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Ganga stinks to high heavens

INDIA-ENVIRONMENT-POLUTIONEvery km of the way, she’s dirty

Ganga is not any more the river of purity that we knew it to be. Faecal coliform – read shit – levels in the mainstream of the river—some 2,500 km from Gangotri in the hills to Diamond Harbour in Kolkata—remain above acceptable levels in every stretch. Even in the highly oxygenated upper stretches, faecal coliform levels, though within acceptable levels, are increasing in places like Rudraprayag and Devprayag, suggesting inadequate flow for dilution. So there is need for a new thing called ‘ecological flow of water’.

More dirt water than fresh

Pollution hot spots, the mega and fast-growing cities along the Ganga, present a grimmer picture. BOD levels are high downstream of Hardwar, Kannauj and Kanpur, and peak at Varanasi. But what is worrying is that in all the stretches pollution is getting worse. This is mainly because on this heavily populated stretch fresh water drawn from the river is increasing. Water is drawn for agriculture, industry and cities but only waste is returned to the river.

Most cities do not have the infrastructure to convey the sewage to the treatment plant; and most cities certainly do not have the money to run the plant. Worse still, the quantum of sewage that is estimated for treatment is wide of the mark. A recent estimate shows the difference between the official estimate of sewage and the measured discharge of wastewater into the Ganga is as much 3,364 million litres per day. This is 123  per cent higher than what was planned for.

3 tricks to fix the Ganga

A comprehensive solution to the Ganga pollution lies in dealing with three problem areas: one, finding water to dilute and assimilate waste; two, finding innovative ways to check the growing quantum of untreated sewage discharged into the river; and three, fixing the enforcement to stop industries from discharging waste into the river.

If rivers have water for dilution, cities can save money on expensive treatment systems. Instead, water inflow would enhance the assimilative capacity of the river for self-cleansing the waste.

But where will this additional water for ecological flow come from? Releasing more water upstream of the pollution hot spots will deprive farmers, cities and industries there and, therefore, will be contested. For instance, Haryana flatly refuses to give more water to Delhi for ecological flow in the Yamuna. So, instead of asking upstream users to release water, it must be mandated that ecological flow comes from the city or the state government’s own allocation of riparian water. The government then has a choice to either build storage to collect monsoon water for dilution within its territory, or release river water and make other arrangements for the requirements of agriculture, drinking and industry. In other words, all users must be forced to plan for water needs based on what the rivers can spare, not what they can take.

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