SATARA: The district HQ town of Wai in Maharashtra is famous for its mouthwatering vada pav and jalebis. Every year, it celebrates the Krishnabai Utsav at seven riverside ghats to commemorate the river goddess’ benevolence which, proverbially, earned Shivaji his storied victory over general Afzal Khan of the Adil Shahi dynasty. It’s a story we read in our 10 text books. Krishnabai Utsav is an ode to the Krishna as much as it is a celebration of Chhatrapati lore.
Only, the vada pav wrappers find their way into the Krishna along with all off filth generated in the town.
Wai is the first place along the Krishna where unrestricted discharge of urban waste is noisomely evident along with its sister dysfunction, encroachment of river banks. Somebody mapped the 300 most polluted river stretches in our country. And the Krishna at Wai is among them.
Two years ago, a Pune-based architect named Makarand Shinde, a former Wai resident, did an inspection visit of the Krishna’s banks. What he found shocked him. Over the 2 km stretch from the Dhom dam to Wai, the river was completely covered over with flotsam of garbage and human waste. “You couldn’t tell there was a river,” says Shende. “This had not been the situation before 1995.”
The architect gathered together a band of friends and local citizen and started a cleanup drive from Dhom to Panchwadi. Calling themselves Samooh (Saman Mulabhooti Hakh), they organised recurrent cleanups. It took them two years to reclaim half a kilometer of the Krishna from weed and waste.
It cannot be a success story. Shende’s band of river vigilantes came up against opposition from political elements and interest groups that made money from the Krishnabai jamboree and the encroachment opportunities it afforded. There just was no stopping the resorts and housing complexes creeping ever closer to the riverside.
From Wai, the river passes Satara, Karad and Sangli. Past the last-named town, it is joined by tributaries that are themselves so polluted that each sangam is a confluence of unbearable stench just as they are a mela of holy dippers. For instance, the Panchganga river flows past the industrial town of Kolhapur and joins the Krishna in Narasobawadi, a popular pilgrim site for Dattatreya devotees. It comes pregnant with heavy industrial and domestic waste which it pours into the already ailing Krishna.
Their pollution peaks in the summer and produces a putrid ambience laden with disease. In the off-rainy season, these two rivers are no more than stagnant pools. It’s havoc here,” says Dilip Boralkar, a former member of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board.
At Satara, another confluence and another odorous union. Here it is the Krishna and the Venna. Four temples -- Kashi Vishweshwar, Rameshwar, Bilameshwar and Sangameshwar – stand on either side of the Krishna here. And the pilgrims come in their thousands, wading through rubbish for a cleansing. Dattatreya Padake, the priest at the adjoining Vittal temple, shudders as he says, “Sometimes the water comes right up to the steps of the temple and all the dirt floats close by. The summer is the worst time.”
By the time it reaches Sangli, the Krishna’s pristine beauty is long gone. Here it is a dhobi creek. There are cremation ghats on the banks, a settlement of nomadic tribes, cowherds washing their wards and mourners scattering their loved ones’ ashes in the river and pinching their noses and doing quick dips.
It’s here that the Krishna becomes the Dakshin Ganga.