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From Open Defecation To Indiscriminate Waste Disposal, Why Cleaning-up Ganga Is An Arduous Task

Though 80 percent villages along the banks of Ganga have become open defecation free (ODF), a lot remains to be done on the untreated sewerage and waste disposal fronts

  • Open defecation for years has caused severe damage to the Ganga
  • Release of untreated sewage and pollutants by industries cause damage
  • Nearly 80 per cent villages along the Ganga have become ODF

When the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was announced in October 2014, one of the priorities was to eradicate open defecation and rampant dumping of waste from villages and towns situated along the banks of river Ganga. Ganga, which flows for a length of 2,525 kilometres and passes through the five crucial states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. For years, open defecation and dumping of waste was a common culture across rural India, and the towns and villages near Ganga were no exception. Eradicating the practice of open defecation from the 5,169 villages has posed significant challenges for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for multiple reasons.

An Age Old Practice

Defecating across the banks of a water body as immense as the Ganga is a practice which is centuries old, passed on from one generation to other. The abundance of water in the form of Ganga has allowed people to not only defecate openly but also bathe and wash clothes and utensils right alongside the river, resulting in flow of faecal sewage. Apart from individuals, industries too are guilty of using the Ganga to dump their waste. The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation estimates that 764 industries release about 500 million litres of wastewater every day. Though 48 industrial units which were dumping waste in the river were asked to shut down right after ‘Namami Gange’ was launched, the discharge of untreated wastewater remains a matter of concern.

Polluting the Ganga has become a habit for people

Polluting the Ganga has become a habit for people

Since the campaign began, we have concentrated on spreading awareness among people to stop them from defecating in the open. From conducting campaigns which stressed on the river’s holiness to spreading the word about ill effects open defecation, we have consistently focused on changing the habit of open defecation, said Akshay Kumar Rout, Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Swachha Bharat Mission.

The Centre State Disputes

The relationship between the Union and State governments has played a tricky part in the implementation of several Ganga cleaning schemes. Rs. 5780 Crores has been released to Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) for construction since 2014 of toilets in 1651 Gram Panchayats of 5 Ganga Basin States. But out of the targeted 15,27,105 toilets, MoDWS has been able to complete construction of only 8,53,397 toilets accounting for just 55 per cent, from 2014 to 2016. Often the requisite funds are not released on behalf of the state governments, which result in delayed toilet construction. The difference in the attitude of state governments can be gauged from their expenditure towards construction of toilets near the Ganga basin.

West Bengal which has spent Rs. 584 crores of in the building of toilets in the state remains one of the highest spending states under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, utilizing about 87 per cent of its allocated Rs. 667 crores of funds. Bihar on the other hand has spent merely Rs. 73 crores of its allocated Rs. 404 crores, utilising only 18 per cent of its Swachh Bharat funds. The villages in Bihar along the banks of river Ganga have performed the worst in terms of becoming open defecation free. Only 238 of the 795 villages situated near the bank of Ganga have attained the open defecation free status.

There is stark difference between states in utilisation of funds under Swachh Bharat

There is stark difference between states in utilisation of funds under Swachh Bharat

Dysfunctional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs)

Similar to the local population residing near Ganga, local industries have also treated the river as their favourite dumpyard for decades. Industrial units in cities like Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna have dumped sewage without ensuring treatment of any kind. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates that 80 per cent of the sewage which is dumped into the Ganga exceeds permissible standards of fecal coliform, a bacteria known notoriously for causing waterborne diseases. 64 sewage treatment plants are spread across 5 states but 20 of them are non-functional. Of the ones which are functional, these are collectively responsible for treating some 2,723.30 million litres/day (MLD) of sewage while treatment capacity is for 1,208.8 MLD. The functional STPs are treating more than 125 per cent of their capacity, which puts immense pressure on the machineries treating the waste, and drains them of their performance lifeline, and results in untimely closure of the plants. The provision to treat industrial waste and sewage separately remains non-existent and hence sewage and wastewater is discharged into the river directly, without treatment.

The lack of proper sewage treatment plants has ensured further deterioration for the river

The lack of proper sewage treatment plants has ensured further deterioration for the river

On April 2017, the National Green Tribunal ordered the shutdown of 13 industrial units in Uttar Pradesh for releasing pollutants in the Ganga. The NGT also decided to itself conduct inspections on the most polluted stretch of Ganga river, between Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Under the Namami Gange initiative, 13 new STPs are undergoing construction with a sewerage capacity of 1187 MLD. Pollution in the Ganga cannot be tackled unless sewage flowing into the river is properly treated. The new STPs will ensure that sewage from industry heavy cities of Kanpur and Allahabad are properly treated, said Samir Sinha, Official Spokesperson, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation.

Lack Of Coordination

The lack of coordination and a lacklustre attitude of officials and ministries have hurt the Ganga rejuvenation attempts for many years now. From 2003 to 2014, the National River Conservation Authority (NRCA), one of the concerned bodies for Ganga rejuvenation did not meet even once in 10 years. The steering committee of the body, which is made up of members representing the 5 concerned states through which the river flows, has not met since 2007. This apparent lack of coordination is something the present Union Government is looking at and trying to get all concerned bodies and officials to meet more frequently for discussing, knowledge sharing and stock taking of the progress made. Recently, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Minister, Uma Bharti had declared that lacklustre attitude towards the ‘Namami Gange’ project will not be tolerated.

Since the Namami Gange programme was announced, the coordination between the Ministry of water Resources, state governments and NMCG officials has improved. Regular coordination between Namami Gange officials and Swachh Bharat officials is necessary to improve the status of Ganga and eradicate open defecation and waste disposal at the earliest, said Mr. Rout.

While 80 per cent of the villages situated near Ganga have attained open defecation free status, the setting up of STPs, effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and sewer network needs to be speeded up for the Ganga to be truly pollution free and fit for the human entity status it was recently bestowed with. The human entity status is of high significance, since it was bestowed to ensure that the widespread misuse of Ganga as a dumping yard would stop. The revival of Ganga is critical because being India’s longest flowing river across five states, a large population is dependent on it for drinking water and irrigation. Pollution and depletion of Ganga’s water has severely hampered the river’s water quality, resulting in widespread diseases and inability to use the river water for sustainability purposes. Not just humans, several river fauna such as the Gangetic dolphins are facing the threat of extinction due to the polluted water of the Ganga. Ganga’s revival has become a critical for the environment, ecosystem and India’s social history so that the river can retain its lost glory.

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