Kanpur drain plugged but Ganga still unfit for bathing

Seven months after the plugging of Kanpur’s infamous Sisamau drain, which once drained nearly 140 million litres of untreated sewage into the Ganga and was a symbol of pollution in the river — the river continues to be unfit for bathing or drinking, according to a perusal of water quality reports analysed by The Hindu.

Between June 2016 and November 2018, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) completed a ₹63-crore exercise to divert sewage from the Sisamau drain to two treatment plants in different parts of Kanpur and stopped the expulsion of the drain, which once emptied out as a massive waterfall, into the river.

Parameters used

This should have meant that the stretch of the river downstream of the point where the Sisamau drain emptied out would have registered an improvement in water quality. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has defined norms on what constitutes acceptable river water quality. Three attributes: Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Coliform Matter (TCM) must conform to certain numbers. The DO should be 4 milligram/litre or more for it to be fit for drinking after disinfectation and treatment and, BOD should be 3mg/l or less and TCM/100 ml should be 5,000 or less. For it to be a fit source of bathing water: DO should be 5 or more, BOD should be 3 or less and TCM 500 or less.

Water quality reports prepared by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board after the drain was completely tapped in November 2018, showed that the reading in December, in ‘Downstream Kanpur’ — a measuring station — was as follows: the DO was 9, BOD 4.2 and TCM 28,000. In January these readings were 9, 3.3 and 34,000. In February they were 9.2, 3.2 and 28,000. Thus, while oxygen demand numbers were in the ball park of acceptability, the coliform numbers — an indication of the variety of bacterial species present — were significantly out of bounds. Water quality is being monitored, every month, at seven locations in Kanpur and ‘Downstream Kanpur’ is just one of them.

No significant gain

While it might look like the oxygen demand levels have improved due to the tapping of the sewage drain, data from the years before the drain was tapped showed that this too wasn’t a significant gain.

In November 2017, a year before the drain was tapped, the DO, BOD and TCM numbers were 7.2, 4.8, 70,000; in December 2017, it was 9.2, 6.1, and 120,000 respectively. The only significant gain between, say Dec ‘17 and Dec ‘18 was the TCM levels — a nearly 75% reduction.

A senior official in the Jal Shakti Ministry (formerly known as the Union Water Resources Ministry), which oversees the NMCG, said the TCM levels wouldn’t drop below a certain point. He also underlined that the Ganga wasn’t as polluted as it was being made out to be. “Because the Ganga is used for bathing, is used by humans and animals, TCM will not decline beyond a point. The Ganga was never an extremely polluted river,” U.P. Singh, Secretary, Jal Shakti Ministry, told The Hindu, on the sidelines of Ministry-led public event.

Another official, who didn’t want to be identified but is familiar with the proceedings of the Ganga mission, said it would be “impossible” for the government to show that the Ganga had been cleaned, if one were go by the accepted definition. “The Ganga is a living river and a thriving aquatic system. Certain stretches were dirty but tapping the drains cannot improve quality beyond a point. These are standards borrowed from European rivers and cannot be applied to the Indian context. The government will have a hard time proving that the river has been cleaned.”

Lacklusture attitude

The focus of the ₹28,000-crore NMCG was, as promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, cleaning the Ganga and under the implicit understanding that the river — worshipped by many — was polluted.

The focus of the mission was making sewage treatment plants, several in Uttar Pradesh, which faced the maximum problems with municipal sewage and industrial waste being directly dumped in the river. As of May, only 42 of the 151 sewage treatment and infrastructure projects had been completed.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 4:36:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/kanpur-drain-plugged-but-ganga-still-unfit-for-bathing/article28313757.ece

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