“River’s condition can’t improve unless 100% sewage is treated”

The major source of the Capital’s water is also the destination for a large amount of its raw sewage, as treatment plants are being underutilised and sewage is flowing into the Yamuna.

As per the Delhi Jal Board, which is responsible for managing the city’s sewage, 680 million gallons per day (MGD) of sewage is produced, while its treatment capacity is 594.72 MGD. As if the 86 MGD shortfall wasn’t bad enough, the water utility is unable to fully use its existing capacity. On June 6, for which latest data is available, the DJB treated 343.28 MGD at its sewage treatment plants. That means 42.28 per cent of the installed treatment capacity is not being used.

“The Yamuna accounts for 70 per cent of Delhi’s water supply. However, the stretch of the river running through Delhi is extremely polluted as a result of the uncontrolled flow of untreated sewage and the discharge of industrial effluents,” found the Delhi Human Development Report, 2013.

A 2010 report by A.K. Misra of the Institute of Technology and Management, Gurgaon, titled A River About to Die, said: “Delhi alone contributes around 3,296 million litres per day of sewage water in the Yamuna”.

In May 2012, The Hindu had reported that the actual treatment was 350 MGD against the installed capacity of 512 MGD. At that time, the Jal Board had said treatment capacity would increase to 614.4 MGD by the end of 2012. But, instead of reaching that target, the water utility’s sewage treatment output has actually gone down.

The DJB has blamed underutilisation of the plants on problems relating to the expansion of its sewage line network, which it insisted involved various other departments. “We have problems in conveying the sewage. We are not allowed to go into many unauthorised colonies and lay pipes. But, this problem will be solved by our proposed interceptor project,” said DJB spokesperson Sanjam Chima.

Environmentalists say a huge amount of sewage was finding its way into the Yamuna because of lack of planning and oversight. “This is a classic case of extremely poor planning. The Jal Board has created the capacity, but not made provisions to convey the sewage to the treatment plants,” said Manoj Misra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

He added that the Yamuna in Delhi “was nothing but sewage” and the situation would not improve until 100 per cent of the sewage was treated. “The irony is that where there is sewage, there is no treatment plant and where there is a plant, there is no sewage,” explained Mr. Misra.

Another problem is the mixing of treated water with raw sewage. Sushmita Sengupta, the deputy programme manager of the Centre for Science and Environment’s Water Programme Unit, said: “At the Yamuna Vihar plant, the DJB is releasing treated water into a nullah that also carries raw sewage from illegal colonies in the surrounding area. In Kondli, the treated water is mixed and then treated once more.” Ms. Sengupta explained that the resources used to treat sewage were going to waste as the treated water was being allowed to mix with dirty water.

According to Mr. Misra, the DJB should consider decentralising its sewage treatment system. “Smaller treatment facilities will mean that no pumping or other infrastructure is required,” Mr. Misra said.

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