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Indian rivers heading for disaster

It is on account of huge untreated sewage flowing into the rivers, says a CSE study. Chetan Chauhan reports.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2007 17:52 IST

Not just Yamuna, many Indian rivers are heading for an environmental disaster, a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment predicts.

It is on account of huge untreated sewage flowing into the rivers. Of 27.022 million litres of sewage generated every day, there is treatment capacity for only 18.6 per cent and of that, just 13.5 per cent is treated before discharge into rivers, lakes and the ocean.

In Mumbai, 90 per cent of sewage generated within the municipal council area and over 50 per cent in the municipal corporation area goes untreated and flows into the Arabian sea and creeks. In Chennai, after spending Rs 355 crore, rivers Adyar and Cooum run polluted. In Delhi, Yamuna is almost dead because of untreated sewage flowing into the river, the study states.

The report, Sewage Canal, quoted a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) survey of 115 sewage treatment plants (STPs) — of the total 269, saying that as many as 45 plants did not meet the standards for discharge of the affluent, pointing a finger over the government policy of installing STPs for cleaning rivers.

The river, the yet to be released report says, are fast losing their ability to assimilate, regenerate and revive themselves. "If we do nothing to change this scenario, many other rivers will be in the same state (as Yamuna is)," the report alerts.

Stating that building sewage treatment plants (STPS) is not the solution, the report recommends reuse and recycle of sewage, rather than discharging it into a river.

Moreover, India may not be able to afford the huge cost of treating all sewage — estimated to be Rs 7,655 crores. But, the actual requirement of funds may be higher as most don't have data on actual generation of sewage. "In many cities people depend on private ground water for their needs. This is not accounted in the waste sums," the report states, giving Delhi's example where the city generates 3,864 MLD of sewage against Delhi Jal Board's claim of 2,940 MLD.

The report, which looks into the death of Yamuna, also questions the government data on river water pollution levels. In 2003, the ministry of Environment and Forests, found an improvement in biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) from 18.5 in 2001 to 6.1 mg/l at Kanpur in river Ganga. This reduction in BOD should have resulted in increase in dissolved oxygen (Do) level. But, as per the ministry's own data the DO level fell.

The CSE also pointed out that government's intervention under National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) failed to have its desired impact. Two examples quoted are of river Godavari in Nashik and Krishna, where even after spending 80 per cent of the sanctioned amount, the pollution level did not fall much.

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First Published: Feb 18, 2007 17:04 IST