Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hebbagodi still in troubled waters

Hebbagodi still in troubled waters
After an apparently successful battle for drinking water, it is paucity of funds that now crushes the hopes of Hebbagodi village.

While the Urban Development Department in November 2008 had directed the corporate Biocon -- alleged to be responsible for water pollution here -- to pay the monthly water bills of Hebbagodi and adjoining villages, the infrastructure for Cauvery water supply was to be first developed by the local bodies. The construction of water supply lines was to start on March 2, but fund crunch and restrictions paused by the code of conduct for the upcoming elections has caused work to be stalled for at least two months.

“Infrastructure development in Hebbagodi is estimated to cost Rs 2.7 crores.

District, taluk and village panchayats are supposed to bear the cost,” said Sadashiva Reddy, President of Hebbagodi Residents Association.

Of the 14 villages affected by pollution, Hebbagodi’s suffers most, says Reddy. The 185 borewells in the village are left unused as the water was found to cause skin diseases, diarrhoea, fever and vomiting. A water sample analysis jointly held by the Zilla Panchayat and the Mines and Geology Department in 2007 had shown that Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), an indicator of organic pollutants in water, was as high as 115 mg/litre, while the permissible limit is 20 mg/litre.

Biocon was set up in 1978, but it constructed an Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) in 2005 only. “The water and air pollution became noticeable in the late- 90s when the company started largescale manufacture of biopharmaceuticals,” said Sadashiva Reddy.

“Biocon does not release effluents now, but the effluents released before the setting up of ETP had caused contamination.

Also Cauvery water was supplied only to the industries and not villages. This violates the National Water Policy, which prioritises provision of drinking water over industrial supply,” said a senior official of Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).

Though many residents in Hebbagodi purchase mineral water now, government schools and health centres cannot afford this, affecting children the most. Muniratna, mother of three kids, said, “I have been purchasing water for Rs 30 per can everyday for the last four years, yet my kids suffer from recurring fever. Treatment is ineffective and doctors have only recommended change of water. The private water supply costs as much as Rs 50 per can sometimes and many cannot afford it.” “I receive at least two cases of pollution- related ailments everyday. But we have facilities to provide primary care only,” said Dr Balaguruva Reddy, who runs a health centre in the village. But villagers hardly care for financial compensation.

“It’s only water we need,” said Reddy.

Biocon’s response “Biocon is a zero discharge facility and has taken steps to upgrade the ETP in consultation with KSPCB. The hardness of ground water in Hebbagodi could be due to depleting ground water resources.

Sewage from the increasing population and industrial effluents must be treated to prevent contamination.”

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