Mumbai civic body: Need four to five years to stop pollution of drains

Published on Jul 04, 2021 11:27 PM IST
With most of the city’s sewage treatment plants (STPs) being out of compliance with environmental standards and sewer lines currently servicing only 68% of the city’s population, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said it would need another “four to five years” to entirely free city’s drains, creeks and coastline of pollution from untreated sewage
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HT Image
ByPrayag Arora-Desai, Mumbai

With most of the city’s sewage treatment plants (STPs) being out of compliance with environmental standards and sewer lines currently servicing only 68% of the city’s population, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said it would need another “four to five years” to entirely free city’s drains, creeks and coastline of pollution from untreated sewage.

This was revealed in a recent audit report prepared by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), pursuant to instructions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). A copy of the audit report is with Hindustan Times). NGT had, in October 2020, rapped the civic body over continued pollution of city’s creeks and water bodies, following which MPCB issued a set of compliances for the latter to adhere to in December 2020.

A review of the MPCB report shows that none of the terms have been complied with by BMC. Senior officials in the civic body’s sewage and stormwater drains departments attributed the delay to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and protracted tendering processes for various related infrastructure works.

Meanwhile, environmentalists expressed concern over the glaring inadequacies which the report has brought to light. For example, only one out of eight operational sewage treatment plants (STP) — the 37 million litres per day (MLD) one in Colaba — in the city is compliant with the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) latest discharge standards.

The remaining STPs in Worli, Bandra, Ghatkopar, Bhandup, Versova, Charkop and Malad, some of which were constructed more than 20 years ago, are currently not fully equipped with the required sequencing batch bioreactor (SBBR) technology and continue to discharge polluting effluents into creeks, showed laboratory analyses by MPCB.

“BMC has plans to upgrade their existing STPs, and one new STP will be installed at Dharavi. At present, tendering process for modification and expansion of the existing and new STPs are completed. It will take four to five years for completion of these STPs,” BMC submitted in a written response to MPCB. The tenders were expected to be awarded by April this year. “This has not yet happened due to delays caused by the pandemic,” said Atul Rao, chief engineer, BMC.

However, fully-functional STPs are not the only solution to the problem. To prevent dry weather flow of untreated sewage in city’s creeks and rivers and to prevent the flow of waste into rivers, Mumbai also needs a well-connected system of sewer lines. The existing 2,025-km-long network services only 84% of Mumbai’s developed area and 68% of the city’s population, as per BMC.

Due to these shortcomings, there are still 93 openings across the city and suburbs which continue to discharge untreated sewage directly into creeks and drains. “Sewerage infrastructure development… to provide 100% sewer connectivity is being implemented under the Mumbai Sewerage Improvement Program (MISP). It will require four to five years’ time for completion,” BMC has noted in recent submissions to MPCB.

The civic body has, however, proposed to finish laying around 93 kms of sewer lines in developed parts of the city by 2023-24. Environmentalists say this will not address the sewerage needs of nearly a third of the city’s population that lives in about 250 slums clusters. The sewerage requirement for these areas runs into an estimated 143 kms, which, BMC says, “will be laid as and when slum rehabilitation schemes are effectively implemented in these areas.”

Other compliances that BMC has not yet implemented include bio-remediation of city’s rivers and drains to mitigate ecological damage caused by untreated sewage that has already been discharged, in violation of environmental safeguards.

MPCB had also directed the civic body to “install nets in stormwater discharge drains to prevent sewage from entering the sea along with solid waste”. Despite being a mechanically simple, inexpensive stop-gap measure, the move has not yet happened.

“Installing nets is a simple, cost-effective way to reduce some of the burden on our creeks and coastline. Even if it takes five years to set up an STP or lay sewers, this is a quick solution that can make a huge difference. It is baffling that the corporation has made no steps toward getting it done, six months after they were told to,” said Stalin D, director of NGO Vanashakti, which had petitioned in NGT in 2017 that led to the October 2020 order.

In addition, BMC is yet to pay environmental compensation to the tune of at least 34 crore to CPCB, as directed by NGT in October last year.

In its compliance report, the pollution control board notes that BMC’s reason for the same is a Civil Appeal (No. 293/2021) which they filed before the Supreme Court in March, challenging NGT’s order. This was after a review petition filed before NGT was rejected in January this year.

Confirming the details, Rao said, “It is up to the Supreme Court to now decide whether the amount is to be paid. We are doing our best to ensure compliance with all the other terms given by NGT. But as we have also conveyed to the pollution control board, it is bound to take some time.”

Other officials, however, disagreed. “The Supreme Court has not stayed NGT’s directions. If the aggrieved party wants to seek legal recourse, they are welcome to, but the order of the court should be complied with,” said an MPCB official requesting anonymity.

“The penalty for violation, as directed by NGT, is roughly 4 crore per month after December 2020. So now the total amount payable by BMC comes to nearly 58 crore up to June 2021. The money is to be used directly for environmental restoration works, and should be duly paid up as per the law. It is surprising that BMC has money and time to expedite projects like the Coastal Road, but not enough to pay for or to fix the pollution it is wittingly causing,” said Stalin.

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