmium.

Even the crop yield has suffered terribly. Before industrialization, the land’s crop yield was 40 bags of paddy per acre and is now a mere 10 bags. Toxic metals in the soil have contaminated the crops, penetrated animal milk and affected human health.

Incidence of cancers has also sharply risen, including leukemia in young boys, lung cancer in non-smokers and liver cancer. Medical experts attribute these increased rates to high water pollution. The polluted water has also seeped underground, contaminating groundwater, and the surrounding soil is contaminated due to acidification.

In 1993, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court ordered two paper mills in Paithan to stop discharging effluents into the river and ordered the Beed Zilla Parishad to supply drinking water for the affected villages.

During the hearing the state government admitted that the river was polluted since 1984. After prolonged agitation by farmers and pressure from citizen bodies, the district administration got the courts to serve notice to 22 industries giving them till September 1987 to establish individual Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP’s). After the farmers filed a writ petition against 220 industries in the high court, the government held a number of public meetings to discuss short- and long-term solutions. Twelve units were served closure notices on May 7, 1989. However, the industrial units obtained stay orders from the court. With the court order going in favour of the industries, he farmers filed petitions in the Supreme Court. The apex court ruled in favour of the farmers and asked the state pollution board to serve notices to 56 polluting industries asking them to provide safe drinking water to the affected villages, restore cultivable land, and provide monetary relief, medical care to the victims, and ordered sustained vigilance of the industrial discharge.

In compliance with the court order, the Andhra Pradesh government decided to lay down a pipeline carrying industrial waste from Patancheru to the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in Amberpet in 2001. The STP already discharged treated and untreated sewage into another river, the Musi. Instead of treating the waste, the government just diverted the waste to another river. With these developments it is clear that the government is least interested in solving the problem; it just wants to circumvent the court order.

What few steps taken to stop pollution in this river are the outcome of efforts by the citizens of Patancheru town and Hyderabad city. In 1986, citizens launched an awareness campaign against river pollution. Dr Kishan Rao, a medical practitioner from Patancheru and members of the Citizens Against Pollution (CAP) movement initiated the campaign. Combined with the affected communities, they formed the Patancheru Anti-Pollution Committee (PAPC) in 1986. Activists staged dharnas, relay hunger strikes and demanded that the state government end such pollution. Their protests also included a Patancheru bandh and a 40-km long march to the state assembly, where they presented a list of demands to the then chief minister, N T Rama Rao.

Their demands included that each industry construct an effluent treatment plant (ETP); that industries ensure adequate compensation for degraded agricultural land and that they supply safe drinking water to the affected villages. Farmers from the adjoining areas of Sultanpur, Gandigudem and Krishnareddypeta organized a rally as part of an awareness campaign in the Bollaram industrial area on August 18, 1986, blocking roads leading to the industrial area. Three days later, the PAPC held a dharna in front of the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) Rangareddy’s office. The outcome was a promise to control pollution.

Continuous pressure from the PAPC forced the district administration to serve notice to 22 industries in the area. The courts set a September 3, 1987 deadline to industries to build individual ETPs. However, in the absence of any substantial results after the due date, the PAPC announced its second phase of public protests by organizing a ‘race against pollution’ on September 12, 1987. About 500 bullocks obstructed the Hyderabad-Mumbai highway for over six hours. On October 9 that year, farmers filed a writ petition in the Andhra Pradesh High Court against 20 of the 22 polluting industries. (The two units, which were left out, had initiated steps to set up ETPs).

Lengthy legal process started. In 1988, the government held a series of meetings to discuss short- and long-term solutions. Though a common effluent treatment plant (CETP) appeared to be acceptable to most industries, some large industries claimed that they already had their own ETPs. While talks flitted from discussion table to boardroom, 12 units were served closure notice on May 7, 1989. After the industries obtained a stay order from the court, farmers and activists initiated another agitation -- a rasta roko at the Bollaram industrial area, which began on October 1990.

When a ruling by the division bench of the high court went in favour of the industries, farmers approached the Supreme Court through the eminent lawyer and Magsaysay award winner, M C Mehta. The five-year long battle saw the apex court asking the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to conduct an exhaustive report on industrial pollution in the Nakavaggu basin.

While the NEERI report suggested compensation for the farmers affected, the Supreme Court passed interim orders for industries to immediately cease releasing effluents into water bodies. The apex court observed that 56 industries were dumping untreated effluents into the Isakavagu and Nakavaggu, polluting the rivers. The court also sought provision of safe drinking water to the affected persons by October 1998, restoration of cultivable land by applying a suitable conditioner, that industries take remedial action for 13 tanks by the year 2000, medical care to pollution victims and sustained vigilance of industrial discharge.

The court order brought about some action. Piped safe drinking water from metro water works was provided at a project cost of Rs 5.5 crore. Monetary relief of Rs 2.13 crore has been paid to the victims of pollution. However, pollution controlled measures through CETPs is an unfinished task. Patancheru Enviro-Tech limited (PETL), which is responsible for monitoring and maintaining the CETPs, is managed by the executive board of 156 Patancheru industries. But only 80 of them send their pre-treated effluents to the three constructed CETPs.

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