No effect of lockdown: Vrishabhavathi continues to be dirty and stinky

Environment Top story

Entire Bengaluru’s sewage is released into the river, says official of Pollution Control Board

By Aman Bhardwaj and Shoby Krishna G

Despite the closure of industries that released effluents into it, the Vrishabhavathi remains dirty and smelly. The lockdown seems to have made no major difference to the health of the river.

As in pre-lockdown days, people cover their noses while crossing the bridge over the river at Kumbalgodu.

NewsNet saw dogs, cows and buffaloes chewing on garbage dumped near the river, which flows through southwest Bengaluru. Garbage still impedes the flow of murky water at Kumbalgodu.

The river smells as bad as it did before, said a ragpicker who lives in a hut near the water body.

“People throw garbage near the river because they do not want to walk far due to the lockdown. Even the garbage van doesn’t come here on a regular basis. When they throw garbage near the river, wind scatters it. Some of it falls into the river, making it dirtier,” said the ragpicker, who refused to share his name.

“In the evening, some people come and set fire to the garbage, further polluting the environment,” the man in his thirties added.

An official from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board who did not want to be named said: “The entire city’s sewage is flowing into it, and the river’s condition has not changed drastically since the lockdown. Till now, even an action plan has not been prepared by the Karnataka government to save the river.”

About efforts made to rejuvenate the river, the official said: “All along the river’s course, sewage treatment plants (STPs) are supposed to be established. But only some of the STPs are functional.” The rest are under construction or at a proposal stage.

Asked if the lockdown could have a drastic impact on the river’s water quality, Akshay Heblikar, director of Ecowatch, an NGO, said: “I don’t think the river has become so clean, considering the amount of chemicals and sewage in the river. There might be a slight improvement, maybe 15-20%, due to the lockdown.”

One month of lockdown is not enough to rejuvenate the river. “All sorts of waste is dumped in it. It has been polluted for years,” he added.

Dharmendra Kumar Arenahalli, a historian and civil engineer, said: “With a lockdown of just one month, you cannot expect the river to be fully clean and the pH level to come down to 7. It is not possible, because the river is contaminated with solid waste from thousands of factories in Peenya, as well as residential waste, since the 1950s. Till 1950, Doddabasavanna temple, Ganpathi temple and Gali Anjaneya temple used to take this river’s water for abhishekam to gods. In Nagarabhavi, near Bangalore University, the water looks clear as the river flows for a long distance and most of the solid waste is retained by stormwater drains. That does not mean it is safe to use. It looks clean, but it is not. You cannot even touch it. Now, though factory waste is not added, residential waste is added every day.”

If the Vrishabhavathi has to be rejuvenated, “we have to shift all residences along the course of the river and shut down industries letting waste into the river for at least a year.  Only then will there be some scope for the river’s survival,” Dharmendra Kumar  said.

Priti Rao, whose organisation, Soil and Soul, works for cleaning the Vrishabhavathi, said: “I visited the river as recently as two days ago. The water was black and frothy. Earlier, we couldn’t hear the sound of the water flowing, probably because the water was heavy with contaminants and increased turbidity. But now we can hear it a little better.”

The Observer, a newspaper brought out by IIJNM students, had carried a report in September 2017 on how five families consisting of 22 people lived by the Vrishabhavathi river in Kumbalgodu in the company of rats, cats, and dogs. They made a living by collecting and selling garbage dumped on the banks of the river. A report in The Observer in November 2017 said the river had become a dumping ground for waste.

The video was shot around 11 am on April 15, 2020

Image Credits: Aman Bharadwaj


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