Clean Ganga River – From Dream to Reality

Since 1986, when the Ganga Action Plan was conceived, the Central government has pumped in about Rs 5,000 crore to clean a river considered holy by hundreds of millions of Bharatiyas, but could not get the desired result. Now, real time data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that the water quality of the river has improved considerably during the lockdown, notably in industrial towns through which it passes.

CPCB has three real time monitoring stations in Kanpur. One is upstream of the Ganga Barrage, the second, downstream of the barrage, and the third is at Shuklagunj. The CPCB monitors a range of parameters: dissolved oxygen (it should be more than 6 mg per litre), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD, less than 3 mg/ litre), ph (range between 6.5 and 8.5), ammonia (less than 1.2 mg/litre).

  • The monitoring station located upstream reported on March 28 that the dissolved oxygen level was 8 mg/litre, BOD was 2.1 mg/litre, ph was 7.90 and ammonia, 0.49 mg/litre.
  • At station number two downstream, dissolved oxygen level was 7.90 mg/litre, BOD, 1.21 mg/litre, ph, 7.91 and ammonia, 1.1 mg/litre.
  • The third station reported a dissolved oxygen level of 8.51 mg/litre, BOD, 2.1 mg/litre, ph, 7.68 and ammonia, 0.79 mg/litre.
  • The chemical oxygen demand was less than nine at all the three monitoring points. It should be less than 10 mg per litre.

CPCB officials say the water quality has seen a significant improvement, particularly in industrial towns along the river, including Kanpur. The city has a cluster of industries along the river. The leather industry, with nearly 400 units, is one such cluster. The river had been reduced to a dumping ground for industrial and domestic waste. According to a CPCB survey in 2013, Kanpur was home to 475 of the 764 grossly polluting industries around the river.

While 400 tanning units were assessed to be contributing 50 MLD (million litres per day) of hazardous waste in the river, seven drains, including the biggest Sisamau nullah, were carrying 140 MLD of domestic waste straight into the river. The biggest success under Namami Gange project came when the Sisamau drain was tapped and its waste flow diverted.

According to the real-time water monitoring data of the CPCB, after the lock down is imposed out of the 36 monitoring units placed at various points of the Ganga river, the water quality around 27 points was found suitable for bathing and propagation of wildlife and fisheries.

Earlier, other than stretches in Uttarakhand and a couple of places as the river enters Uttar Pradesh, the river water was found to be unfit for bathing the whole way till it drains into the Bay of Bengal in West Bengal. Post lock down the improvement in the quality of water has also been observed in Ganga’s tributaries like Hindon and Yamuna.

According to the expert,s the organic pollution level gets diluted in the river but it is the chemical pollution by industries that destroy the river’s self-cleansing properties. Post lockdown since the chemical pollution by the industries into the river is almost zero, the self-cleaning properties have improved due to which the water quality has improved.

Management of sewage and agricultural waste generated after using pesticides are two other major challenges as they enter the Ganga river contaminating its waters. 

Kanpur Achilles’ heel in Namame Gange Programme

While UP State contributes to 75% of the pollution load in Ganges, Kanpur city is the highest polluting city in UP. Nearly 400 tanneries in Kanpur City were directed by the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) for closure between December 15, 2018 and March 15, 2019. After the Kumbh Mela ended on 4th March, 2019, the UPPCB had allowed 122 tanneries to reopen and operate at 50 per cent capacity. However, they were later ordered to be shut citing the National Green Tribunal (NGT) guidelines pertaining to pollution. 

These frequent lockout of Kanpur leather tanneries has led to decline in Bharat’s finished leather exports by nearly 29 per cent during April-August 2019 compared to the same period previous year i.e., April-August 2018. Kanpur leather industry, including tanneries and leather goods manufacturers, estimated at Rs 12,000 crore, provides direct and indirect employment to a million people in Kanpur and Unnao districts. The cluster generates Rs 6,000 crore worth of exports to the Gulf, Europe, China, Iran and other countries.

NGT in June, 2018 directed the industries in Kanpur to pay 25 per cent of the total cost in relation to the construction, upgradation of sewage treatment plant, CETP and providing common infrastructure at Jajmau, Unnao and Banthar. It is interesting to note that the tanneries and state pollution control board submitted before the NGT as under. 

The tanneries agreed to cooperate and make a contribution of Rs 137 crore for the upgradation of the pre-treatment plant and apart from it to pay an additional sum of Rs 25 crore. 

State pollution control board told the bench that a huge dump of waste was lying at Kanpur and Rs 23.50 crore in the ratio of 60:40 per cent was required to remove it.

Environmentalist and lawyer  Mr. M.C. Mehta who filed the initial petition said that more than 60,000 tonnes of chromium waste was lying in Kanpur and polluting the environment. The tribunal made the remark saying the governments Centre and the State have spent over Rs 7,000 crore since 2014 under National Mission for Clean Ganga which still remains a “serious environmental issue”.

Instead of confrontation, if the main parties to the issue i.e., industries in Kanpur and the UP State Pollution Control Board adopt a collaborative approach this issue can be resolved once for all.

The author has a suggestion in this regard as under:

Since the industries in Kanpur particularly the tanneries are not in good financial condition, the UP government may come forward to fund the total cost of the construction of common infrastructure for effluent treatment and sewage disposal. UP government may also take some funding support from the central government under the Namami Gange Project for this purpose.

Upon construction of the common infrastructure at the various specified locations the UP Government may handover the same to a SPV floated by all the industrial bodies whose members are operating industries in these specified locations. This SPV to take up the responsibility of maintenance and upgradation of the common infrastructure, collect the maintenance/ user charges from the industrial units and repay 25% of the total cost of the construction of common infrastructure back to the UP Government over an agreed period of time.

The SPV to set up an industrial waste water treatment plant for removal of chromium and recycle the treated waters by supplying to the industries (particularly the tanneries who need lot of water for their operations) by collecting water charges. 

UP Government to start sewage water treatment and recycling plant in addition to the above mentioned industrial waste water treatment and supply the treated (sewage) water back to the industrial units be levying water charges. 

The above suggestion if implemented will not only resolve once for all the current problem of untreated industrial effluents and sewage waters entering into the Ganges river but also additionally generate some revenues from the same through proper treatment and recycling mechanism.

Experts say the improvement in the Ganga’s water during the lockdown is a sign that the river can recover. However, recovery of the river and restoration of its purity will totally depend on collective human efforts.

As the saying goes- “collective thinking avoids collective sinking”. Let us hope the major stakeholders- industries, UP Government and Central Government will think collectively and work towards a permanent solution to restore the Ganga river back to its glory.

(Featured image source)


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About the Author

B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 14 years of teaching, research and consulting. 100 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 20 short stories and 27 articles published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]