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Sufficient waterflow can help solve Ganga's pollution woes

VARANASI: The Ganga, declared National River in 2009, is still battling with pollution and people's apathy. The Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) admits that the challenge the Ganga is facing is grim. The IMG on Ganga, headed by Planning Commission member BK Chaturvedi submitted its report in April, 2013.

The report has identified three problem areas that need to be addressed to find a comprehensive solution to Ganga pollution. The problem areas include inadequate flow of water in the river needed to dilute and assimilate waste, growing quantum of untreated sewage discharged from cities along the river and the lack of enforcement against point-source pollution from industries discharging waste into the river.

Rivers have a self-cleansing ability which allows for assimilation and treatment of biological waste. "But in the current context, where withdrawal from the river is much higher than the discharge of waste, pollution is inevitable," says the report adding that in the upper reaches of the river, where oxygenating abilities of the river are the highest, there are growing signs of contamination. This suggests that even here, water withdrawal for hydroelectricity is endangering health of the Ganga.

One of the expert members of the 
National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) Prof BD Tripathi of Banaras Hindu University(BHU) advocates for adequate flow in the river. "The problem of pollution can be resolved if there is sufficient flow in the river," said Tripathi.

Referring to the estimates of the 
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the IMG report points out that the fecal coliform levels in the mainstream of the river from Gangotri to Diamond Harbour (2,500km) remains above the acceptable level. The pollution levels are a cause of worry at the hotspots - the mega and fast growing cities along the river. According to CPCB monitoring data, BOD levels are high downstream of Haridwar, Kannauj, Kanpur and at peak at Varanasi. But what is worrying is that through out the stretch, pollution is getting worse. This is not surprising given that all along this heavily populated stretch, fresh water intake from the river is increasing. In this way, water is drawn for agriculture, industry and cities but what is returned is only waste.

According to the report, funds have been used to create infrastructure without much attention on the use and efficacy of this hardware. Despite all this, the cities are still losing the battle with the amount of infrastructure that still has to be built to convey the sewage and then of course to treat and dispose it. The non-point source pollution of sewage is clearly the major cause of contamination in the river. The 2012 CPCB report reveals that 2,723 mld sewage and 500 mld of industrial waste is generated in the mainstream of the river. The pollution from sewage is roughly 85%.

There is a growing gap between installed capacity and treatment. The report says that the most recent assessment shows that there is a massive gap between the generation of domestic swage and treatment capacity in the main stretch of the Ganga. The 2012 CPCB report estimate shows that generation is 2723.30 mld, while treatment capacity is merely 1208.80 mld. Over half the sewage goes untreated into the river or other water bodies. Sewage treatment plants are ineffective because of lack of connectivity. The fact is that most cities along the Ganga mostly do not have any sewage conveyance systems. In Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi as much as 70 to 85% of the city lacks drainage. As a result of this, drains are not connected to the sewage systems. This untreated effluent adds to the pollution load by contaminating groundwater.

The IMG also recommends that controlling pollution in Ganga will require key paradigm shifts. According to report, it is fact that for cleaning rivers in India, where cost of pollution control treatment is unaffordable and unmanageable, availability of water for dilution will be critical. The available standards for 'acceptable water quality' -BOD provide for a dilution factor of 10. This is why discharge standards for water bodies are set at 30 for BOD, while bathing water quality standards is 3 BOD.

The fact is that given the huge unmet challenge of wastewater treatment, the cost of attaining standards will be unaffordable. Instead, what should be provided is water inflow, to build the assimilative capacity in the river for self-cleansing waste.

The Times of India (26-10-2013)