Environment paying the price for spiritual solace

The Sunday Express travels to Nashik and Trimbakeshwar to find that quarrying goes on in the hills.

Written by Rashmi Rajput | Mumbai | Published:July 19, 2015 1:00 am
Green kumbh, ghats, polluted ghats, polluted kumbh ghats, pollution, pollution control, pollution control meausres, nashik kumbh mela, kumbh mela, mumbai news, city news, local news, maharashtra news, Indian Express Foam seen at the mouth of the discharge point of the malfunctioning sewage treatment plant, which carries the water downstream to two newly-constructed bathing ghats in Nashik. (Source: Express Photo by Deepak Joshi)

As the Kumbh Mela gets under way, The Sunday Express travels to Nashik and Trimbakeshwar to find that quarrying goes on in the hills to build new akhadas, rivers are being degraded for constructing new ghats and pollution control measures are not functional, raising questions over the ‘Green Kumbh’ claims.

It has been promoted as the ‘Green Kumbh’ but the only sign of green is the accumulating moss on the Godavari river.

Although a few steps have been taken to maintain a ‘green’ theme, a deeper probe reveals that the ecological balance of the region is being compromised in the name of the Kumbh Mela. Local activists and environmentalists allege that hills and rivers in the vicinity are being degraded with the construction of new akhadas (residing areas for sadhus and mahant community) and ghats. There are fears that it could trigger a disastrous landslide like in Uttarakhand.

Activists said, to make things worse, the authorities are going slow on complaints in order to avoid a political backlash.

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Last month, the state government had issued notices to two akhadas for illegally quarrying in the Neel Parvat range. The notices accessed by The Sunday Express seeks an explanation on why the hills were dug and what kind of precautions the akhadas have taken while undertaking construction. “Notices have been issued and we have sought a reply from these two organisations,” district collector Deependra Singh Kushwah told The Sunday Express.

Government sources said that required action will be taken against the akhadas after the festival. “Taking action now might provoke extreme reactions from the sadhus and the mahant community and would become a political issue. Once the Kumbh is over, we will take necessary action against them,” said a source.

UNSTABLE HILLS
A trustee of the famous Trimbakeshwar temple, Lalita Shinde, whose petition on the degradation of the Godavari river is being heard by the National Green Tribunal, said that the government is buckling under pressure. “We have written to various authorities alerting them that Trimbakeshwar might meet the same fate as Uttarakhand if they continue to turn a blind eye to the quarrying being carried out. We made representations to the collector, but no action has been taken,” said Shinde.

“In June, when it rained continuously and heavily for a couple of days, muddy water started to flow. This is because the soil has become weak owing to non-stop construction. While the work on these akhadas has been on for over a year now, they have intensified in the last one month to accommodate the sadhus who will participate in the Kumbh festivities,” she added.

Shinde also alleged that two new ghats, Ganga and Godavari, are haphazardly constructed at the Trimbakeshwar shrine. “The sewage treatment plant (STP) installed to treat the sewage before it is released in the Godavari works intermittently and untreated waste enters the river. This filthy water then makes its way to the two newly-constructed ghats which patrons will use to take holy dip during the Kumbh,” she alleged.

When The Sunday Express visited the new ghats, the STP was shut and a heap of garbage was lying barely 100 metres from the new ghats. When we spoke to an official from the STP plant, she said that the plant was under repair and was shut for a day. The official, who did not to identify herself, said that the plant would be functional soon before the first shahi snan scheduled on August 29.

“The Bal Ganga that originates from Brahmagiri is now concealed in a 300-metre pipe and a concrete slab has been put over it to facilitate the movement of devotees from the market area to the main temple. By doing this, the authorities have throttled the river. Trimbakeshwar and 31 villages surrounding the shrine have been declared as an eco-sensitive zone and confining the river into a pipe and covering it with a cement slab is against the natural course of the river,” Shinde added.

‘TOXIC’ GHATS
The picture in Nashik is no different. Nashik is the second venue of the Simhastha Kumbh Mela. Environmentalist Rajesh Pandit claimed that two out of the seven newly-constructed ghats in Nashik will receive toxic water which is not fit for human consumption.

“The water released after it is treated at the sewage treatment plant is at the level of around 30 BOD (biological oxygen demand). For river water, the ideal BOD level should be less than 10. River water with more than 10 BOD is unfit for humans. The two ghats, Agartakali and Dasak, are 200-250 metres downstream to the existing STP and therefore, we wrote to the authorities for closing down of these two ghats during the Kumbh as its unfit for humans and might cause epidemics,” Pandit claimed.

A PIL filed by Pandit to restrict the use of Godavari river water and river bed for any kind of human consumption is being heard by the Bombay High Court. The petitioner has attached a copy of a recent report submitted by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) that indicates that the river water is unfit for human consumption.

“The treated water, after being released in the river, is meant only for irrigation and industrial purposes, but the water from the Godavari river is used for household purposes which is dangerous. Therefore, we have filed a PIL for closing down the use of such water for household purposes. Our immediate appeal is that lakhs of devotees would bathe in the already polluted water and increase the contamination. This could lead to epidemics and therefore the use of the water should be restricted,” he said.

When this newspaper visited the STP, a huge foam formation could be seen at the mouth of the plant’s discharge point. The same water flowed downstream to the two newly-constructed ghats, which were just a few meters away.

When contacted, divisional commissioner, Eknath Dawale, said that the guidelines issued by the Bombay High Court on the issue are being followed. “I am heading the committee that has been formed to look into the issue and we are submitting our progress reports bi-monthly and are following the guidelines issued by the court,”he added.

A Nashik Municipal Commission (NMC) official, on the condition of anonymity, said the fears are unsound as the authorities planned to discharge water from the dams during the snan.

“When the water is released from the dams, the BOD will come down to 10 and it won’t affect the pilgrims,” he added.

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