Namami Gange: Varanasi residents may be drinking their own sewage – Neera Majumdar & Kaveesha Kohli

Ganga at Varanasi

Almost four years since Prime Minister Modi’s promise, corpses and puja leftovers still pollute the river, while data shows the holy city might be drinking its own sewage. – Neera Majumdar & Kaveesha Kohli

Narendra Modi’s top electoral promise from the ghats of Varanasi was to clean the Ganga, a Herculean task attempted by several of his predecessors without much success.

Varanasi’s 84 ghats have seen considerable improvement since Modi, the Lok Sabha MP from the holy city, became Prime Minister. Steel dustbins dot the steps of the ghats, while IL&FS, a private company, has been given the contract to manage waste.

But that’s about as far as things have gone. “There have been no deep changes, only cosmetic ones. Ghat cleaning does not mean the Ganga has been cleaned,” said P.K. Mishra, professor of chemical engineering at IIT, BHU.

On a visit to the city, The Print found that the river itself is still chock-full of floating waste, pious refuse, animal and human remains, and sewerage.

Floating bodies

In 2016, the National Green Tribunal criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for allowing dead bodies to be dumped in the Ganga.

Locals said it was common practice among Hindus to not cremate unmarried girls or babies. Even hospitals sometimes dispose of bodies of patients that aren’t claimed, they said.

However, Anil Kumar Singh, Varanasi in-charge of the UP Pollution Control Board, insisted: “No dead bodies are disposed in the Ganga. Even the remains from the cremation ghats are carried away.”

The sewage treatment problem

Varanasi generates about 321.5 million litres of sewage per day (MLD). Sewage treatment plants (STP) can only treat 101.8 MLD, while the rest flows directly into the Ganga through the Varuna and the Assi, two rivers—now effectively drains—that flow across the city.

Many problems afflict the existing STPs, which were commissioned in Rajiv Gandhi’s time as PM. Outdated technology and lack of trained staff are two major ones, as is the interruption of electricity supply, which is acknowledged by the Central Pollution Control Board but denied by the Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam, the local supplier.

B.K. Pandey, GM of Jal Kal, the water supply and sewerage system maintenance agency, said both the Assi and the Varuna will be intercepted and their water sent to treatment plants. However, this plan may take another year to implement, as two STPs are still under construction. The plan is to complete them by March 2018 and take the total number of STPs in the city to five. The new STPs are funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

Another STP has been initiated under the Namami Gange project, for which the foundation stone was laid by PM Modi on 22 September 2017, three years after the flagship Ganga cleaning programme was launched.

Is Varanasi drinking its own refuse?

Varanasi’s sole functioning sewerage system was created by the British in 1917. The 100-year-old pipes have deteriorated, and in the monsoons, storm water and drain water often mix and flow into these pipelines.

A new sewer network has been laid in Varanasi under JICA, but it has been built as a rising main—which means constructed against the natural slope. Pumping stations will have to pump the waste against gravity to STPs for treatment. It is not yet operational.

Sewage is discharged into the Ganga at six points in Varanasi. These disperse waste water under some of the most famous ghats like Assi Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat. Although river front development has been sanctioned Rs 27.28 crore under Namami Gange in Varanasi, the river itself is being polluted at these ghats.

Varanasi draws 270 MLD of its water needs from the Ganga. The Bhadani Pumping Station just downstream of the Assi nullah outlet draws most of this water. This means that at the intake point, there’s a very high level of faecal coliform bacteria, and that Varanasi may be drinking its own sewage.

The Sankat Mochan Foundation has been monitoring the Ganga and its water quality for over 30 years. Latest data collected by it in June 2016 shows faecal coliform (FC) levels at 41,00,000/100 ml near the Assi confluence (Nagwa canal) and 53,00,000/100 ml at the Varuna confluence. Normal FC level is 500-2,500/100 ml for bathing water standard.

About this problem, UPPCB’s Singh said: “Till untreated sewage is flowing into the Ganga, there can be no controlling of faecal coliform.”

How much longer?

The glacial pace of Ganga cleaning has led many to doubt if it can be finished in time for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, current head of the Sankat Mochan Temple and Foundation, said: “If you do not do anything for the Ganga itself, there is no benefit to just cleaning the ghats.”

Modi had once said in Varanasi that “Mother Ganga is awaiting a son who will accomplish the task of cleaning the river”. The question is: how long will the Ganga have to wait for her ‘sons’? – The Print, 8 January 2018

Ganga at Varanasi Facts

National Cadet Corps at Patna

Ganga clean-up law plans armed force, prison terms and fines – Shyamlal Yadav

The draft Bill makes it clear that no person or municipal authority will establish any industrial or residential or commercial premises which may result in discharge of any sewage or trade effluent into the Ganga, otherwise he may face a five-year prison term or a fine of Rs 50,000 per day or both. – Shyamlal Yadav

An armed Ganga Protection Corps (GPC) whose personnel will have powers to arrest those who pollute the river; treating a slew of actions—from obstructing the flow to commercial fishing—as cognizable offences that may attract a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.

These are among the measures in the draft Bill prepared by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation which has sought opinion of various stakeholders.

The draft, accessed by The Indian Express, says that present environmental laws aren’t adequate to restore and protect the river. The Bill calls for a National Ganga Council and a National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority to enforce the law and protect the river which flows over 2500 km.

Cognizable offences marked in the draft Bill include: construction activities causing obstruction in the river; withdrawal of ground water for industrial or commercial consumption from the land fronting the river and its tributaries; commercial fishing or aqua culture in the river and its tributaries; discharging untreated or treated sewage into the river.

Sources said a Cabinet note has been circulated to Secretaries of departments concerned and their comments are coming in.

The draft Bill envisages the Ganga Protection Corps as an armed force “constituted and maintained” by the Central government. “If any member of GPC has reason to believe that any person has committed an offence punishable under this Act, he may take such person in custody to the nearest police station.” GPC will follow Code of Criminal Procedure.

Its personnel, the draft Bill says, will be provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs and will be deployed by National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority. While almost similar provisions are there in the Environment Protection Act 1986, creation of GPC is new.

The draft Bill says that commercial fishing or aqua culture activities in the Ganga and any of its tributaries shall be punishable with imprisonment for two years or a fine of Rs 2 lakh or both. Similarly, construction of permanent structure for residential, commercial and residential purposes in the active flood plain area of Ganga will be punishable with a two-year imprisonment or fine up to Rs 50 lakh or both.

The draft makes it clear that no person or municipal authority will establish or take any steps to set up any industrial or residential or commercial premises or structure which may result in discharge of any sewage or trade effluent into the Ganga, otherwise he may face a five-year prison term or a fine of Rs 50,000 per day or both.

In July 2016, a committee was constituted under retired judge of the Allahabad High Court Justice Girdhar Malviya who had submitted a draft Bill last year named The National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2017. Subsequently, a four-member committee was set up by the Ministry to examine that and the Ministry has circulated a Cabinet note which includes a revised version of that draft Bill.

Incidentally, as judge of Allahabad High Court, Justice Malviya, in 1998, had called for a “River Police” to protect the Ganga. – The Indian Express, 5 September 2018

Ganga bank at Kolkata

49% of Ganga has high biodiversity, but rest is adversely affected: Study – Shivani Azad

In a 1,082-km stretch of the Ganga that runs from Haridwar to Varanasi, 21 wastewater inflow points were found, where untreated sewage and industrial discharge was being dumped into the river. – Shivani Azad

A survey of the 2,525 kilometre-long Ganga river in five states, conducted as part of the Centre’s Namami Gange programme, has revealed that aquatic life in 49% of the Ganga had recorded high biodiversity, but the rest may have been adversely affected due to sewage and pollution from industries and water being diverted for agricultural activities like irrigation.

A team of 100 experts from the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) studied the river since 2016. Elaborating on the findings, director of WII Dr Vinod Mathur said, “The study shows that 49% of the river had breeding population of aquatic fauna such as dolphins, gharials, turtles and fish. Six high biodiversity stretches were identified in the river.”

The study also found that a 565 km stretch of the Ganga from Narora to Allahabad in UP was most vulnerable, and had very little presence of aquatic life. Syed Ainul Hussain, senior scientist at WII, said, “Scarce flow of water in the mainstream has impacted this 565 km stretch profusely. Excessive extraction of water for irrigation and reduced groundwater levels due to agricultural activities are particularly having an adverse effect on this stretch of the Ganga.”  Hussain added that the government should focus on promoting crop rotation and removing water-intensive crops in the belt to stop groundwater depletion.

The survey by the institute found that water in some patches had fallen down to alarmingly low levels. Water extraction from the Upper Ganga Canal at Bhimgoda, Haridwar, Middle Ganga Canal at Bijnor and Lower Ganga Canal and Parallel Lower Ganga Canal at Narora, in particular, had reduced the flow of the river to 10% of its natural flow, scientists said. Barrages at Bhimgoda, Bijnor, Narora and Kanpur have also restricted migration of aquatic species along the river.

The survey report said that most freshwater turtle populations were declining in the Ganga due to toxic chemical substances from agricultural fields and industries and altered natural flow regime by dams and barrages, which can cause nest inundation, among other factors.

Like the freshwater turtle, the golden mahseer is declining rapidly in its natural habitat due to urbanisation, and chemical and physical alterations of their natural habitats due to the growing number of hydroelectric and irrigation projects, the report stated. The report cited that Tehri Dam had acted as a barrier to migration of golden mahaseer, leading to a decline in its population.

“In the baseline survey, we found 1,400 dolphins across the surveyed stretch, whereas in Kanpur, a stretch of about 40 km reported no dolphins at all. It indicates adverse impact of pollution and water scarcity on the biodiversity of Ganga,” said Gaura Chandra Das, who was part of the study.

The scientists also found high pesticide contamination in the Ganga in 32 different sites that were surveyed. In a 1,082-km stretch of the Ganga that runs from Haridwar to Varanasi, 21 wastewater inflow points were found, where untreated sewage and industrial discharge was being dumped into the river. – TWC/TNN, 18 September 2018

Ganga (2018)

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