Describing the performance of states in operating and maintaining existing sewage treatment plants as "tardy", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said that every day 2,900 million litres of sewage was being discharged into the Ganga, way above the capacity of the sewage treatment plants.
The prime minister, who was chairing the third National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), said urgent steps should be taken to save the river, deemed sacred by Hindus, and said that "time is not on our side."
He said the states needs to focus on three key areas - untreated sewage, industrial pollution and need to maintain the ecological flow of the Ganga, deified by Hindus and intrinsic to India's literature and lore.
The Ganga provides water to over 40% of India's population in 11 states.
"First is on the issue of untreated sewage. Every day about 2,900 million litres of sewage is discharged into the main stream of the river Ganga from municipal towns located along its banks. The existing infrastructure has a capacity to treat only 1,100 million litres per day, leaving a huge deficit," he said.
He said adequate funding is available to create additional treatment facilities under the National Mission Clean Ganga and urged the states to send appropriate proposals for new projects.
"The performance of the states with regard to the operation and maintenance of the existing sewage treatment plants has been tardy. There is under-utilisation of this infrastructure, particularly in the absence of connecting sewerage networks such as branch sewers and house sewer connections," he said in his meet.
The meeting was called after former Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor and environmentalist GD Agarwal, 80, sat on a fast-unto-death in January this year. He called off his fast March 23 after a government assurance to call an NGRBA meeting on April 17.
Singh said the second issue is about industrial pollution and mooted strong action against the defaulting industries.
"Though they are only 20% of the total volume of effluents, industrial effluents are a cause for major concern because they are toxic and non-biodegradable. Most of the waste water comes from tanneries, distilleries, paper mills and sugar mills along the banks of the Ganga," he said.
The prime minister also asked states to make an assessment of the situation with regard to both untreated sewage and industrial pollution and present a report to the NRGBA, which was constituted under the chairmanship of the prime minister for cleaning the Ganga in 2009.
"We can then decide what concrete steps are necessary to attend to some of the institutional, administrative and financial problems that may be coming in the way of more effective implementation of pollution control and abatement measures," he added.
"I urge all the concerned state governments to make full use of the resources that are available with the NRGBA.
"Projects with an outlay of more than Rs.2,600 crore have been sanctioned so far under the NGRBA in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal for creating sewer networks, sewage treatment plants, sewage pumping stations, electric crematoria, community toilets and development of river fronts," he said.
Singh said the third area - to maintain the ecological flow of the Ganga warrants immediate action and attention.
State governments and urban local bodies should promote water conservation and recycling of treated waste water and to promote efficient irrigation practices as a large amount of water from the Ganga is drawn through the canal systems in the upper reaches for agricultural use, he said.
Singh added that a multi-disciplinary group should look holistically at the various options available and recommend broad principles and actions that need to be taken with regard to conservation, irrigation use and running of hydel projects that will ensure uninterrupted flow of the river Ganga.