by Dakshina Kannan
What was once known as ‘Thames of South India’ is now a highly polluted and toxic river. Cooum river is 65 kms long and it originates from a village of the same name in Tiruvallur district. The river faces pollution from illegal disposal of untreated sewage, untreated affluents from industries and encroachments along its banks. Besides sewage and sludge, the river also contains heavy metals (like copper) and pesticide remnants that prevent the existence of flora and fauna.
Coovum: Before and After
Despite big budget (5000+ crores from a world bank partnership, 41 crores from Eco-Restoration plan etc.) restoration efforts, these actions tend to be counterproductive. Since there is no one to monitor and prevent sewage from being dumped into the river, sewage is still illegally dumped into Cooum by sewage tankers (or lorries). Unfortunately, the residents in Ambattur, Vanagaram and Adayalampattu are dependent on these tankers to collect sewage from their households.
As residents of Chennai, what can we do about the plight of Cooum? We can:
- Analyze and understand where our household sewage goes. Whether we live in apartments or independent households, we have a responsibility to be aware of how our waste affects our environment.
- If we realize that our waste is being dumped in rivers like Cooum, we can look for alternatives to our sewage treatment. For example, a bio septic tank is a simple, cheap household solution that prevents our sewage from contaminating Cooum.
- Hold our governments, businesses and NGOs responsible (in their treatment plans for Cooum). We can also ensure if the funds allocated to Cooum are spent wisely
- opt for organic food. Since they are grown without chemical fertilizers, they will not contaminate the groundwater system and rivers in Chennai.
Yes, there is hope for the Thames of South India. Cooum’s pollution and toxicity is a complex problem involving many factors and stakeholders. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand our role and our stakeholders’ role in this pollution, so that we can make real changes. Besides fixing the sewage system, we have to tackle the root cause(s) of this problem.