While these factors pollute the rivers of this country, what does the government do? Well, it makes plans to ‘clean up’, and invests huge amounts of money in them. All these plans focus primarily on reducing the inflow of domestic sewage into the rivers.
Here, sample some of them…
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched in 1985 with the hope of improving the water quality of the holy river Ganga to acceptable standards. The idea behind this 462-crore project was to intercept the sewage and treat it before discharging it into the river. Under the programme, 25 towns located along the river in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal were selected. The first phase ended in 1993, and the second phase began. This phase, with the same objectives, included work on four tributaries of the river – Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahanadi, and the estimated cost had increased to Rs. 2,386 crore.
National River Conservation Plan
National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) was launched in 1995. CPCB identified 71 polluted stretches in the 14 major river basins in the country, and made this 10-year plan with an outlay of Rs. 2,318 crore to clean these stretches. Under this, the state governments are required to set up citizen’s monitoring committees.
GAP-II and NRCP were merged in 1996.
Yamuna Action Plan
Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) is being implemented since April 1993 for water pollution abatement and conservation of the river Yamuna in 12 towns of Haryana, 8 towns of Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi.
And there are many other river action plans. According to Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and National River Conservation Directorate (NCRD), 34 rivers in 160 towns in 20 states have been ‘cleaned’ by river action plans. The Ganga, Yamuna, Adyar and Cooum, Musi, Gomti, Cauvery, Sutlej, Godavari, Vaigai and Sabarmati received almost 88 per cent of the sanctioned money, and the remaining 24 rivers got just 12 per cent.
But, the 10 most expensive towns – accounting for most of the efforts under NRCP – still remain highly polluted.
The Gap remains
So what on earth is going wrong? As I told you, these river action plans put in a bulk of the money in creating several forms of ‘hardware’ to collect, convey, and treat sewage. And then in releasing the treated effluent. As per the plans, the hardware consists of building and maintaining drainage systems; setting up sewage treatment facilities; building low-cost sanitation and community toilets (so that raw sewage is not deposited directly into the rivers); building electric crematoria; and beautifying and the river front, in a bid to make people aware and enlist their help in protecting the water bodies.
The reality is that most of the money has gone into building expensive, energy consuming sewage treatment infrastructure.
STPs: 'waste'ed efforts
There are 269 treatment plants in the country. But, there is a major gap between the generated waste and treatment capacity.
At present, India has the capacity to treat roughly 18.6 per cent of the sewage, and is adding the capacity to treat another 5.2 per cent. But, by the time this capacity will be increased, more sewage will be generated. The gap will just keep on increasing.
So the gowth in treatment infrastructure can never keep pace with the increase in population and waste…
Not only this, there is gap even in the infrastructure. The NRCP has approved of sewage treatment projects of 6,247 million litres per day (mld) till now. But, only 37 per cent of this has been built – merely 2,318 mld.
And according to the 2006 CPCB survey, only 72.2 per cent of the capacity of these built STPs is utilised. Meaning, we are at present treating only 13.5 per cent of the country’s sewage!
This is because STPs either lack money or lack sewage! Yes, you heard it right. Lack of sewage is not because the cities of this country do not generate waste, but because very little sewage reaches the STPs. Most STPs are built far away from the cities, most of which do not have a functional drainage system to transfer the waste. This is because a large part of urban India lives in unauthorised colonies or unconnected settlements and suburbs. And the ones that have the system do not maintain it.
According to CPCB, less than three per cent of the sewage generated in urban India is treated before it flows back into the rivers.
Tides of change
The diagnosis is straightforward enough. The current mode of treatment will not suffice. Saving the dying rivers will require a major change in mindset, and a fresh new strategy. Recently, the global convervation organisation WWF published a report on ‘World's Top Rivers at Risk’(India and its neighbours account for two of them, Ganga and Indus!). And its Freshwater Programme Director Jamie Pittock said, "Conservation of rivers and wetlands must be seen as part and parcel of national security, health and economic success.
In other words, rivers will have to be the top most in a nation’s priority list.
How can we begin to do things differently?
* The sewage treatment plants will need to match the scale of the waste generated;
* They will, therefore, have to be affordable for city governments—both to set them up and to run them;
* To cut costs, the volume of water usage has to be drastically reduced (because 80 per cent of the water we use is turned into waste!);
* Ways of reusing and recycling treated wastewater—in irrigating lands or in recharging groundwater, maybe—will have to be improvised;
* The costs of transferring sewage to treatment plants will have to be cut down too;
* To do that treatment plants have to be located as close as possible to our bathrooms, where the sewage is generated!
And we have to constantly innovate and experiment with new technologies to find the most suitable one—that suits our pockets and also cleans our rivers.
|Measuring the health of a river
There are three parameters:
1. Dissolved Oxygen DO
2. Biochemical Oxygen Demand BOD
3. Total Coliform
|Dissolved Oxygen:The DO of a river measures its ability to clean itself up. The more oxygen there is in a river's water, the better it can decompose organic matter, and thus clean itself. The minimum level should be 5 mg per litre for bathing.
|Biochemical Oxygen Demand:BOD is the amount of oxygen a river requires to break down organic matter, like faeces, floating in it. High BOD level indicates extent of organic pollution in the wastewater that flows into a river. It shows that the river is polluted by organic matters and is increasingly unable to decompose them. For example, the maximum permissible BOD level suitable for bathing is 3 mg per litre. But Yamuna's BOD level is as high as
28.8 mg per litre (2003)! This shows the dire situation of the river.
|Total coliform:Total coliform bacteria are a collection of microorganisms that live in the intestines of humans and other warm- and cold-blooded animals. A specific subgroup of this collection is the Faecal coliform bacteria. The most common member is Escherichia coli (E. coli). The extent to which Total coliforms are present in the river indicate the general quality of the river water and that the river is faecally contaminated. The Total coliform count should be less than 500 Most Probable Number (MPN) per 100 millilitres for bathing.