SATARA: Like the Ganga, the Krishna is believed to be a cleanser of sins, and therefore receives a fair share of the remains of human lives. Not entire dead bodies, as in the Ganga, but quite a load of ashes and bones. A study conducted in 2013 by Dr B N Gophane, a visiting faculty member at Shivaji University in Karad, revealed that nearly three to five tons of human ash and bones are dumped in the river at Satara, Sangli and Karad every year.
The Krishna’s tributaries Venna, Panchganga, Warna or Koyna are all considered holy along their respective courses, and where they merge with the Krishna, they contribute their own load of pollutants .
“Brick factories, sand mining, fertilizer and pesticide-laden runoff from agricultural lands, human waste from dozens of towns all contribute to the degradation of the river.” Dr Gophane says.
Nowhere is this degradation more evident than in dreary Sangli, a town that has never seen better days despite producing several political heavyweights. The Mai ghat in Sangli watches over a tide of untreated dirt and filth pouring into the Krishna brought in by two streams.
One is a small stream carrying the city’s sewage and the other is the infamous Sheri Nala.
Talk to any environmentalist in Maharashtra about Sangli and the name of Sheri Nala pops up immediately. What these two streams contain are industrial and human refuse from of Sangli, let into the river without any treatment. There is one filtration plant on the outskirts of Sangli, but the waste from the town’s industrial belts -- Miraj, Kupwad, Madhavnagar -- and its sugarcane factories flows untreated into the Krishna.
Mohan Chormule has been living in Sangli for 30 years and is a bitter man. A driver in the milk cooperative unit located right next to Sheri Nala, he has organised awareness campaigns and lobbied every official and elected rep to clean up the Krishna, but nothing has changed. “A lot of political bigwigs have visited this place and promised to take care of it and nothing has happened. There are so many powerful ministers from this area and not one is interested in developing their own town,” he says.
When concerns arose about the filth flowing into the confluence, the town administration laid down a pipeline to pump out the sewage. An administration worker M G Sanadi shows us around. So where is the sewage pumped out to? Downstream, of course! What’s the point? Sanadi just smiles and says, “But that’s how it is been done for the past 40 years.”
The collector of Sangli, Shekar Gaikwad agrees that this is a problem. No town on this stretch of the Krishna has anything like a sewage treatment plant. “One treatment plant is being constructed, but it requires another Rs 50-60 crore to complete. The local administration just doesn’t have that kind of money,” he says.
Little steps, however, are being taken to stop the defilement of the Krishna. In Islampur nearby, a gas-based crematorium was constructed but it had no takers initially. People were loathe to giving up the traditional ways of cremating bodies. But in the end financial prudence won.
“We did not have any takers in the first month and then they began to trickle in. The wood for traditional cremation costs Rs 4,000 whereas the gas-based crematorium costs only Rs 450. It made economic sense. But then people need the ash to immerse in the river. So we modified the design,” Gaikwad says.
Since two more crematoriums have started up in Sangli. So now, people are now dropping about 200-300 gm of ashes in the river instead of about 15 kg of burnt human and wood remains earlier. However, it’s still only a small proportion of people who resort to the crematoria.
Pollution is the only problem for people living on the banks of the Krishna. A new problem has cropped up. Crocodiles have flourished in a 25 km stretch of the river in Sangli district. Eight people have fallen prey to them so far, including three this year. Around 300 crocodiles are said to inhabit these waters and wildlife officials do not have any idea what to do about them.
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