The most revered of all rivers, the Ganga, has been known for the pristine value of its water. Mythologically, a dip in the holy water is considered to be enough to cleanse the soul!
But all that is part of the legends only. Though the faith in Ganga remains intact due to its huge religious significance, its physical state has left a lot to be desired due to its constantly failing health, especially along the Patna stretch.
With streams of untreated waste, chemical wastes, sewage, idol immersion as well as human and animal remains finding their way into the river, there is a big question mark over the self-purification quality of the "Gangajal".
Eminent environmentalist and HoD, zoology, Central university of Bihar RK Sinha admitted that the state government’s complete apathy towards reining in disposal of untreated waste was ta major cause for growing levels of pollution in the river.
Citing statistics of the Central Pollution Control Board to vouch for the pitiable state of Ganga, Sinha said, the total coliform count in Patna downstream had been calculated at 1,60,000 MPN/100ml against the permissible limit of just 2500 MPN/100ml!
“The faecal coliform count is also alarmingly high at 50,000 MPN/100ml, about 100 times above the permissible. Let alone consumption, even bathing is dangerous,” he said, adding that even though the Ganga Action Plan was initiated in 1985, it has hardly helped in interception of major drains flowing into the river.
As per the survey conducted by various agencies, about 250 MLD (million liter per day) to 300 MLD waste water is routed to the river from different places, including the Patna municipal corporation (PMC) operated sump houses.
In the capital area alone, there are six major drains, which carry untreated water directly into the river. They are located at Kurji, Rajapur, Bansghat, Antaghat and Krishnaghat.
About a dozen such drains emit drain waters from Danapur and Patna City area as well for want of sewerage treatment facility.
Pollutants affect bio-diversity?
Hasko Friedrich Nesemann, a German professor with the department of environmental studies at the Central University of Bihar (CUB), had in his study noted that pollution level in river was quite high, but the only saving grace is high level of biomass.
During his extensive field research, he could identify and observe around 240 species of freshwater invertebrates, out of which 20 species were new to describe, mostly from the unexplored parts of Nepal.
“But growing level of pollution and construction of barrages on the river Ganga, particularly at Farakka, has adversely impacted lives of some sensitive aquatic animals. Animals like bivalve (scientific name-Nova Culina), which were earlier found in abundance till a few decade ago, have become extinct,” said Sinha.
The first sewerage treatment plant in Patna was set up at Saidpur in 1936. At that time, it was more than sufficient to treat waste water and then pass it on to Saidpur nullah for its disposal on the outskirts. But as the city grew in size and population, the government set up three more sewerage treatment plants at Beur, Pahari and Karmali Chak under phase I of Ganga Action Plan.
All four plants together have installed capacity of treating about 104MLD waste water, which is almost one third of the amount discharged per day. Moreover, capacity of the plants has worn out over the year for want of proper care.
“Though on paper, Bihar Rajya Jal Parshad (BRJP), the agencies tasked to deal with disposal of waste water, claim the plants are working at its 30-40% capacity, hardly any amount of water is actually treated,” said Vijay Kumar Gupta, who recently conducted a survey for his weekly Prayas.
More plans, little execution
It’s not that the state government had never thought of restraining the flow of untreated water into the river. In 2009, the urban development department had roped in Singapore-based Meinhardt to prepare a plan for integrated sewerage treatment plants under the Jawaharlal Nehru urban renewal mission (JNNURM).
A former PMC officer said that the consultant had prepared a DPR of Rs 3000 crore. However, it could not be executed for reasons known to the authorities concerned.
On its part, the PMC had stepped in to revive the project and asked the consultant to submit excerpts of technical details in 2012.
The PMC later forwarded the case for an in-depth study to Bihar urban infrastructure development corporation (Buidco). However, that initiative also did not take off. “Now the JNNURM scheme is closed, we cannot expect monetary support from the Centre to re- launch it,” said senior officer.
The state government is now pinning hope on the Central government’s the national mission for cleaning Ganga to install enhanced capacity sewerage treatment plants (STPs).
BRJP managing director Shirsath Kapil Ashok said three major STPs had been proposed under Namami Gange project to handle treatment of about 400 MLD water.
“Buidco has already prepared the DPR of the projects. We are working on plans to lay additional drainage network and link them all with the upcoming STPs. Flow of water into Ganga would be restricted completely and treated water would be discharged into the Punpun river,” said Ashok.