The Modi government’s plan to clean the Ganga faces its toughest challenge yet in Kanpur, a heavily industrialised north Indian riverside town which could make or mar the mission since it is crucial to plugging pollution elsewhere, experts say.
A strategy document of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, viewed by HT, identifies the Kanpur-Varanasi leg as the “most critical stretch”, but political hurdles and engineering complexities have emerged as formidable tests.
The overall mission itself is so daunting that the government has now been forced to settle for some more “realistic targets”.
This means sticking to achieving “zero-sewerage” flow in the next five years. Economic goals, such as harnessing power, tourism and river commerce, can wait, according to the government’s strategy.
“If we do too many things, then we may lose focus and end up doing little,” a senior official requesting anonymity said.
Once known as the Manchester of India, Kanpur is a pollution hotspot that will require complex engineering, “tapping” of some of the largest nullahs – one nearly 250 km long – and possibly packing off some notorious factories.
In terms of the BOD or biological oxygen load — a key pollution indicator — Kanpur is the worst city in the country.
BOD is the amount of dissolved oxygen a river needs to clean itself. The higher the BOD, the greater the amount of pollution. The city’s biggest drain — the Sismau — carries the highest BOD load of 544,980 kg a day. This must drop to just 10 mg a day per litre.
To create infrastructure for combined treatment of both municipal and factory waste, nearly 600 acres of land is needed in and around Kanpur. Not an inch is available. This means demolitions may have to make way for treatment sites, an official said.
According to a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) briefing paper, just 10 drains in Kanpur discharge 20% of its wastewater but account for 86% of the Ganga’s BOD load.
Built as storm-water outlets, these nullahs weren’t meant to carry human excreta. The Sismau will have to be tapped and its course may have to be changed so that it discharges into the Pandu river and not the Ganga.
Kanpur needs cleaning on a priority basis, according to Prof Vinod Tare of IIT-Kanpur, a key adviser to the government.
The city has the most unsuccessful record of cleaning the river. Under previous missions, treatment capacity was created for 171 million litres a day (MLD), while a total estimated sewerage treatment capacity of 481 MLD is required.
Kanpur’s over 100 highly toxic tanneries need relocation. The National Green Tribunal recently ordered the closure of 98 of these units. The UP government called the ruling impractical, while a much talked about plan to shift factories to nearby Unnau is stuck.
(With inputs from Kanpur bureau)