The haphazard nature of the Capital’s drainage system becomes apparent when one is hit by the stench arising from open drains across the city. What is not as obvious is the solution to this environmental and health hazard.
Environmental activists say covering and paving the drains would lead gases getting trapped inside, making for a toxic mess. Manoj Misra of non-government organisation Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan is unequivocal when he says concretising the drains is “unacceptable”.
“What is important is that the sewage they carry is treated, and not the other way around that you cover the drain and forget about them,” said Mr. Misra.
The NGO has filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal on the covering of drains. The tribunal has asked the authorities concerned to reply and will hear the matter on October 21.
Just as the plan of the authorities is in question, the result of concretising projects is inconclusive.
Defence Colony resident Rohit Dhawan said there was an ever-present stink around a drain in the area ever since it was covered last year. “There are pillars in the middle of the covered drain to support the structure and all the debris collects around them. Earlier, in the open drain, there was no hindrance to the flow. Now, it is not clear as to how the accumulated muck will get cleared.”
Having long worked on the subject, Mr. Misra said the solution lies in ensuring that the drains remain open and the water gets treated before entering the stream. “As long as they remain open to the sky, their aeration and ability to clean themselves is ensured.”
“All over the world today, they are rediscovering and opening buried streams. We have the opportunity to treat them properly, but we are aping the West to first bury them.”
Meanwhile, scientists have come up with an alternative solution. A research product, Nulagi, invented by T. Sampath Kumar claims to clean up sewage-filled drains.
“It is a nano nutrient that increases oxygen in the water and reduces the carbon dioxide content, thus giving life to Diatom algae, which absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen due to photosynthesis. Diatom algae are food for zooplanktons, which are in turn food for tiny fish that are eaten by other fish, thus regulating the water body,” explained Puneet Mehrotra, head of NCR-based Nano Science and Technology Consortium.
The consortium promotes nanotechnology solutions and facilitates interaction between scientists, students and industry. Mr. Mehrotra said the product has had success in cleaning water bodies in India and abroad.
“Eventually the environment works on natural principles. Two measures need to be taken simultaneously —drastically reducing the chemical inflow into our drains and improving the existing water quality by adding nutrients.”
While many residents in the Capital may want a quick-fix solution to the smelly problem, Mr. Misra calls for treading with caution. “These are not just storm water drains but strips of greenery. They should remain as repositories of biodiversity in the city, rather than being covered and forgotten”.