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Resuscitating the dying Mula-Mutha river in Pune

The Mula-Mutha river that snakes through Pune is an integral part of the city’s history and culture just like the Shaniwar Wada Fort and Parvati Hill.

Yet, urbanisation over the past decade has transformed the river into one of the country’s most-polluted water bodies. Earlier this year, the Central Pollution Control Board listed sections of the river among the ‘351 most critically polluted stretches’, earning Mula-Mutha the ignominy of being not only the most polluted river in Pune and Maharashtra but also in the country.

Discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents have led to a rise in the levels of nitrates and other toxins in the river, which courses along a 45-km stretch through Pune city before joining the Bhima river in Solapur. Thousands of people living along the 150-km stretch of the river, from the village of Uruli Devachi to parts of Solapur district, have for long been suffering from ailments such as renal colitis, dengue and anaemia.

Joint effort: Citizens and environmentalists remove plastic items strewn on the banks of the Mula-Mutha river in Pune on Tuesday.

Joint effort: Citizens and environmentalists remove plastic items strewn on the banks of the Mula-Mutha river in Pune on Tuesday.  

On November 25, around 20 environmental NGOs in the State joined hands with Pune civic authorities and thousands of citizens to resuscitate the river. Clean-up drives, ‘river walks’ and awareness campaigns were organised and nearly 30 mega tonnes of solid waste were cleared from the river at various points in the city.

Niranjan Upsane, a founding member of Jeevit Nadi Foundation, said, “Our drive will end on November 28 to mark India River Day. We are striving to make Mula-Mutha, Pavana and other rivers in the city water hyacinth-free and pollution-free so that they begin to flow naturally by 2020. We hope to make Pune the first ‘garbage-free river city’ of India.”

₹990-cr. clean-up project

Shailaja Deshpande, director of Jeevit Nadi Foundation, said people don’t seem to want to take the responsibility for maintaining water bodies. She said, “We have to stop pointing fingers at bureaucratic ineptness and start thinking about the legacy we are bequeathing our future generations.” Ms. Deshpande said officials and citizens were now waking up to extent of pollution in the river. She said, “Mutha is almost dead because it is not flowing consistently. Its flow is dependent on the will of the irrigation department.”

In July, after a long delay, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) started the process of appointing a private agency for the construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) as part of a ₹990-crore project to clean up Mula-Mutha river. The Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) is funding the project, which will be implemented by the PMC under the aegis of the National River Conservation Plan. The Central government and JICA inked a loan agreement for the project in January 2016.

Under the project, the PMC plans to construct 11 new STPs of 396 MLD (million litres per day) treatment capacity to cater to sewage generated up to 2027. The PMC will also lay 113.6-km of sewers and construct 24 community toilets. The sewage treatment capacity of the existing STPs is 477 MLD, while the volume of sewage generated is 728 MLD. The untreated sewage is discharged into Mula-Mutha river. According to PMC figures, around 873 MLD of sewage will be generated in 2027.

Resuscitating the dying Mula-Mutha river in Pune

Dhananjay Shedbale of Vanrai Foundation said that lack of centralised treatment of sewage at source made reviving Mula-Mutha an onerous task. He said, “The civic body’s flawed policy and the failure of authorities to foresee the rapid development in Pune has aggravated the problem of treating the water bodies in the city.”

The Environmental Status Report released by the PMC’s environment department in July pointed out a consistent rise in levels of chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and dissolved oxygen (DO) in the river since 2012. The BOD and COD levels indicate the degree of pollution in the river. While BOD gives the amount of oxygen biologically required to decompose organic matter under aerobic conditions, COD is the measurement of total oxygen required to oxidise all biologically available and inert organic matter into carbon dioxide and water.

Mangesh Dighe, PMC’s environment officer, said, “The incredible population growth in the city in the last decade, coupled with a culture of consumption as manifested in increasing usage of chemicals for domestic purposes, is the prime contributor to high pollution levels of Mula-Mutha.” Mr. Dighe said only 75% of the city’s raw sewage generation was being treated.

Uma Khare of Jeevit Nadi Foundation said, “To effect any major change, people must be sensitised to the plight of the river. Sociologically, the organic connect with the river has been ruptured as urban dwellers only use tap water.” She said sensitisation drives in the past three years like river walks and pleas to adopt a toxic-free lifestyle have helped citizens understand the gravity of the situation.

Resuscitating the dying Mula-Mutha river in Pune

Ms. Khare said, “The drive that began on November 25 is just one big thrust towards restoring the Mula-Mutha. Our weekly drives with school students and volunteers have led to the preservation of wetland along some stretches of the river.” Ms. Deshpande said it is imperative to preserve the source of the river and to put in place a plan for holistic preservation involving maintenance of the entire ecosystem.

‘Focus on groundwater’

Mr. Shedbale said the PMC’s concretisation programme for riverfront management is inimical to the rich ecosystem around the river. Ms. Deshpande said, “We should be preserving water sources rather than concretising riverfronts. This will severely impact the ecosystem, destroying flora and fauna. The focus should be on rejuvenating groundwater levels. Only then, can the river be toxin-free by 2025.”

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 5:55:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/resuscitating-a-dying-river/article25609079.ece

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