Can Clean India campaign pave way for reversing Ganga pollution curve?
Under Swachh Bharat Mission, 4,471 villages have been declared open defecation-free along the Ganga basin with almost complete coverage in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh . Only 694 villages came under the ODF category in 2015-16.Updated: Sep 26, 2018, 08:20 IST
Domestic sewage from towns and villages along the Ganga is the main source of pollution (over 70%) in the river, a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) assessment has found. Industrial effluents contribute to the rest of the pollution.
Officials see an opportunity in bending the river water pollution curve by cutting the main pollutant under the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) for universal sanitation coverage.
They say this can be done if the technology being used to make villages and towns open defecation-free (ODF) is carefully monitored to ensure no faecal sludge contamination.
Under the SBM, 4,471 villages have been declared ODF along the Ganga basin with almost complete coverage in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh . Only 694 villages came under the ODF category in 2015-16.
“There are 132 gram panchayats in the state along the Ganga. No sludge, grey or black, is discharging into... the Ganga,” said Namami Gange (Uttarakhand) CEO Raghav Langar.
Considering the domestic sewage load in the river is so high, officials are banking on SBM to bring down this load in the coming years even as there has been little improvement in the Ganga waters quality.
“We have not seen any perceptible difference in the faecal coliform (bacteria) levels in the Ganga stretches flowing through Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the past four years,’’ said A Sudhakar of the CPCB’s water quality division. “There is a marginal decrease in biochemical oxygen demand (the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to break down organic waste in water) levels,’’ he added.
Sudhakar said they have data of the last four years showing these trends. “But it has not been compiled yet and hence cannot be shared.”
The SBM guidelines say if there is no sewerage facility, an on-site treatment system like twin pits, septic tanks, bio-digesters, or bio-tanks should be constructed for the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage.
Experts say building toilets is a part of the solution. “We have to understand that the excreta are going into a box, a pit or a tank. Along the Ganga, the water table is quite high and if these tanks are not de-sludged properly, then the wastewater can leach into the groundwater,’’ said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) programme director Bitush Luthra, who is tracking SBM implementation in urban areas.
“Often in many towns, there is no control over the design of these tanks or on how they will be emptied.”
He said they recommend very careful monitoring of septic tanks or pit designs, reuse of sludge for compost and a decentralised approach in treating the sludge.
Tata Institute of Social Sciences assistant professor Pratibha Ganesan’s study also found that septic tanks being used in many urban areas under SBM cause “second-generation problems either due to faulty construction or careless treatment of faecal sludge”.
The study was carried out across eight states to explore the implementation of septic tanks in villages.
It found tanks with no soak pits and non-cemented bottoms have both environmental and health impacts.
SBM director Yugal Joshi said twin-pit toilets being built under the mission are also treatment plants and do not require any faecal sludge treatment. “The excreta turn into nutrient-rich compost after a year.
It is safe to be used on farms. We are creating mass awareness on this through a multimedia campaign and interpersonal communication in villages and soon these issues will be resolved.” He insisted that there is a natural improvement in the Ganga waters quality as all villages on the river banks have been made ODF.