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A non-polluting pilot

Smriti Kak Ramachandran
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Students engaged in environment studies offer States their blueprint on wastewater management

EFFLUENTS SURF UP:Crossing the Yamuna.PHOTO: Manish Swarup/AP.
EFFLUENTS SURF UP:Crossing the Yamuna.PHOTO: Manish Swarup/AP.

Untreated sewage allowed to flow into the rivers has been identified as a major reason for polluting country’s rivers, including the Yamuna. As governments and civic agencies in States like Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh draft plans and spend monies to stop the flow of untreated effluents into the rivers, two students from Delhi have pitched in with an idea that the duo claims will help revive the river without incurring heavy spending.

Salomi Nautiyal and Shruti Syal have proposed the Artificially Constructed Wetlands for Urban Sewage treatment (ACWUS) system to treat wastewater in ‘informal settlements’, and simultaneously provide green waterscapes in at least 26 locations in Delhi.

Referring to their project, the duo said: “Nearly half of Delhi’s population lives in informal settlements with no access to sewage networks. The government is planning to spend about Rs. 2454 crore to provide sewer network access to them by means of interceptor drains, only by the year 2036. That’s 25 years from now! At the same time, the Delhi Development Authority spends Rs.40 crore annually to set up green spaces, and has spent Rs. 83 crore to cover only two drains in the city. These initiatives, though necessary, are high maintenance and cost intensive.”

Ms. Nautiyal who has recently graduated from her programme in Sustainable Development and Ms. Syal who is pursuing her final year of studies in the Environmental Studies programme at The Energy Research Institute (TERI) University claim wetlands are a “validated, low-cost, scalable technology that can act as supplementary wastewater treatment solution, provide environmental hygiene, and create green public spaces”.

The ACWUS project the duo said is unique, as it engages the residents of informal settlements, and undergraduates enrolled in relevant courses to monitor wetland performance.

As many as 30 sites across the city have been shortlisted for the ACWUS project. “Community interaction has been initiated at the pilot site at Anna Nagar near Indraprastha Metro Station since October. The first stage of our plan is to focus on creating wetlands at a few sites, and demonstrating their efficacy. Once we’ve achieved that we’ll be in better position to move ahead. Rather than spread ourselves thin, our focus has been to complete our pilot, one step at a time,” the duo said.

For the past 18 years, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have spent a whopping Rs. 4,439 crore to clean the heavily polluted Yamuna. Despite the heavy spending and the intensive cleaning programmes, the river continues to remain polluted and its water unfit for consumption.

On how they were inspired to take up the project that is being funded by the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), they said: “We came to know about the National Student Competition 2011 organised by the IIHS in August last year and decided to work on the issues around water in Delhi. In meandering through data and literature on wastewater problems, water supply and harvesting, we settled on applying our knowledge on working out a cost-effective solution to the lack of access to sewage treatment network. Our proposal focused on creating supplementary infrastructure for decentralised treatment of wastewater using constructed wetlands, and ACWUS has come a long way since then by incorporating the goals of environmental stewardship and ecological education alongside the desire to test our ecological engineering in the provision of public infrastructure.”


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