Reeking lake that wreaks havoc

Reeking lake that wreaks havoc
Highlights

“This used to be a different place back then. We used to go for early morning swims, and catch fish in the evening. The lake used to give us everything we needed. Of course, we can’t say the same now,” says Batte Shanker, the 48-year-old Sarpanch of Edulabad.

“This used to be a different place back then. We used to go for early morning swims, and catch fish in the evening. The lake used to give us everything we needed. Of course, we can’t say the same now,” says Batte Shanker, the 48-year-old Sarpanch of Edulabad.

Edulabad is situated on the outskirts of Hyderabad, and is less than five to six km from the city's Outer Ring Road (ORR). A few decades ago, the Edulabad lake, spread over 800 to 900 acres, was one of the main sources of life for the village. Today, it is a stinking cesspool that froths due to toxic chemicals released by Hyderabad’s various pharmaceutical industries.

“According to legend, it is even older than Hyderabad itself and was artificially dug up and expanded by a Telangana poet in the 15th century. But all that doesn’t matter anymore,” a dejected Shanker adds. Shankar has been fighting for the lake since 2000, and 17 years down the line, he has lost hope that he will ever see the lake revived during his lifetime.

Hyderabad has been known for the past few decades as a hub for pharmaceutical and bio-tech companies in India. However, what often does not catch everyone’s attention is the tragic environmental consequences of these industries.

When the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (IDPL) was set up in the city, activists alleged that the factory released thousands of litres of effluents into the Hussainsagar, as this was even before the Pollution Control Board (PCB) was set up, following a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972.

At present, the Hussainsagar has four nalas through which effluents are allegedly released into the water body - the Kukatpally nala, Balkapur nala, Banjara nala and the Picket nala. All this sewage in turn, joins the Musi river, which flows downstream. As the river splits into various tributaries, each feeding several smaller lakes on the outskirts of the city, a large amount of the sewage flows naturally into Edulabad due to gravity.

“In the village, things were all fine till the 1980s. It was during the 1990s that the lake began showing signs that it was being dumped with more sewage than it could handle. Soon, it was too late,” says Shanker. In March 2000, locals gathered at the lake’s shoreline, and saw several hundred fish washed up dead. The fish had died because the lake was too polluted for them to breathe. By the summer of 2002, the number had gone up to several lakh, and toxic froth began emanating from the lake.

Shanker has pictures to prove all his claims, and adds, “After the fish, it hit our cattle. The cows and buffaloes started turning weak, and would give very poor quality of milk. The dogs and the pigs started suffering from various skin diseases and rashes.”Diseases are common in Edulabad, as the residents have weak immune systems. Children here have various rashes on their skin, and open their mouth, to show a row of deformed teeth.

“What do we do? Where do we go? We can’t leave, because we were born and brought up here. Even if we go to Hyderabad, uneducated people like me, will barely be able to make money for rent. I’ll be on the streets and begging in two months. This is our homeland, and I will die here,” says one of the locals.

For now, the residents have been purchasing water cans from outside. However, they still use the same polluted water for other household purposes, including bathing. They also use the same water for their agricultural purposes.The water is so polluted, that it has even eaten away the cement and the rods of the village’s water tank from the inside.

“The water, because of various chemicals and heavy metals in it, results in sediment that blocks the flow of water in the tank. From time to time, we have to keep cleaning it,” Shanker says. The water is also infested with ‘superbugs’, a class of bacteria which become resistant to antibiotics due to constant exposure. Diseases caused by these bacteria are highly difficult to treat as most antibiotics are rendered useless against them.

The Musi river, which is the biggest victim of such contamination, reportedly supplies water to 1.6 crore people across Telangana and Andhra, as it joins the Krishna river. A number of studies and investigations from Hyderabad and the areas around it, have highlighted it in the past. All this, is after successive State governments have built Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs).

If that wasn’t enough, the residue that the polluted water leaves behind as it withdraws every night, is red soil, which is easily inflammable, and also emits a pungent smell. According to Shanker, many of these industries, which he says are guilty of polluting the lake, release their waste in the night, which makes it harder to track.

However, the PCB says that it has purchased equipment that monitors inlets from the four nalas entering the Hussain Sagar in real-time and gives live updates every five minutes. “If that is so, then where is this froth coming from? Clearly, someone is still doing it,” Shanker says. Shanker is also part of a movement that has been fighting to clean up the entire Musi river.

“I had hopes that at least when Telangana was formed, the Musi river - our lifeline, and the pride of Hyderabad, would be saved. However, it seems less likely with each passing day,” he rues. While Shankar appears dejected, he says there is still a glimmer of hope that the present State government will listen to his plea. “We have been systematically denied the very basic things required for life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. They’re all polluted now,” Shanker adds. (www.thenewsminute.com)

By Nitin B

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