Sirsiya river appears cleaner now, but this is temporaryEvery year, during the Chhath festival, factories along the Parsa-Bara Industrial Corridor stop releasing their waste into the river.
Sirsiya river, infamous for high levels of water pollution, has been a bit cleaner for the past few days as Chhath—a Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God—is round the corner.
“Water pollution in the river has decreased significantly since Saturday for Chhath. I want to see such clean water flowing in the river forever,” said Prakash Tharu, a permanent resident of Radhemai Tole that lies near the Sirsiya river in Birgunj. “The water pollution in the river should be stopped forever,” demands Tharu, who is also a social campaigner.
Industrial wastes from factories along the Parsa-Bara Industrial Corridor have become a major contributor to the pollution of the Sirsiya river. The factories and businesses directly release toxic wastes into the river, giving its water a perpetually murky hue. There was a time when the water from this stream was used by the people in more than a dozen VDCs in Parsa and Bara for drinking and washing purposes. The river resembles more an open sewer than a body of water these days.
Sirsiya River, which originates in Ramban forest in ward 3 of Jitpur Simara in Bara, has cultural significance. It is an important water body for devotees during the Chhath festival, which starts Friday. The devotees are hit hardest by the pollution.
Every year, factories along the corridor stop releasing toxic chemicals and industrial wastes into the river during Chhath, which is celebrated for five days. Chhath organisers have for the past several years been urging the district administration to take initiatives to control river pollution, at least during the festival. On the instructions of the district administration office, the factories are either closed or do not release the wastes in the river during Chhath.
More than two dozen settlements of Bara and Parsa districts observe Chhath festival on the banks of Sirsiya River. Permanent bathing ghats have been constructed at several places along the banks for the major festival, which is observed mainly in Tarai districts. The devotees have some sort of respite as the river becomes cleaner during the festival.
But local people wish that the river always flows pure and clean. “The factories and industries along the Parsa-Bara industrial corridor should stop dumping industrial wastes into the river forever. The concerned authorities and stakeholders should take the issue sincerely. Otherwise, the local people are compelled to take harsh action,” said Brijeshwar Prasad Chaudhary, secretary of the Pollution-free Sirsiya River and Birgunj Campaign. The campaign launched a series of protests to make the river pollution-free last year.
According to Chaudhary, the residents of Simara, Tajapur, Parwanipur, Lohasanda, Ramauli, Jagarnathpur, Rampur Tokani, Sagardina, Chhatapipara, Nitanpur, Gamhargaon, Ramgadhawa, Ranighat, Sirsiya Khalwatol, and Birgunj metropolis sections along the Parsa-Bara industrial area are hugely affected by the river pollution. The deterioration of the river makes life difficult also for the residents of the East Champaran district of Bihar, India.
A study conducted by the then Ministry of Population and Environment seven years ago shows that as many as 250 factories discharged polluted waters and chemicals directly into the Sirsiya. Earlier, the district administration office in Parsa had formed a committee to study the pollution in the river. The committee’s report had pointed to industrial discharge as the main cause of river pollution.
Various leather, textile, pharmaceutical, iron and steel, soap, vegetable ghee and meat factories, among others, are along the corridor. Some factories along the corridor were set up some eight decades ago. Over time, their numbers have multiplied. Since the 1970s, the pollution level in the river has increased significantly. But only a few factories and industries have set up water treatment plants while many others directly release toxic chemicals and wastes into the river.
Of late, Birgunj Metropolitan City has intensified its efforts to control the river pollution. A committee has been formed to monitor the factories and businesses in the area which are responsible for polluting the river. The committee instructed the factories not to empty industrial wastes into the river, but most of them do not abide by the instructions.
In May, a group of 25 Birgunj residents set off on a march to Kathmandu carrying the polluted water from the Sirsiya river in an apparent bid to exert pressure on the authorities concerned, and to bring to light the worsening pollution in the river.