- Flowing for over 1,400 kilometres, Godavari is India’s second largest river
- Pollution from several sources is rendering the river lifeless
- A 1991 conservation plan fell apart due to non-cooperation between states
In Kothagudem town in Bhadrachalam district in Telangana, the district hospital gets regular patients complaining of skin diseases. Ranging from mild itches to sometimes severe rashes, skin disease is a common occurrence across the district. While initially dismissive of it as just a medical phenomenon, a 2013 study by the district’s health department connected the frequent occurrence of skin diseases to usage of water from the river Godavari. It was then realised that the river, which was frequently used all across the district for purposes ranging from drinking to washing, was causing severe skin problems among the population of Bhadrachalam.
Bhadrachalam was a part of Andhra Pradesh in 2013 and is a part of Telangana now. On ground however, not much has changed for the people who continue to use the river water for domestic purposes. Godavari, India’s second longest river with a length of more than 1,400 kilometres flows through seven states and one union territory. Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are the major states through which the river runs its course and is a significant source for water for industries and irrigation in these three states. Severe industrial pollution is rendering the river lifeless in many regions across these three states and despite efforts from the state governments, little is being done to curb pollution in Godavari.
Industrial and Domestic Waste Wreaking Havoc
Domestic waste disposal in Godavari is a huge problem authorities are yet to find any solution for. The towns of Nashik and Nanded in Maharashtra, Chennur and Bhadrachalam in Telangana and Narsapur and Pattiseema in Andhra Pradesh are some of the towns notorious for waste disposal in the river. In 2016, the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) recovered more than 11 lakh tonnes of garbage from the river on the occasion of Chatth Puja. Even on normal days, the aforementioned towns records waste disposal at an unprecedented level, averaging somewhere between 250 to 300 tonnes daily. Efforts to stop disposal of waste into the river have proved to be futile as civic bodies complain of lack of awareness among people and habitual issues due to which waste dumping continues to be an issue.
People simply find it convenient to dispose the waste into the river. Despite setting up dustbins along the river banks and placing signboards asking people not to dump waste in or around the river, there is hardly any change, said Abhishek Krishna, Municipal Commissioner, Nashik Municipal Corporation.
At least 150 public and private companies have factories located across the banks of Godavari in three states and are responsible for discharging toxic pollutants. Chemical pollutants, oil discharges and electronic waste is regularly dumped into the Godavari. A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report of January 2013 found that the biological oxygen demand (BOD) of the river in 13 spots across the three states ranged between 12 and 14 mg/litre, against the permissible limit of 4 mg/litre, signaling severely high levels of pollution. 20 thermal power stations are there in the Godavari basin and waste from them is also discharged into the river, resulting in further contamination of the water.
Godavari Conservation Efforts
There have efforts made to address the problem of Godavari. The Godavari River Pollution Control Scheme, launched in 1991 at a massive cost of Rs 34.19 crore was the second largest river conservation project after the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) of 1986. The project however, ended up being a failure. The reason behind the scheme’s failure was the non-cooperation between Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh (Telangana was created in 2014), especially on how to utilise the total allotted fund for the project. Further, the states also failed to bring together the urban local bodies who had to play an important part in order to curb waste disposal in the river, especially by local people.
Like a majority of river conservation plans of India, the ambitious plan to curb pollution in Godavari was also a failure because the two most important states could not come to terms on how to even begin addressing the issue. Today much of Godavari’s polluted state is existent because conservation efforts have hardly seen any success, said Prakash Kadave, Professor, RH Sapat College of Engineering and author of ‘Water Quality Assessment of the River Godavari.’
On April 2017, the Nashik civic body was directed by the Bombay High Court to look into the conservation efforts of the river but the civic body has maintained that without adequate support from the state, it is not possible for it to engage in river conservation efforts.
Breathing Life into the River
While a difficult task, Godavari’s importance as a river makes it too precious to ignore the pollution threats it faces. An independent report prepared by a team of researchers at Sapat College of Engineering in 2015 suggested that the first step to curb pollution in Godavari would be to conduct a joint inspection by all three states of the thermal plants and industries, and taking a count of the kind of effluents and pollutants they are producing.
Clamping down on the flow of pollutants would ensure that toxic sewage flow in the river is checked. Secondly, the urban local bodies of towns which are situated near the river basin must check waste disposal with adequate help from the state governments. If these two areas are addressed properly, the river cleanup processes can begin at a large scale for the river to be cleaned up of the deposited pollutants. If disposal of sewage and waste is not checked, then Godavari’s speedy journey towards becoming a dead river, like the Yamuna in Delhi and downstream, will soon be complete.