NGT alarmed at post-Kumbh mess in Prayragraj, warns of epidemic
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) administered a sharp rebuke to the Uttar Pradesh government for the thousands of tonnes of solid waste that piled up in Prayagraj and untreated sewage that flowed into the Ganga during the 49-day Kumbh mela, expressing concern that the city was on the verge of an increase in cases of diseases such as acute diarrhoea, enteric fever, viral hepatitis and cholera.
The green court pulled up the UP chief secretary for severe lapses in letting the situation in Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad, to come to such a pass and instructed the officer to appear before it on Friday. It called for urgent steps to dispose off the solid waste that accumulated in the city during the Kumbh mela, which started on January 15 and concluded on March 4, and said officers responsible for the mess must be held accountable.
Millions of pilgrims gathered in Prayagraj for the Kumb mela to take a bath in the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Devout Hindus believe that a bath in the waters during the fair, which marks a propitious alignment of planetary positions, cleanse them of their sins and free them from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
Before the event was underway, the NGT appointed a committee to ensure that the already polluted river waters did not become more foul. Thursday’s order by the tribunal was based on a report filed by the committee, headed by justice Arun Tandon, which found the situation to be alarming and needed to be dealt with urgently to avoid potential epidemics.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson, justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, said accountability must be fixed at the ground level and personal supervision by senior officials ensured .
Quoting the UP chief secretary, the NGT report said 60,000 tonnes of untreated solid waste had piled up at the Baswar solid waste treatment plant. Out of this figure, 18,000 tonnes had been generated during the Kumbh mela; the waste treatment plant hadn’t even been operational since September 2018.
The NGT report predicted a rise in case of acute diarrhoea, enteric fever, viral hepatitis and cholera.
The tribunal said the groundwater too had been polluted.
“Dirty water from toilets was being collected in kutcha pits. The base of the soak pits had not been lined and the dirty water could percolate underground,” the report said.
“The committee found that a large number of toilets were constructed in camps on the Arail side, very close to the river. Rajapur Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) received excess sewage than the installed capacity. Only 50% of the Rajapur drain was being treated through geo tube (it extracts solid waste from the waste going in the drain so that only water enters it) and the remaining 50 per cent was being permitted to enter Ganga without treatment,”it said.
An Uttar Pradesh government spokesman said a compliance report had been submitted to the NGT and chief secretary Anoop Chandra Pandey would appear before the tribunal on Friday.
Additional municipal commissioner of Prayagraj, Amrendra Verma, said a private company named Hari Bhari had been entrusted with the task of processing of solid waste at the Baswar plant and a notice had already been served on it to complete its job.
“The municipal corporation is not directly responsible for disposal of solid waste as the private firm has been allotted tender for the job. Since the firm failed to do its work efficiently, a notice has been issued for completing the task at the earliest. Municipal commissioner Ujjawal Kumar was directly monitoring waste disposal of Kumbh Mela but he is on leave and will be back after a couple of days,” he added.
Divisional commissioner of Prayagraj, Ashish Kumar Goel, who is also the chairman of the Kumbh Mela Authority—the main organizer of the fair— said facts on the disposal of solid waste would be placed before the tribunal.
“We have done our best. Responsibility will be fixed on officials for the laxity. By any means, this mela was better than any of the previous ones,” he said.
The tribunal said the sewage treatment plant in Salori too had not been working property. “It had more sewage than it could treat. The geo tube was not working satisfactorily and 50 per cent of the sewage from the drain was trapped and the rest was going into the Ganga,” the report said.
Coming down hard on the so-called geotube technology deployed during the Mela, NGT termed it a failure. The technology was supposed to filter sewage waste before letting it enter the river. “The Mawaiya Nala, where the technology has been adopted, had a bypass because of which untreated water from the drain entered the Ganga. The committee also found that there existed a big, dirty water pond at Parmarth Niketan Arail and human excreta was seen floating in it.”
Similarly, the report said Mansuthia, another drain, also had a bypass, due to which untreated waste met treated waste just before it was allowed to enter the Ganga. “Creation of bypass at places where geotube technology had been adopted has let dirty water enter the river,” NGT said.
According to AK Gupta, amicus curie (Latin for friend of the court) in a Ganga Pollution case, he had submitted an application in the Allahabad high court carrying a list of 83 drains in the city. Forty-six of these drains remained untapped during the Kumbh Mela and dumped untreated sewage water in the Ganga and the Yamuna.
“I had apprised divisional commissioner Ashish Goel several times about untapped drains but he not only chose to ignore the same, but also kept me out of every committee supervising the same,” he added.