Guruvayur temple remains a symbol of ‘purity’ for millions
of devotees. But it’s polluting the entire region by not treating
IT WASN’T long ago
that priests at Kerala’s famed Krishna temple in Guruvayur conducted a
punyaham — a cleansing ritual by water — following the entry of Mercy Ravi, wife of Union Minister for NRI Affairs Vayalar Ravi, who happened
to be born a Christian. The sighting of the deity by a non-Hindu had polluted
Krishna and only several baths could rid the taint, goes the belief. But
now comes a shocker. A test conducted by the Environmental Engineering
Laboratory of Thrissur’s Government Engineering College has shown that
the water used in the temple, including for the cleansing rituals, itself
swarms with human excreta and all kinds of organic waste.
The water in the temple
tank was found to have an MPN count (most probable number) of coliforms
— bacteria found in human excreta —of 1,100/100 ml. The Central Pollution
Control Board’s permissible MNP count for drinking water is 50 and 500
for bath water. The BOD count (bio-chemical oxygen demand), another key
indicator of purity, was estimated at 22.8 mg/litre, against the permissible
levels of 2 and 3 mg/litre.
The 110-odd lodges
and an equal number of marriage halls run by the Guruvayur Devaswom Board
as well as the restaurants in the temple town do not have a single septic
tank among them to process organic waste. A trip to the backwater region
of Chakkamkandam, just outside Guruvayur, is best undertaken with nostrils
firmly closed. The waste generated in Guruvayur is being released into
what used to be a rain-water drainage system leading to the backwaters.
This is affecting about a dozen panchayats outside the Guruvayur municipal
limits of over 1,500 families, most of whom are dependent on the backwaters
for their livelihood, be it fishing or coir making. All this when Chakkamkandam
falls within the Coastal Regulatory Zone.
KV Rugmini, who often visits the Guruvayur temple, says her house is so
close to the drain that her children feel nauseous all the time. Puthuveetil
Amina, 65, lives alone in her old house situated right in front of the
drain. She says even the water in her well is not potable but she is forced
to drink it because she has no access to the municipal supply. According
to Manikantan, who used to sell fish from the backwaters, no one buys
fish from the region anymore. The fishermen of old have also taken to
other livelihoods following skin diseases caused by the contaminated water.
Human excreta can
be seen floating everywhere in the Chakkamkandam backwaters. A holiday
resort with about a dozen cottages was recently constructed close to the
backwaters but there have been few visitors. The scale of pollution in
the region is so much that even Kerala Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
refused to drink the coconut water at the resort’s inauguration.
Comically, the Guruvayur
Municipal Corporation had planned to construct a sewage treatment plant
way back in 1982 and that too outside the municipal limits. The initial
cost estimate was Rs 44 lakh, but Rs 55 lakh have already been spent on
the plant. However, all one gets to see of it is an asbestos tool shed
on a part of the backwaters that has been filled for the purpose. Most
coir manufacturing units around the backwaters lie closed now. Skin and
intestinal diseases are common among the locals. Says lawyer-turned-environmental
activist Bobby Kunhu, “The question here is how does the municipal body
allow these lodges to function without a working septic tank?”
Laila Hamza, member
of the local panchayat, wants the government to construct septic tanks
for “each and every hotel, lodge and restaurant in Guruvayur”.