Crores Go Down The Drain As Villages Near Ujjain Suffer From Kshipra Pollution
The water has become so unsafe that people can't touch it without fear of skin diseases or use it for drinking purposes or irrigation
Bhopal: It does not take much for water to change its course — from a life-giver to a life taker. Residents in over 250 villages along the banks of Kshipra river know this from experience. The rising pollution from industrial effluents has made the river water unfit even for all tasks.
“There was a time when villagers depended on the river for everything. Now, we cannot touch the water,” said Rahul Anjana, deputy sarpanch of Sikandari panchayat located on the banks of Kshipra near Ujjain.
Washing clothes here means more harm than good. Cattle don’t drink the water now, thanks to the strange smell. “The labourers who take water from the Kshipra for irrigating rabi crops suffer from skin diseases and are not available for work,” he added.
However, wheat farmers have no option other than using this contaminated water, as borewells cannot satisfy the water needs of wheat crop cultivated in large areas. They stay away from the Kshipra when it comes to onion and garlic. If not, the crops will simply rot. Only those with wells, borewells or stepwells cultivate onion and garlic now. Others, despite having land, buy them.
“On average, wheat output per acre using the Kshipra water is only 10 to 11 quintals normally and 15 quintals in case of a good harvest, whereas generally one acre land can provide 20 to 25 quintals of wheat. Even farmers admit that the land is losing its fertility due to the polluted water,” said Anjana.
Rameshwar Chauhan, panchayat secretary of Dendiya that has a population of around 3,500, said that farmers could not grow vegetables here.
“Even the land gives out a different smell when the Kshipra water is used for irrigation. Animals become sick after contacting the water. For us, it is itching,” he told 101Reporters.
Study Says It All
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga in Ujjain is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines in the country. It is on the banks of the Kshipra, where Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years. But even its holy status has not helped improve the Kshipra’s water quality.
Acting on a petition filed by environmentalist Sachin Dave in February, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) formed a nodal agency in April to look into the issue of pollution due to discharge of industrial waste and other human activities in the Kshipra. A report presented by Dave at the NGT, Bhopal, claimed that the main reason for murky Kshipra water was its connection with Khan river.
Originating from Indore, the Khan receives polluted water from big industries in the city. Later, it joins the Kshipra near Shani Temple in Ujjain. According to the study, the colour of water here has turned black. Although civic managements of the cities situated on banks claim that the polluted water is being released only after treatment, this is not completely true. Sewage treatment plants are installed for the drains in these cities, but nothing can be said about how well they work.
Praveen Patel, whose village is located on the border of Indore-Dewas district, said the Kshipra flows half a kilometre from his village and goes towards Ujjain. Here the water is clean, but it becomes polluted on reaching Ujjain.
The study conducted by Dave and 20 students from March to June and November to December last year observed that the polluted water from both the Khan and several industries based in Dewas entered the Kshipra. From its origin up to Arnia Kund, the river is more like a drain. Water is not available at many places, and the water that goes into the Kshipra through Narmada link is not released properly into it.
The study found that sand and stone mining was happening in some spots in the river. Tree cover was minimal on its banks. Chemical fertilisers used for agriculture washed into the river and destroyed aquatic life during the rains. In some villages, polluted water was being used in some form or the other, due to which the people concerned were suffering from pain in hands and legs, burning sensation in eyes and skin rashes. There were complaints of frequent colds and coughs.
Dave said that his team conducted a 280 km study tour, interacted with 1,200 people and took water samples from the riverbanks. After testing, 90% of the water in the banks was assessed as not fit for drinking.
Projects Fail To Deliver
From 2004 to 2022, the Madhya Pradesh government spent Rs 648 crore on various works to enhance the flow and rid the Kshipra of pollution. In 2004, the big drains of Ujjain were connected to pipelines and pumping stations to take the polluted water to a sewage treatment plant. A total of Rs 6 crore was spent, but the pumps often malfunctioned and led to the entry of polluted water into the river. All this when Ujjain Municipal Corporation was spending Rs 1 crore on electricity bills annually!
Later, a separate pipeline was put to release the dirty water far away, at a cost of Rs 4 crore. However, the high inflow of polluted water from the Khan, especially during rainy season, made it impossible to pump and take the entire volume of water to faraway places. A stop dam was built on the Khan at Raghau Piplia in 2016, but the dirty water continued to overflow and enter the Kshipra. The same year, an underground pipeline was also laid from Raghau Piplia to Kaliadeh for Rs 80 crore.
The work on Narmada-Kshipra Link Project, which provides irrigation water to Ujjain and Shajapur districts, began on November 29, 2012. It was completed in 14 months, with the Narmada water reaching the Kshipra near Indore city for the first time on February 25, 2014. However, the project has not brought any substantial change to water flow in the Kshipra and its quality.
Notwithstanding, the government will spend Rs 625 crore on another set of constructions. A 16 km drain will be built parallel to the river from Gothra, near Triveni, to Kaliyadeh Mahal. This duct will remain open for 100 metres at its mouth and end. The rest will be underground. Around eight hectares will be acquired permanently for the project. The rest will be temporary acquisition, which means they will be returned to owners after the completion of work. The work on closed ducts in Ujjain has already begun.
(Pooja Yadav is a Madhya Pradesh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)