Incidents of fish deaths in the Periyar river passing through Kerala’s Ernakulam district have become quite frequent over the past months, raising concerns about the pollution levels in the water body. However, despite numerous protests by environment activists as well as the fishing community, no concrete action has been taken.
In the most recent incident, about hundred Indian anchovies (Kozhuva) were found dead along the banks of the Muttar river, a tributary of the Periyar, at Manjummel on Monday morning.
According Jana Jagratha, a collective working towards protection of rivers, the river water in that area had turned black on Sunday. “We had also seen many fish coming to surface of the water to gulp air. We strongly suspected then that there will be fish death the next day. Our suspicions were confirmed,” Mahesh Kumar, member of Jana Jagratha, told TNM.
Another member of Jana Jagratha and former councillor of Eloor municipality, Subaidha Hamsa, told TNM that fish deaths have been happening for many years now. “Pollution in Periyar river has always been a problem for the people living in the Eloor-Edayar industrial belt. After frequent protests by people, authorities took measures to reduce air pollution. But pollution in Periyar river has not changed a bit. Fish deaths continue to occur as before without any change,” she said.
Periyar River turned black on Sunday
According to Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) officials, the fish deaths are a result of eutrophication. Eutrophication happens when a water body becomes excessively rich in nutrients, promoting algae growth. This results in depletion of oxygen in the water for organisms such as fish.
However, the KSPCB has passed the buck to the Irrigation Department on the matter. The latter is in charge of operating the regulator-cum-bridge that regulates the quantity of water in the Muttar.
“The water quantity in the river was less, and with the shutters of the Pathalam regular-cum-bridge not being opened, it’s possible that organic waste got accumulated in the river’s downstream leading to eutrophication,” explained PB Sreelakshmi, environmental engineer of KSPCB’s surveillance centre in Eloor. “Operating the shutters of Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge on a daily basis is the only way to solve the problem,” she added.
Reacting to the blame by KSPCB, the Irrigation Department officials told TNM that it was not possible for them to operate the shutters of the regulator daily.
“Water from Periyar is used by people in the district for drinking and other purposes. Our main aim is to maintain the water quantity in the river. At present, the water level in Periyar is very low and we have closed the shutters of the regulator so that salt water intrusion from the sea can be prevented. If we open the shutters regularly as the Pollution Control Board says, it will lead to salinity and the water will become unusable for people,” said Radhakrishnan, executive engineer of Irrigation Department.
He added that shutters are presently being opened thrice in a week when there is high tide.
Meanwhile environmental activists urge that both KSPCB and Irrigation Department should seek out a solution for the issue. “There is no point in blaming one another. This is not a new issue which they are facing. Both the bodies have to reach a consensus and take action to stop recurrent fish deaths,” Mahesh Kumar said.