Unclean rivers causing diseases in rural Pune
According to doctors and fishermen living in these villages, rising pollution levels in these rivers have led to a growing number of skin diseases, kidney stones and even drug resistant bacteria causing gastrointestinal problems among farmers
While the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the city-based NGOs lock horns over the civic body’s mega project – the riverfront development of the Mula-Mutha, the primary issue of clean rivers and potable drinking water continues to remain unresolved. This has a direct impact not just on residents of Pune city but also those living downstream the river in the villages of rural Pune. According to doctors and fishermen living in these villages, rising pollution levels in these rivers have led to a growing number of skin diseases, kidney stones and even drug resistant bacteria causing gastrointestinal problems among farmers.
Mallav Bharat, 42, who hails from Indapur district and has been working as a fisherman for the past 25 years, said, “When I was a child, the water from the Bhima river and Ujani dam was so clean that we used to swim in it and even drink directly from the river but now, we have to carry our own water bottles when we go fishing. The water has become so harmful that we cannot even step into it. As fishermen, we have to be around water all the time and this is affecting our health. Fishermen have reported skin diseases and even the variety of fish has reduced. Earlier, we had a good catch of crab, shell fish, eel, Indian Carp, Rohu and others but now the only fish we get include Chilapi or Tilapia and Mangur aka catfish. These fish can resist pollution and even grow in polluted waters however the people in Pune do not understand that these fish return to their markets which are then consumed by them. The poor variety in fish is also affecting our income.”
Bharat said that such high levels of pollution in the water lead to discolouration of nails, kidney stones, skin rashes, stomach pain, and increased cancer cases. “The impact is the strongest during summer when the water remains stagnant and the pollution levels are concentrated, leading to a strong smell across the villages along the banks. People who come to Bhigwan to see flamingos are unaware that it is precisely due to the high levels of excreta in the water that the flamingos land near these rivers. In the past two years, the lockdown has definitely helped in bringing down the pollution however it is now returning to pre-Covid levels,” he said.
Dr Avinash Panbude from Indapur said, “I mostly get farmers from villages in Bhigwan and Indapur who complain of skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems and also kidney stones. The skin infections seen among those coming from the north of the taluka and those from the south are completely different. The most common skin problems that have increased since 2005-2006 include contact dermatitis among farmers and skin rashes, ulcers and itching all over the body among those who go swimming in these rivers. There are also complaints of colitis, indigestion, pain in the abdomen and loose motions. The most important thing to know is that this colitis is antibiotic-resistant. When we do a culture test of the stools of the patient, we find that there is a high concentration of e-coli which is resistant to the usual drugs we use.”
Dr Panbude, who heads the Indian Medical Association branch in Indapur, said, “We get the most complaints from farmers which are the direct impact of polluted waters that come in from Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad and enter the rivers. The same water is used for crops and the fish also breed in the same water which are then sold in the city,” he said.
The waters of the Ujani reservoir and the Bhima river are much more polluted than those of the Mula and Mutha. As per the Central Pollution Control Board report for the Namami Chandrabhaga project, the faecal coliform in the Mula-Mutha river at Mundhwa bridge stands at 640.91 while in the Mutha river at Sangam bridge stands at 1033.32 which as per standard drinking water standards should be about 230.
City activist Sarang Yadwadkar said, “This is exactly what we were saying that the administration should focus on river cleaning rather than the so called beautification. The river is a living natural body and can self-cleanse but if the rate of pollution is more than the cleansing rate, the river will die. Along with it, the flora and fauna will also die. The river also is a source of oxygen in the atmosphere. Despite JICA, there still would be a deficit of about 400 million litre of untreated water being released into the river. The PMC should focus on actually cleaning the river which will help rejuvenate it. The polluted waters not only impact Punekars but also impact the lives of those living in Solapur and nearby villages who are also resisting the riverfront development project.”