-by Akhilesh K Prasad
India is a developing economy that seems unlikely to meet the demand for fresh water in the face of its rapidly increasing population, unless and until measures are taken at war footing. Rivers are the major source of freshwater. Ironically, the way we are polluting these rivers, the day is not far when we will store water in bank lockers. According to an assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in the last 5 years, the number of rivers defined as “polluted” has more than doubled from 121 to 275.
The primary cause of river pollution is the sewerage generated by towns and cities and industrial effluents. According to a 2015 CPCB report, 61,948 million liters of urban sewerage is generated in India on a daily basis. Cities have an installed sewerage treatment capacity of only 38% of this, whereas the capacity of the Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs) is around 66% of the installed capacity. Thus, more than 38,000 million liters of untreated water goes into major rivers, water bodies and even percolates into the ground every day.
The focus of the government’s river cleaning initiatives has been on the river, Ganga. As far back as 1985, the then Rajiv Gandhi government launched the Ganga Action Plan. Many years later, the Narendra Modi government started the NamamiGange Program Ganga rejuvenation. Despite these initiatives and substantial funding, the river pollution in India has only got worse with time.
Other rivers apart from the Ganga need equal attention. However, they have got little. Some of these rivers are:
- Yamuna: It ranks among the top 10 dirtiest rivers of the world along with the Ganga. Delhi dumps 58% of its waste into it. With efforts to clean the river falling apart, it is fast becoming vast sewage.
- Sabarmati: Ranked as the third most polluted river in India by CPCB in 2010, Fecal Coliform bacteria was found to the highest in this river, lethal in many stretches.
- Oshiwara: According to a CPCB report, 1/3rd of the most polluted river stretches are in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Oshiwara that flows through Mumbai is one of the most polluted of those.
- Damodar: Several industries have been established on the banks of this river which flows through West Bengal and Jharkhand. The industrial effluents dumped into this river make it one of the most polluted in India.
The government has taken some steps in general for river cleaning. As per a parliamentary report submitted in February 2019, the NRCP has covered polluted stretches of 33 rivers in 76 towns spread over 15 states at a sanctioned cost of Rs. 4,801 crore. A central share of Rs. 2.337 crore has also been disbursed to state governments for implementation.
In April 2015, CPCB had issued a direction to all the SPCB to set up sewage treatment plants (STPs) in their respective states as per the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. The sewage treatment capacity of 2,520 million liters per day has been created so far under the NRCP.
In October 2015, the CPCB had also issued directions to authorities of 66 metropolitan cities and state capitals to ensure proper treatment and disposal of sewage generated, as per the guidelines of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Apart from these, CPCB has repeatedly given directions to states to monitor and control the discharge of effluents.
While the government has announced a vision of clean rivers by 2030, it hasn’t divulged details of the plan. Going by the current efforts, that could possibly entail the development of more riverfronts, more dams, and interlinking of rivers and waterways. However, environmentalists opine that the government is implementing these projects without social impact assessments, independent appraisal or public consultations.