//Life returns to Chaliyar river

Life returns to Chaliyar river

From R Gopakumar DH News Service Kozhikode

Aug 26, 2005

Doctors say the impact of the pollution caused by Grasim on the people will be known only after watching the next generation in the affected panchayats
The swelling fish wealth of Chaliyar river may well be the unmistakable signs of its recovery from a 40-year-long spell of toxic effluent discharge. Local people and environmentalists do not remember any mass fish mortality in recent years though it was common till some years ago. In fact, Deccan Herald saw not just renewed fishing activity in the river but also the flip side of no pollution— indiscriminate sand mining.

“It is not just that several of our favourite fish varieties are back, even they taste better than what it used to be earlier,’’ claims Dr P K Dinesh, physician at the medical centre at Vazhakkad panchayat where the Save Chaliyar struggle had begun modestly decades ago. It has been four years since the Mavoor unit of the Birla-owned Grasim Industries’ pulp and fibre divisions wound up ending the effluent discharge into the river and as well as the release of toxic fumes into the air.

For about 40 years, the double impact was alleged to have caused illnesses ranging from respiratory diseases to skin rashes and cancer in people living near the river. The District and Sessions Court here had recently upheld the verdict of the Chief Judicial Magistrate sentencing top officials of the company to 18 months jail and imposing penalties. This was for allowing toxic effluent to flow from the factory into the Chaliyar river.

Dr Dinesh is one among several doctors in the district who had reported a high incidence of chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and skin diseases in the panchayat at the height of the Save Chaliyar struggle.

Drop in diseases

“There was an immediate drop in bronchial diseases among children in the two years after the factory closed down. But, this year there has been a spurt in these diseases among children,’’ he said.

When Deccan Herald revisited Vazhakad and Mavoor panchayats, the hotspots of the State’s first environmental struggle, the air was noticeably free from the pungent smell of sulphides. However, hundreds of disease-stricken people still languish in the areas surrounding the factory without any compensation. “No comprehensive study has been done on the impact of the pollution on the local population,’’ admits panchayat chief M P Abdulla. “But I suggest we look ahead and try to compensate for the jobs lost. At least 3,000 people were directly employed in the factory,’’ he said. He points out that Chaliyar was now being threatened by the sandmining mafia.

Mr Abdulla is one of the successors of K A Rehman who led Vazhakkad panchayat’s fiery agitation to close down the factory before succumbing to cancer in 1999. The Congress panchayat chief has now petitioned Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to get back the land acquired by the government for Grasim Industries 40 years ago for industrial purpose.