The river water turns toxic at Kanpur due to heavy influx of industrial waste and city sewage. The total sewage capacity of Kanpur is around 280 mld and the capacity to treat it is only 117 mld. Rakesh Jaiswal, an environmental activist, points out that the first common effluent treatment plant (CETP) commissioned in 1994 has a capacity to treat only 9 mld, whereas the tannery effluent discharge is 40 mld. Again, chrome liquor (a chemical used in tanning) that contains chromium, a known carcinogenic, also ends up untreated in the river. Though a common chrome treatment plant was installed in 2005, less than 900 litres are processed by the plant. “The reason being that many industrial units don’t send their waste water for treatment, whereas the plant can treat 70,000 litres daily,” says Jaiswal. In fact, on 1 October 2011, a two-judge Bench of the Allahabad High Court hearing a PIL on stopping pollution in the Ganga, directed that chromium-based tanneries in Kanpur be closed. Overall, there are 402 listed tanneries — besides many unlisted ones — in Kanpur. Of these, at least 100 use chromium-based systems to process leather. More than 80 percent of the waste water flows untreated and unchecked into the river. “In Kanpur, the responsibility to treat the waste water is shared between the government and industries, and that makes it easier for them to pass the buck. The government should only play the role of a regulator. Somebody who is polluting the Ganga should also clean it,” says Jaiswal.
ON THE banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, where millions of Hindus visit to pray, meditate, bathe and cremate their dead, the situation is no better. The holy town generates 350 mld of sewage, but the three sewage treatment plants (STPs) can treat only around 122 mld. Also, two of the three plants have not been functional for seven to eight years. The one that is operational is unable to function because of frequent power cuts. This means that close to 225 mld of sewage is released into the Ganga. The level of coliform is a few lakh mpn per 100 ml of water.
River Under Siege
Rs 1,100 Cr
Officially spent by the government of India to clean up the Ganga
Rs 20,000 Cr
Spent to clean up the river, According to the counsel for the Central Pollution Control Board
Amount of water diverted for irrigation purposes, leading to low flow of the river and exacerbating pollution
Billions Litres Daily
Sewage discharged into the Ganga, according to government of India figures
With the Ganga ferrying thousands of half-burnt corpses and animal carcasses, flesh-eating turtles were released to clean up the cesspool the river has become. But it didn’t work. According to BD Tripathi, member, National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), “A little more imagination was required. Here, turtles were released, but there was no effort to ensure that they survived. As a result, most of the turtles were poached by fishermen or killed.”
In Kolkata, the Ganga (also known as Hooghly) appears as dirty as anywhere else. “In 2005, the Calcutta High Court had asked us to look into the quality of water flowing into the river,” says Kalyan Rudra, adviser to the West Bengal government on environmental affairs. “Coliform levels were around 2 lakh mpn per 100 ml. The water is most polluted in Dakshineswar Ghat. In Kalighat, it has turned into a sewer channel. Factories rampantly discharge industrial waste into the river.”
Around 150 large industrial plants are lined up along the banks of the Hooghly around Kolkata. Together, these plants contribute 30 percent of the total industrial effluents reaching the Ganga. “As a result, the Gangetic river dolphin, which is the national aquatic animal, has almost become extinct. Even the Hilsa, Bengal’s favourite fish, is hardly found in the Hooghly anymore,” he laments.