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River Noyyal


The Noyyal rises from the Vellingiri hills in the Western Ghats and covers a total area of 0.35 million ha, the basin is 180 km long and 25 km wide. Cultivated land in the basin amounts to 0.18 million ha and the population density of the basin is 120 persons/ in the countryside, and 1000 persons/ in the cities. During Northeast monsoon this 173-km long tributary of the Cauvery, can fill up 32 eries (tanks).

Industrial effluents have already compromised agriculture in this basin by grossly polluting both the groundwater and the river. Today, the Noyyal that gives life to the arid Tirupur region is also said to be a dead river.

The Noyyal, being a seasonal river with a peak flow only during monsoon plays reluctant host the rest of the year to untreated sewage and industrial effluents from Coimbatore and Tirupur, the two main cities in its basin. Tirupur's textile industry uses bleaching liquids, soda ash, caustic soda, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, sodium peroxide, and various dyes and chemicals for its dyeing and bleaching processes. Other harmful substances include a number of dyes, many based on benzidine structures or heavy metals, both known to be toxic." Most of these chemicals are not retained in the finished hosiery goods, but are discharged as wastewater. The wastewater is acidic, smells terrible and contains dissolved solids, which increase the biological and chemical oxygen demand in water. With no freshwater available for dilution the groundwater from Coimbatore and Tiruppur is no longer suited for irrigation.

The effects of this pollution are becoming evident. Coconut cultivation has slumped because of the high saline-sodium nature waste that hardens irrigation water. In addition, about 1500 tonnes of colouring agents are used each year, one-fifth of which is flushed into water amounting to one ton per day. Local groundwater has become brackish and considerably harder over the past 10-15 years.

According to the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, every industry is required to get consent to discharge its effluents. However, the same Act also empowers state governments to exempt any region or area from the provisions of the Act. Thus, an exempt industry does not have to either bother with effluent discharge standards or apply for a license. This special status was granted to Tirupur in order to promote its textile units. The results of the PSB's greed-driven largesse can be seen floating as scum on the Noyyal.

Moreover, the appointment of the chairpersons of the state pollution control board (PCB) is a political one. So, when any government wishes to turn a blind eye to a polluting industry, it can ensure of compliance from the PCB. Tirupur is a case in point. In its eagerness to promote the textile industry, the Tamil Nadu government conveniently overlooked all the damage its actions would cause to the area's groundwater, to the Noyyal, and to agriculture in the region. Since then on protests by the people the industry and the government have only been passing the buck to each other as the reason for the delay in the measures for pollution control.

Finally pressure from the civil society and judicial intervention led the TNPCB to insist on effluent treatment facilities in Tirupur. As a result 424 dyeing units have constructed ETPs and 288 dyeing units are connected to 8 CETPs in Tirupur. Sadly, neither the Tirupur industry nor the state government has considered changing either the production process itself or the raw materials.

The industry has opposed the 'polluter pays' principle on the grounds that the foreign exchange they earn and the employment their industry generates is enough to warrant a high level of subsidies. The 'polluter pays' principle, upheld by the Supreme Court, implies that in the case of pollution, a party either bears the full cost of its activities or else shuts shop.

In both the Bhavani and the Noyyal basins, the state has responded to the pollution crisis at the eleventh hour. While the state pollution control board's belated actions and a vigilant civil society may still save the two rivers, several questions arise from this tangle. Can a state's industrial policy ignore other sections of society? Should a pollution control board act only after the civil society has pointed out the results of its inadequacies?

While there is some hope in the Bhavani basin, answers are wanting in the Noyyal basin.

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