When Rajan invested Rs 2 lakhs for installing ‘cheena vala’ (Chinese fishing net) a few years ago, he had assumed that he would get a return on his investment and be able to pay off his debt. But the fisherman from Varapuzha, a suburb of Kochi, has now lost hope. The catch in the Periyar river has been dwindling, with fishermen often finding dead fish floating.
Like Rajan, inland fishermen in hamlets surrounding the Periyar river in Ernakulam district like Varapuzha, Kadamakkudy and Manjummel, are in despair over the sheer number of fishes found dead over the last few years. Fishermen and various associations related to protection of Periyar river allege that industrial effluents are responsible for fishes dying.
“We invest in installing these fishing nets by taking loans with the hope that we can retrieve at least a nominal amount in a year. But the present situation indicates that we can no longer do that. Unless the issue has a permanent solution, we can no longer make a proper living out of traditional inland fishing practices,” said Rajan, a traditional fisherman and representative of an inland fishers’ forum in the area to TNM.
Eloor, a small municipality in Ernakulam district, which is located between two distributaries of the Periyar river, houses more than 200 industries. It is alleged that effluents from this industrial belt is the cause for pollution.
Fishermen, Rajan said, can often predict the days when fishes will be found dead. “On such days, the river will be yellowish in colour in the morning. By noon, it will be reddish and by evening it turns milky. Even under these circumstances, officials of KSPCB often denies the fact that industrial effluents have a role in this,” said Rajan.
Fishes like ‘Poolan’ or Tank Gopy, which dwell inside the mud can even be seen floating dead when water changes its colour. According to fishermen, the mud-dwelling fishes usually have more resistance than others.
Around 350 traditional fishermen in Varapuzha took part in a protest march to the surveillance centre of Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in Eloor on Thursday, where these industries are located. The members of fishermen’s forum under the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh which led the protest said that a petition will soon be filed in the High Court. They alleged inaction on the part of officials of KSPCB in taking action on the erring industries. “Though KSPCB officials in Eloor told us today that they will forward the matter to higher ups, we do not believe that will bring any change. So we have decided to take up this matter to the court,” said Rajan.
The deep distrust among the fishermen is owing to a report by KSPCB. The November report by the Surveillance Centre of KSPCB at Eloor, appeared to exonerate industries located on the banks of the Periyar river. While it stated that water quality is being assessed by the surveillance centre, the report claims that only six industries released effluents into the river.
According to the report, some industries which are not functioning store harmful chemical waste in its premises. “Steps have been initiated to remove those waste from the area,” said the report.
Moreover, the report also listed other reasons for the pollution. “The Pathalam regulator cum bridge is constructed across the river to regulate salt water intrusion in the river. But because of improper functioning of the regulator, quality of water gets affected at times,” report added.
It also stated that leachate (a liquid that drains out) from markets in Aluva and Kalamassery municipality contribute to the pollution of the river. “Though this has been notified to municipality officials of these areas, there has not been any reply,” report said.
Jana Jagradha, an organisation which works in Ernakulam district for the protection of Periyar river said they were taken aback by the report. “We have no idea how they were able to give a report like this when everyone could clearly see that the river was changing colour followed by fish dying very often. It is very weird that the pollution control board officials cite effluents from markets in Aluva and Kalamassery as the reason behind fish deaths,” said Muammed Iqbal, member of Jana Jagradha.
They, in fact, claimed that incidents of fish dying had reduced recently because of frequent monitoring by people in the area. But there was a spike in fish deaths since last December. “We have been always following up the issue and when this started again, we gave a complaint to District Collector and Revenue department,” said Shabir, another member, adding, “We have done many protests regarding this but all have gone in vain. We are hopeful that at least the government will open its eyes when they see fishermen protesting themselves.”
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