118 years of Trust

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Saturday, August 8, 1998

This above all
regional vignettes




The Tribune ‘Save the Himalayas’ campaign-IV

Choking to death

By Rakesh Lohumi

THOUGH largely considered eco-friendly, the fast-growing tourism industry has become a major source of pollution in the serene Kulu valley which was once known for its clean and salubrious environs.

The quality of both air and water in the valley is deteriorating at an alarming rate due to the ever-increasing influx of tourists.

While the level of pollutants in the ambient air in the main tourist towns has been rising because of the vehicular emissions, the swelling urban waste is contaminating the sacred Beas river in the entire valley.

The tourist trade has not only led to haphazard growth of towns like Manali and Kulu but also given rise to numerous urban clusters along the banks of the river. The ever-increasing human activity along the banks generates tonnes of waste every day which is conveniently dumped in the river. It has virtually been turned into a big garbage disposal drain.

The periodic testing carried out by the state Pollution Control Board reveals that the pristine quality of water which matches the best ‘designated use’ upstream of Manali degenerates to ‘B’ and ‘C’ classes at certain stretches of the river close to big towns. While the biological oxygen demand increases from 0.1(.1) upstream Manali to 0.3 (0.3) ppm (parts per million) downstream Kulu, the dissolved oxygen declines sharply from 9.5 to 8 ppm. The coliform count also increased from 2 to 7. All these parameters indicate that the quality of water is deteriorating downstream.

An abject lack of scientific and environment-friendly system for disposal of garbage in the main towns and the rapidly growing urban clusters have been mainly responsible for polluting the river. None of the towns, including Kulu and Manali, has a sewerage system or a proper solid waste disposal facility.

Consequently, untreated sewerage, sullage and garbage are dumped into the river. Although the 500-odd hotels, which are generating huge quantity of waste, have provided for septic tanks, they are inadequate to take the heavy load during the tourist season. These tanks are drained into the river during the rains.

The disposal of solid waste is not only posing a problem in the main towns but also in some of the thickly populated villages along the banks. An estimated 200 tonnes of waste was being generated daily in the valley, from Kothi to Mohal.

Kulu, Bhuntar and Manali are the main contributors. The municipal authorities in Kulu were collecting only 10 to 15 per cent of the total waste generated which is dumped by the side of the river near Mohal village.

Most of it, particularly the non-biodegradable waste like polythene, glass and plastic, ultimately find its way into the river.

Filth and squalor can be seen strewn around all over the place along the banks. Two years ago, the government enacted a law making the throwing of polythene bags and other non-biodegradable garbage into public drains an offence. However, it could not be implemented due to practical problems.

Upstream, the waste generated by the state’s busiest tourist resort of Manali is the main pollutant of the river. It generates over 3000 tonnes of garbage during the three-month long tourist season and another 2000 tonnes in the remaining nine months. The town has a permanent population of just 2850, besides about 5000 Tibetan refugees. Moreover, about 4000 persons come to the town for work every day. On an average, 35,000 to 40,000 tourists are in the town every day during the peak season.

A small fraction of the waste collected by the municipal authorities is dumped at Rangri between the main road leading to the town and the river.

Although stone masonry has been raised to prevent garbage from spilling into the river, it is not likely to serve the purpose for long. The tourists passing through the road find the stench emanating from the dump unbearable.

A pilot study conducted by the G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment Development has revealed startling facts about the pace and scale at which urbanisation has been taking place and the general degradation of surroundings caused by it. The number of built up structures in Mohal village shot up from 92 in 1980 to 237 in 1995. Each household was generating an average of 427 gm of garbage.

As many as 67 per cent of houses and other establishments were throwing the garbage in their immediate vicinity or a common area. The disposal was not proper and it eventually reached the river. More than 92 per cent households perceived solid waste disposal a problem.

The state Pollution Control Board has prepared solid waste management plans for Kulu and Manali with an estimated cost of Rs 8 crore. The government, however, seems to be in no hurry to implement these plans.

The seasonal rush of tourists has also been affecting the quality of air. The monitoring stations set up by the G.B. Pant Institute reveal a sharp increase in the level suspended particulate matter (SPM) in Manali and Kulu during the peak tourist season. The concentration of SPM was found to be higher than the prescribed level of 100 ppm. At Manali, it was 114 in June and 115 in December last year, and 106 in January and 118 in February this year. At Mohal, near Kulu, the dust load crossed the prescribed level in December (118) and January (124).

The increasing vehicular emissions are mainly responsible for the rise in air pollution. The tourists these days prefer to travel by diesel-run vehicles which are economical but pollute more than the petrol cars. The fast growing number of local taxis and auto-rickshaws which have crossed the 700- mark only adds to the pollution. The frequent traffic jams in Manali only make things worse.

The problem could be solved if a bridge is constructed over the river Beas short of the main bazaar to divert the upcoming traffic from the right bank to the left bank.

It is high time that the government took effective steps to regulate the tourism industry lest it devours the very environs which are so dear to the tourists.
Garbage littered along the banks of the Beas at Mohal village

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