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Let The River Run

ERAI RIVER OF CHANDRAPUR HAS A HISTORY OF BEING POLLUTED DESPITE IT BEING THE LIFELINE AND LIVELIHOOD FOR THOSE IN THE DISTRICT.

22nd December, 2020

Written by Aditi Alurkar

Artwork by Purvi Rajpuria

People should know these issues because they are connected to them, it isn’t about urban and rural, the problem is so massive that it is affecting both the parties.

You can’t step into the same water twice in a river, more so in the case of a polluted one. Erai Nadi (river), the primary river in Chandrapur, originates near Chimur taluka (Kasarbodi village) and flows for about 78 km before joining with the Wardha river at Hadasti.

The river has been a recurrent victim to pollution from domestic as well as industrial sources for several years now. Recently, environmentalist Suresh Chopane noticed a large slick of oil floating over the river at Datala point for many days and subsequently asked the MPCB (Maharashtra Pollution Control Board) to look into the matter.

Sanjay Vaidya, an ex corporator of Chandrapur said “People find it easy to place blame on CSTPS since the nallah flows through their premises, but only one reason is not enough to justify this pollution. This particular slick looked like diesel oil as opposed to furnace oil. It arises from the adjoining Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) workshop where heavy mining machinery and vehicles are cleaned and serviced, then the oil is washed into the river. Waste water from several surrounding settlements also adds onto it.”

Now, the MPCB then sent a notice to the suspected source of the spill, the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station (CSTPS), and are awaiting further action. The mainstream coverage of the issue has been disappointing to say the least…

The last time an urban Maharashtrians may have heard about this river was when Makarand Purohit from India Water Portal extensively covered how the width of the river’s bed was being cut down due to constant dumping from the WCL coal mine. Sure enough, the concern escaped the public memory soon after.

Makarand Purohit “People should know these issues because they are connected to them, it isn’t about urban and rural, the problem is so massive that it is affecting both the parties. It is about life existing in the affected area and how the environment is impacting it. It is a conflict of people vs industries, because the latter hold the power.”

The concern is magnified as pollution does not understand geographical boundaries. Zarpat, a tributary of Erai which consistently sees dumping of treated sewage, further pollutes Erai at their confluence. 

The Snag

Suresh Chopane explained how the pollution of the river is a persistent phenomenon and not an incident that takes place on the odd occasion.

“Every year, the monsoon percolates through the piles of rejected coal, this water leaches through and contaminates the river. Oils from furnaces often accidentally spill over, sometimes drums of oil fall over too. The pipes carrying ash in the vicinity in the bed of the river. Wastewater from the city cannot be ignored too, heavy metals, oils, detergents, treated sewages all flow into the river.”

Agricultural pollutants and domestic garbage are a major problem for they are dumped into the river by every village at its bank. Certain communal rituals like setting up cremation pyres on the riverside and throwing in ash, other ceremonial waste and even dead cattle further pollute the river to a considerable amount.

By virtue of flowing through forests in some parts, Erai finds a way to naturally purify itself from controllable waste and flow year-round; but the real problems begin when the river’s trajectory crosses paths with WCL and CSTPS. Parts of these industrial setups are too old to meet the criteria of environmental safeguard but continue operating even as the new ones keep cropping up. Conservatory equipment like Flue-gas desulfurization (FGDs) are also not set up due to a lack of funds.

Consequently, the river is contaminated by acid mine drainage, fly ash and other discharges which affect the ecosystem and marine life of Erai along with the health and livelihood of all the folk depending on it. Symptoms of the pollution are already quite visible in the local inhabitants as they now get tired very soon, start aging early, and there is a damaging impact on their hair, bones, kidneys, etc. Cotton farms in the vicinity are ruined due to extensive soil pollution and it is impossible to imagine people fishing in Erai. Pollution has also catalysed the growth of plants that do not allow sunlight to reach the water below them, instigating mosquito breeding.

“Grids were offered to CSTPS to filter out the flow of the dirt and chemical float. Although the process was at a halt, we recently found it has started working on it again. CSTPS pollution happens majorly around monsoons while the one from WCL occurs all year round. Acidic water is pumped into the river, and during summers when the river water reduces, the acidic concentration increases marginally, to even pH 4 or 5.” said Dr. Yogesh Dudhapachare, the Head of Geography and Environmental Studies Department in Janta Mahavidyalaya College. 

The concern is magnified as pollution does not understand geographical boundaries. Zarpat, a tributary of Erai which consistently sees dumping of treated sewage, further pollutes Erai at their confluence. A similar concern continues when Erai merges with the bigger river Wardha, which carries the polluted water to other areas like Ballapur.

“This however cannot be said in case of all of the print media. WCL and CSTPS are some of the key advertisers which have given a commercial angle to many of the newspapers. On accepting money from them the print media hesitates to speak out against them. No one will acknowledge this slow poisoning until it turns into a complete epidemic.”

The Remedy

Symptoms of extreme damage are now visible due to the acute lack of remedial measures, which are essential to counter the necessary yet damaging development around the area. The once perennial Erai has started sporadically flooding and drying up, also affecting the groundwater in the areas surrounding. Keeping the brunt of this lifeline unchecked amounts to the pulling of the last straw for the people of Chandrapur, who have already been facing a shortage of water and excessive pollution for a long time.

The local media usually does its part by consistently printing news about the environmental damage the region faces thereby, mobilizing citizen awareness. The approach the citizens and the press take in such situations serves paramount. The active participation of local environmentalists, common folk and a culmination of several press conferences led to the feat of tiger conservation in Tadoba, the district’s forest. The negative fear-based approach towards the animal was transformed by the collective efforts of common folk and the media to bring about changes in conservation policies of the ministers.

“This however cannot be said in case of all of the print media. WCL and CSTPS are some of the key advertisers which have given a commercial angle to many of the newspapers. On accepting money from them the print media hesitates to speak out against them. No one will acknowledge this slow poisoning until it turns into a complete epidemic.”

The value of natural resources is only realized by the ones who grow up nurtured by them. With Chandrapur often lagging in the state’s priority list it has found ways to set precedents for itself. It must continue following it to save its lifeline.