Where: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad is a lake famous for the thousands of migratory birds it attracts from other parts of India and abroad, in the winter months. But the seagulls, ducks and other migratory birds no longer find it hospitable. They only use it as a stopover and prefer to fly away elsewhere.
Too many idols spoil the lake
The lake has seen more clay idols of deities such as Ganesh and Durga being immersed in its waters than any other lake in the vicinity. The chemicals used to paint the idols are highly toxic. They contaminate the waters, the algae and the water plants in it.
These, in turn, affect the insects and birds that feed off the lake, says a recent report in the ‘The Times of India’. The end result is that the lake gets terribly polluted.
A study of the affected birds by the Bird Watchers’ Society of India has revealed that the toxins were absorbed in the tissues of the birds. This caused the birds to lay weak-shelled eggs. When they tried to incubate the eggs, the shells broke. The eggs would not hatch as a result.
Besides the threat to the living creatures who depend on the lake for survival, the growing pollution of the lake threatens the survival of the lake too. More immersions will lead to a reduction in the depth of the lake and its water-retaining capacity, and will also cause silting of the lake. What’s worse, the chemicals will gradually be absorbed by the subsoil through the lake bed, and pollute it too.
Meanwhile, the pollution of Hussain Sagar continues unabated. Nearly 50,000 Ganesh idols were immersed in it last month alone, when Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi ended.
The end of Durga Puja saw another round of immersion, with at least 500 idols of the goddess being immersed. So unbearable is the stench emanating from the lake that residents living nearby have stopped visiting it for walks and picnics.
The Ganga has a similar story to tell
It’s not just Hussain Sagar lake that is suffering the consequences of too many idols being dumped in it. A legal petition has been submitted to the Calcutta High Court, which calls for immediate action to clean up the river Ganga that flows in Calcutta. The Ganga is literally choking from the immersion of all the Durga idols in it, after the Durga Puja, writes a report in ‘The Telegraph’.
Is it the fate of one lake in one city or one river alone? If a recent Government of India report on the health of the environment in India is anything to go by, then the rest of India seems to be heading for the same fate as Hussain Sagar and the Ganga.
And most Indians seem to be heading for the same suffering that they have inflicted on the migratory birds with their unthinking actions.
The report has been prepared by a committee on health and environment, set up by the environment ministry last year. It paints a grim scenario for India. It says at least 5.9 lakh Indians die each year from indoor air pollution, which is the highest figure for any country.
The poisoned air indoors
How is indoor air pollution caused? Traditional fuels in rural areas are the single biggest source. Think of a woman inside a mud hat, bent over her ‘chulha’ or earthern oven. Imagine the amount of noxious fume that she inhales, with the oven belching smoke inside the hut.
As a result of breathing in all that smoke, threats to her health could range from dizziness, headache, nausea and weakness to respiratory and heart diseases, and cancers.
The outdoors is no better
And what about air pollution levels outdoors? According to the report, in most of the 23 Indian cities with a population of over a million, suspended particulate matter (SPM) levels (polluting elements in the air) are dangerously high.
One of these elements is benzene. In Delhi, benzene levels are 10 times the European standard. Benzene is a chemical used primarily in the production of plastics and other chemical products.
It is also a known human carcinogen or cancer-causing element and it is believed to be one of the factors causing various types of leukemia, lymphoma, and blood diseases.
Among those who are at risk from benzene are those who work with chemicals like painters, refinery workers, chemical workers, rubber workers, printers, newspaper press workers, and shoe and leather workers.
Most polluted cities
Indian cities are among the most polluted in the world for their air pollution levels. There are too many cars and too many industries belching out fumes. Cities like Ankaleshwar, and Surat in Gujarat, Delhi, Alwar in Rajasthan, Howrah in West Bengal and the Union Territory of Pondicherry are feared to have exceeded pollution limits. This means it is positively dangerous to live in these cities; their residents run the risk of contracting numerous diseases related to pollution.
But the pollution is not restricted to air alone. Noise levels are abnormally high in some of the residential and commercial areas of Calcutta, Mumbai, Jaipur, Chennai, Bangalore, Kanpur and Hyderabad. Residents of these areas are in danger of losing their hearing and becoming deaf, from being exposed to so much noise.
The dirt in the water
Then there’s the damage to our water sources that domestic sewage and toxic industrial wastewater is causing day after day. These pollutants are dumped into seas, lakes and rivers, where it kills the plants and fish.
Some of these lakes and rivers supply water for consumption, and this contaminated water ends up spreading disease and deaths among those who consume it. In rural areas, where pesticides and fertilisers are used in a large way in farms, it has been found that a lot of the chemicals get absorbed into the soil, polluting groundwater.
It is now fairly clear that we Indians are in for a lot of trouble. The land and water threaten to poison us, the air threatens to choke us and the noise threatens to deafen us. What are we going to do about it?