Sewage plant raises storm in temple town

Despite protests from villagers near Kerala's most famous temple town, authorities insist on locating a sewage treatment meant for Guruvayur, in the village.

Published: Saturday 15 May 1993

The proposed site for a sewage (Credit: S Gopalkrishnan Warrior)A PROPOSED sewage treatment plant has trapped the 6.49-sq-km temple town of Guruvayur in controversy, pitting its residents against the villagers of nearby Chakankandam, where a 1.5 million litres per-day sewage disposal plant is to be located. Guruvayur residents held a seven-day sit-in recently to press for early implementation of the project, though Chakankandam villagers continue their protest.

The demand for a sewage treatment plant for Guruvayur is led by local hotel owners and the merchants' association, who contend improved sanitation will improve their business interests. There are 75 hotels in the town, which cater to the 1.5-crore pilgrims who visit Guruvayur during the 41-day period between December and January.

Chakankandam villagers say they have no objection to Guruvayur getting a sewage disposal system, but K K Shekharan, convenor of the village action committee, asked plaintively, "Why should the sewage come to our village?" Apart from the stench, the villagers complain, effluents with a high bacterial content and sewage plant chemicals will destroy marine life and hurt the livelihood of local fisherfolk, mussel gatherers and coir workers. Said O T Abdumon, former panchayat president and action committee chairman, "There are at least three coir cooperatives operating in the region, with a membership of about 2,000 families. There are others who catch brackish water fish and collect lime shells."

Zoology professor, N N Gokuldas adds, "Essentially the villagers are saying, 'don't excrete on our doorsteps'. The effluents will make it impossible for people to work in the water. There is also scope for eutrophication." The villagers insist the township people should treat their own effluents, but Guruvayur residents point out, "We have no objection to the plant being set up in our town, but there is just no land."

Chakankandam villagers worry that the sludge from the proposed sewage plant will cause problems once it is removed from sedimentation tanks and spread out to dry. The site chosen is at the far end of the watershed and opens out into the backwaters. It is both swampy and prone to tidal action. Villagers fear, during the monsoon sewage will also rise with tidal action. Supporting the villagers' protest are the local bodies of the five nearby villages of Thycaud, Pavaratty, Orimaniyar, Vengadang and Chavakkad.

Supporters of the proposed plant say the villagers sold their land knowingly, but Shekharan contends they did not know their land had been bought for a sewage disposal plant. "Underground pipes leading to Chakankandam, worth Rs 56 lakhs, were laid in a hurry," he adds. "Now, using their investment as fait accompli, the project is being pushed through."

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