Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
The September 30, 1992, issue of Down To Earth gave a detailed analysis of the first six years of the Ganga Action Plan. The aim was to stop untreated industrial and domestic effluent from reaching the river and to revive its purity. Edited excerpts:
The Ganga Action Programme is a very ambitious scheme. It aims to clean one of the world’s longest rivers using sophisticated and expensive technologies. But the project does not sufficiently recognise that the river flows through one of the poorest and the most densely populated regions of the world.
Municipalities along the river are largely broke and the cities on its banks are growing phenomenally. Urban services in these settlements are shoddy and the countryside suffers from economic stagnation. Under the Ganga clean-up campaign, pollution control assets are being built at a high cost. But how well will they be used and maintained with discipline? K C Sivaramakrishnan, the former director of the Ganga Action Programme, once said the programme is mainly a programme of pumps and pipes—a sanitary engineer’s dream. Its main thrust is the diversion of sewage, which earlier flowed into the river, to a treatment facility.
The first question the states must answer before getting any further largesse is, how will they ensure disciplined use of the assets being created? How will they raise the resources to operate them properly? States want funds not just for capital investment but also for running costs. Is this going to be the pattern of river clean-up programmes across the country—first, a Central subsidy to install pipes and sewers, and then continued subsidy to keep them going? The states must also consider the political economy of defecation.
Modern sewage systems are expensive and investment in sewage systems mainly assists the rich to excrete in convenience. As few municipalities recover this investment, it becomes a subsidy for the rich. Now, environmental demands additionally require the sewage to be treated, the cost of which if not recovered becomes yet another subsidy.
Official figures say the total cost of providing sewage facilities for the country’s 1991 urban population and treating the sewage is estimated to be between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 30,000 crore. Where will this investment come from? Sewage systems constitute an ecologically mindless technology. Large amount of water is required to carry away small quantity of human excreta. Big dams and deep tubewells are needed to bring this water home. Then, large quantities of water that get flushed down the toilet, pollute rivers.
This lies at the heart of the river cleaning programme. It is neither rational nor sustainable. A proper approach would first demand that the polluter must pay. If the existing sewer systems are only serving the rich, then they must pay the costs of ecological depredation. Municipal tax collection is full of loopholes and the administration of cities would have to be improved substantially. The government should find low-cost, ecologically-sound waste disposal systems. Research should be undertaken on composting toilets that do not use water. Only an innovative approach can help meet the waste disposal needs of our people and restore our rivers.
Huge sums of money have been poured in to clean the Ganga, but it is as dirty as it was 25 years ago. Lessons have not been learnt. A World Bank loan of US $1 billion will once again be used to try out sophisticated and expensive technologies