Bhubaneswar, Oct. 26: Pause before you take a plunge into the sea at Puri.
Worried by the unchecked discharge of untreated sewage into the sea, the Orissa Pollution Control Board has warned the Puri municipality and the district administration about possible health hazards to bathers.
Tests by the board on samples have put the biological oxygen demand — an indicator of how habitable the water is for harmful micro-organisms — at 110 (see chart). A count above 100 is considered a cause for concern.
“It (the level) is bad, but not alarming,” L.K. Tiwari, member secretary of the board, said. “The discharge should be immediately stopped. When we received a complaint that sewage from various hotels was leaking out from the main sewage pipe into the sea, we immediately sent letters to authorities in Puri,” he added.
Board officials collected the water samples at Gandhighat, a pandal at the beach festival and the mouth of the Banki river in August. The analysis of the samples prompted Tiwari to write to the Puri district collector and the executive officer of Puri municipality on October 15.
Biological oxygen demand is a measure of the oxygen used by micro-organisms to decompose organic waste. Tourists were dismayed to learn that the sea could pose a health hazard if the sewage discharge went on unhindered.
Jayanta Chatterjee, who was heading with his family to Puri, said: “Now I would have to think twice before setting foot in seawater. But I would surely take a walk on the beach.”
But Manjeet Walia, a computer student from Delhi, was unfazed. “Water everywhere is polluted,” he said.
The manager of the local Hotel Sea Gull rubbished the board’s report, saying hotels do not discharge effluents directly into the sea.
But environmentalists echoed the board and said tourists should avoid the sea. “The water is polluted. It has become unfit for bathing,” said Biswajit Mohanty, who has spearheaded several programmes for wildlife preservation.
Puri has no proper effluent treatment plant to treat the large amounts of sewage generated by the many hotels in the area. The effluents are released into a small pond near Chakratirtha Road where they are allowed to sediment.
“But the small pond can’t take care of the large amount of effluents discharged by the hundreds of hotels. Besides, the ETP (effluent treatment plant) is not built according to the standards laid down by the Supreme Court,” Mohanty said.
Senior environment scientist Abhas C. Panda said the pollution control board should check the pathogenic content of the water as bathers could contract skin ailments and communicable diseases. “The effluent is mainly from hotels. So pathogens of communicable diseases can’t be ruled out,” he added.
Other environmentalists are angry that the board has been unable to take action against district officials and hoteliers. “The body has become toothless. It has the power to ask the Central Electricity Supply Company to switch off power to hotels and the Puri municipality for not complying with the directive. OPCB should be wound up as they have failed to perform their duties in the past also,” one environmentalist said.
Member secretary Tiwari said it was the board’s “duty” to inform the Puri administration about the pollution. “It’s really unfortunate that we have to remind them about their duties,” he added.
However, asked what penal action the board would take against the administration and hotel owners, Tiwari said: “It’s their (Puri administration and municipality) duty.”
Muncipality bosses do not appear to be treating the board letter seriously. Chairman Benudhar Sethi sounded confused when asked for his reaction: “What were you talking about' The pollution of sea water' We can’t do anything about it. We have no plans,” he said.