By : Kalpana Palkhiwala : The pollution load on major rivers has increased over the years due to industrialization and urbanisation. Use of water for irrigation, drinking, power and other purposes compound the challenge.
Source of Pollution
The rivers are polluted by the discharge of treated and untreated municipal waste and industrial effluent. All the large and medium industries have installed effluent treatment plants and are generally meeting the prescribed standards (30 mg / 1) with respect to Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD). However, the cumulative impact of many industrial point sources adds to higher concentration in some pockets of the country. In case of municipal wastewater, it is estimated that Class-I cities (423) and Class –II towns (449) generate more than 33000 million litres of sewage per day against which the treatment capacity exists only for about 7000 million litres per day of sewage in the country. The responsibility of treatment of sewage lies with concerned municipal authorities. Until these authorities are able to treat the sewage to full capacity, the problem of DOB cannot be solved.
River conservation is an ongoing and collective effort of the Central and the State Governments. Pollution abetments works are implemented under the centrally sponsored National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) to improve the water quality in rivers. The NRCP covers identified polluted stretches of 37 rivers, including Ganga, Yamuna, Damodar and Subarnarekha, spread over 20 States in the country. River conservation activities are also being implemented under other central schemes, such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns, as well as under State schemes.
Implementation of river conservation plans is constrained by factors such as land acquisition, inadequate provisions for operation and maintenance of assets created, irregular power supply, under utilisation of sewage treatment plants, non-print sources of pollution etc.
At present, 1365 locations covering 282 rivers are under the scanner of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs).
CPCB updated the list of polluted stretches on the water quality data in the year 2000. 86 polluted water bodies/stretches were identified. Among them, 71 pertained to rivers and 15 to lakes and tanks. Later, based on the water quality data for seven years from 2000 to 2006, 178 polluted water bodies/stretches were identified out of which 139 were on rivers, 33 stretches on lakes, tanks, ponds, 3 on creeks and 3 were on canals.
Criteria for Identification of Polluted Stretch
A polluted stretch is where the desired level of water quality does not meet the defined uses with respect to Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand. In the present exercise, those water bodies having BOD more than 6mg/1 are identified as polluted water bodies. In any stretch of river, the use demanding the highest quality of water is taken as the designated best use. The water quality criterion for each of the designated best use has been given by CPCB.
The water quality under Class ‘A’ suggest use for ‘drinking water source without conventional treatment but after disinfection, where the dissolved oxygen should be 6 mg/l or more, Biochemical Oxygen Demand should be 2 mg/I or less and total Coliform should be 50 MPN/100 ml.
Class ‘B’ is only for outdoor bathing. This water must have dissolved oxygen-5 mg/1or more, Biochemical Oxygen Demand -3 mg/1 or less. Coliform should be 500 MPN/100 ml (desirable) but if it is 2500 MPN/100 ml, it is maximum permissible limit.
For Class ‘C’ water can be used as drinking water source with conventional treatment followed by disinfection. Dissolved Oxygen has been stated to be 4mg/1or more and Biochemical Oxygen Demand has been stated at 3 mg/l or less and total Coliform should be 5000 MPN/100ml.
Class ‘D’ and Class ‘E’ water quality are for the use for wild life and irrigation etc. The amount of dissolved oxygen at 4mg/l or more and free ammonia at 1.2 mg/l are good for propagation of wildlife and fisheries. The water having 2250 mhos/cu electrical conductivity, sodium absorption ratio 26 or less and Boron at 2 mg/l can be used for irrigation, industrial cooling and controlled waste disposal.
NRCP and Its Coverage
The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) is being implemented by the Central Government jointly with the State Governments on a cost- sharing basis. The pollution abatement works under NRCP presently covers identified polluted stretches of 37 major rivers in 166 towns spread over 20 States in the country. The sanctioned cost of the projects under NRCP is Rs. 4391.83 crore, against which an expenditure Rs. 3868.49 crore has been incurred so far. At present, 783 of the 1064 sanctioned schemes have been completed and a sewage treatment capacity of 3057.29 mld out of the sanctioned capacity of 4212.81 mld has been created. The figures include the works done /being done under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase-II and exclude those of GAP-I.A sewage treatment capacity has been created under River Action Plans.
Objectives of NRCP
The NRCP undertakes pollution abatement works in the rivers for improvement of its water quality so as to make it suitable for bathing. They are Interception and Diversion works to capture the raw sewage flowing into the river through open drains and divert them for treatment; Sewage Treatment Plants for treating the diverted sewage; Low Cost Sanitation works to prevent open defecation on river banks; Electric Crematoria and Improved Wood Crematoria to conserve the use of wood and help in ensuring proper cremation of bodies; River Front Development works such as improvement of bathing ghats etc. and public awareness campaigns.
Funding Pattern for NRCP
The funding pattern for the river cleaning programme has undergone several changes over the years. The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase I which started in 1985 was a 100% centrally funded scheme. The funding pattern changed to 50:50 between the Central Government and the State Governments for GAP Phase II in 1993. This was revised again to 100% by the Government w.e.f. 01.04.1997. The funding pattern is 70:30 between Centre and States with effect from 01.04.2001. Of the 30% share of States, a minimum of 1/3rd is to be in the form of share of public /local body.
An amount of Rs. 2100 crore has been provided in the XI Plan (2007-2012) for works under NRCP against the estimated requirement of Rs. 8303 crores, as assessed in the Report by Working Group on Rivers Lakes and Aquifers constituted by the Planning Commission. During the Year 2007-08 Rs. 251.83 crore were spent and in the year 2008-09 an amount of Rs. 276 crore were spent under NRCP.
Problems in Implementation
It is observed that after creation of assets like the Sewage Treatment Plants under the River Action Plans, the State Governments/ urban Local Bodies do not provide for Operation & Maintenance of these assets. There are also cases of non-availability of power supply for operation, lack of expertise and capacity for proper operation and maintenance of the assets. Due to continuous increase of the population and industrialisation along the banks of the rivers leading to increase in pollution and, gap in the availability of financial resources to take up the works commensurate with the requirements, there is always some backlog expected between the required pollution load to be tackled and the actual pollution load to be tackled and the actual pollution abatement works planned to be tackled.
Marginal Success of River Actions Plans
Limited approach of preventing of pollution of river by installation of STPs has been followed .The State Governments carry out pollution abatement works through their implementing agencies where required priority is not given. Operation & Maintenance of assets is often neglected. Another reason is treatment of sewage for control of Coliform in addition to BOD & SS in many of the STPs is not carried out. Water extraction for variety of uses such as irrigation, drinking, industrial use and power are not being controlled by states. In respect of issues like water extraction, ensuring minimum flow, run off agricultural field’s etc. inter-Ministerial coordination is lacking. The work of conservation of rivers so far has been limited to prevention of pollution arising due to domestic wastewater. Other works such as improving the ecology of river, by taking care of aquatic life, reducing soil erosion by ensuring catchments area treatment, etc have not been covered.