O V E R S T O R
Factories often discharge effluent directly into rivers. It is just another easy waste disposal method. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the major industries causing water pollution include distilleries, sugar, textile, electroplating, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper mills, tanneries, dyes and dye intermediates, petro-chemicals, steel plants, and the list goes on and on and on.
A Dying example...
Gujarat is one of the most industrialised states of India. But, this industrial growth has come at a cost – environmental pollution.
All the major rivers of Gujarat – be it the Kolak, the Mahi, the Daman Ganga or the Amlakhadi – are polluted due to effluent discharged by industries. If you look at Sabarmati, you can see red water released by the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) in Vatva flowing in the river.
The Amlakhadi River, which meets Narmada near Bharuch district of Gujarat, was once a source of water for the villagers of Sajod, Pungam, Matiad and Haripura in the district. Today, it seems like an effluent channel. As more than 1,500 industrial units (mostly chemical units) in Jhagadia, Ankleshwar, Panoli, Vilayat and Dahej have been discharging sewage into the Amlakhadi for years.
Then there is river Kolak. Factories in the Vapi Industrial Estate in southern Gujarat have been dumping untreated sewage in the rivulet Bhil Khadi, which ultimately meets and pollutes the Kolak River. Drug factories often dump spoilt batches in the open, which contain highly toxic chemicals. These run off into the river with rain. And all these are in spite of a CPCB’s action plan for Vapi, which states that factories cannot dump effluent in the rivulet and have to send it to a common effluent treatment plant (CETP).
The good news is that though industrial discharge can be extremely noxious and toxic, it can be controlled. Industrial units that generate pollution can be classified and identified, and the pollution can be stopped or reduced with law enforcement, regulation and technology.
But, the major polluter is not industrial waste, it is domestic sewage.
A faecal dose
Domestic sewage is the biggest threat to the rivers. Nearly 80 per cent of river pollution in India is due to excreta! Untreated, poorly treated sewage, and overflow from under-capacity sewage treatment plants send contaminated water into rivers. These rivers, incidentally, are also the sources of drinking water!
The microorganisms present in faeces and urine rapidly use up the oxygen in the water and leave little or nothing for the fish, plants and other aquatic organisms. This sewage does not only degrade the quality of water, but leads to what may be called ‘hydrocide’!
So, who is the main culprit behind this hydrocide? Not those who defecate in the open, as they have no access to toilets. But, those who have toilets – the middle class and the affluent. This is because with every flush we use more and more clean water to dispose our faeces and urine (over 10 litres), increasing the quantity of sewage. A large amount of this never reaches STPs to be ‘cleaned’. But, meets the rivers.
Apart from excreta, rivers are also used for washing clothes, utensils, and other such activities.
Even the dead are a cause of river pollution. If a deceased person’s family cannot afford a funeral they may immerse the ashes of the deceased in the sacred river Ganga, or they may put the corpse itself in the river!
No more self healing
The most alarming news is that the muck-ridden rivers are losing the ability to self-clean. The flow of fresh water is so low that they are being left with no ‘assimilative capacity’. Assimilative capacity is the ability of a running water body (such as rivers) to receive wastewaters or toxic materials without harmful effects and without damage to aquatic life or humans who consume the water. The rivers are failing to regenerate and revive between the cities they transect. And even if the effluent is treated, the rivers still remain polluted, as there is no dilution. River Ganga in Kanpur and Cooum in Chennai are perfect examples of this loss of revival capacity.