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'Apathy' smothers Pune's lifelines

Mighty Mula and Mutha rivers, from where part of drinking water is sourced for 3.5 million Punekars, have been reduced to gutters choked with 'untreated' sewage, industry effluent; PMC denies allegations

The mighty Mula and Mutha rivers, known as the lifelines of the city, have already been reduced to a combined 18.69 km long trickle and are being smothered gradually, thanks to alleged apathy of the government, which has failed to control rampant pollution and unbridled encroachments on the water bodies.


Dirty picture: Domestic discharge like plastic, thermocol and other 
waste have turned the Mutha river water murky, say environmentalists. 
File PIC 

According to environmental experts, the exploitation of the river started after 1997-98 as real estate rates shot through the roof with the city witnessing a construction boom. "As rampant and haphazard construction started across the city, the river was reduced to a dump yard where debris would be discarded," said activist Sarang Yadwadkar, who along with other environmental organisations and citizen groups, has been campaigning against 'murder of rivers'.

The twin rivers are being encroached and interfered by illegal construction with near impunity despite a High Court order mandating that no construction should take place within 30 metres of rivers. This not the end of woes for the lifelines though. If untreated sewage and industry effluent have turned Mula water black, domestic discharge like plastic, thermocol and other waste have made Mutha murky, say environmentalists. 

"The release of untreated sewage assumes criminal negligence on the part of authorities as the Pune Municipal Corporation sources water from Khadakwasla dam where these water bodies finally merge into," said an environmentalist. According to Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) officials, the PMC is one of the major contributors of pollution in the Mula-Mutha rivers as it releases up to 40 per cent of untreated sewage in the water bodies. 

For, the civic body does not have necessary equipment to treat domestic sewage. It is still clueless about how much sewage is generated by 3.5 million Punekars everyday. Besides, its sewage carrying systems are faulty and there are leakages in the pipelines.

"PMC's sewage calculations are based on assumptions. The calculations are based on water consumption which is further based on supply and the water sourced from the dam," said a senior MPCB official. The PMC's involvement in channelisation of Mula-Mutha has straightened the flow of the river. According to experts, channelisation affects and prohibits natural purification of water through the riparian area and destroys the natural habitat along the stream.

The PMC also carries out desiltation drives to increase their water carrying capacity. But experts say it hardly serves any purpose as the civic body dumps the garbage on the river bed, which eventually flows back into the water body during rains. Yadwadkar said that maximum discharge of Khadakwasla dam is 1,28,800 cusecs whereas the channel is being designed to carry only 60,000 cusecs.

The environmentalists are opposing the PMC's 'Restoration of Mutha and Mula-Mutha Rivers' project, planned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), tooth and nail. Naik Environment Research Institute Ltd (NERIL) had moved the court against the Rs 99-crore project last September. Though the matter is sub judiced, the PMC is optimistic about starting the project early next year.

Naik Environment Research Institute Ltd (NERIL) claim that the authorities have proposed building exhibition and playgrounds, auditorium, circus ground, parking spaces, plazas and pedestrian malls on the riverbed. "If the project sees the light of the day, the rivers' doomsday won't be far away. The PMC wants to construct playgrounds on the river bed according to a detailed project report (DPR) but does not want to clean the river, treat sewage and remove encroachments," said Yadwadkar. 

Experts say such restoration will lead to reduction in the 'water carrying capacity' of the rivers and result in frequent floods in the rivers as its levels might rise from 3 ft to 11 ft 6 inches in the coming years.

The other side
Additional city Engineer Srinivas Bonala said, "The restoration work is under corporation's development plan and has a legal entity. We are not building anything in the green zone of the river. We are not creating any walls or navigating rivers or carrying out any excavation work. But we would be desilting the river and clearing the pipelines. People opposing the project should understand that by restoration we would be able to provide clean water to the city." 

Dipak Naik, MD of NERIL, said, "Lot of objections were raised by people who claim to be water experts and there have been many presentations in public domain, which are misleading. The restoration work is being done to ensure that water remains clean. The project has been approved by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to restore bio-diversity of the water bodies prior to 1961 standards."

Vijay Kulkarni, PMC's development engineer, water supply department, said, "We supply about 1,200 million litre water to the city, out of which 30 per cent is lost in leakage. And of the remaining 900 million, 80 per cent goes in the sewage after usage. We'll have install to 9 lakh metres of pipeline just to measure the flow, which is impractical. 

There is no place in the world which can measure sewage without error." Rejecting claims that the PMC releases untreated sewage into the river, the officer said they release treated water into the river. He, however, did not deny the possibility of polluted water percolating to the river through the leaking pipe. 

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