Unravelling Hindon’s pollution and pursuit of sustainable solutions 

Despite governmetal, judicial intervention, illegal dyeing units continue to operate & pollute the Hindon river 

By Anusha Arif
Published: Tuesday 11 July 2023
Hindon River, Saharanpur. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE__

The issue of River Hindon’s high levels of water pollution has recently regained national focus due to continued operations of and subsequent effluent discharge from illegal dyeing units situated along its banks. These illegal dyeing units have been found to be using dangerous, prohibited chemicals and dumping the waste directly into the river. 

A tributary of the river Yamuna, the Hindon originates in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh and passes through Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar. As the only river flowing through these areas, Hindon was a major source of water for the mostly rural population in the areas. But the high levels of pollution have made the river water unusable for more than a decade. 

In 2015, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found the Hindon’s pollution levels were so severe that it was declared a ‘dead river’ and ‘unfit’ even for bathing in several sections of the river.

Following a petition filed by Chandravir Singh, a retired scientist of the Haryana Pollution Control Board, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2018 ordered the closure of 124 industries that had been found to be polluting the Hindon and its tributaries, Kali and Krishna. 

The order was given after a team formed by the NGT conducted inspections on 317 industrial units in the vicinity of the catchment area of the river. The team found that the consent for operations granted by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) had already expired for 79 units and nearly 119 units were not complying with the effluent discharge norms.    

The Bahlolpur area, where recent reports of a stretch of the Hindon turning red made the news, has as many as 30 illegal dyeing units that have propped up despite governmental and judicial intervention over the last decade. 

Between 2014 and 2015, multiple applications were filed before the NGT to consider the state of the Hindon. One such application sought directives against illegally operating industries that were polluting the river water by dumping hazardous materials. 

The application highlighted the plight of the inhabitants of the areas of the banks of the Hindon and its tributaries who were forced to consume highly contaminated water from the rivers leading to an alleged increase in diseases like hepatitis, cholera, kidney failure, liver damage and cancer, among others. 

A report by the Janhit Foundation, a human welfare non-profit found evidence to show that elevated levels of toxic contaminants within the drinking water causes devastating effects on the health of riparian communities. The study showed that the seven surveyed villages suffered unusually high rates of serious and debilitating illnesses. 

Nearly 42 per cent of the population within the Bhanera Khemchand village, 22 per cent in Chandenamal, 14 per cent in Simlana, 21 per cent in Barnawa and 37 per cent in Arthala were found to be suffering from some form of debilitating illness, including cancer, skin dermatitis or some neurological, digestive or respiratory disease. 

Over the last decade, NGT has expressed concerns regarding the pollution of river water and recognised the ineffectiveness of the Water Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, which prohibits using any stream or well to dispose off pollutants. 

It has taken steps to address the issue, such as setting up a high-level committee to address river pollution. Yet, the problem of river pollution remains largely unresolved in India. 

According to 2022 data from the state pollution control, no dissolved oxygen was found in the water from the seven sampling stations between Saharanpur and Noida. When dissolved oxygen falls or becomes too low, aquatic organisms cannot survive. 

Actions for preservation of Hindon River

While hearing the application in Doaba Paryavaran Samiti V State of UP & Ors relating to River Hindon in 2018, the NGT constituted a Monitoring Committee, which consisted of Justice SU Khan (former judge, Allahabad High Court), as chairperson, along with J Chandra Babu (senior engineer / scientist from CPCB) and C Sushil Kumar, representing senior scientists from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to look into the matter of pollution of the Hindon. The committee had proposed an action plan to rejuvenate the river. 

On June 9, 2018, a stakeholder engagement meeting by the India Water Partnership Group, the 2030 Water Resources Group and an initiative by the Divisional Commissioner of Meerut drew a road map based on five verticals for Collective Action for Hindon River Rejuvenation, which included afforestation, organic farming, rejuvenation of ponds, waste management and civil society participation and governance. 

Even after multiple interventions by the government and the judiciary, the state of the Hindon in many parts has remained unchanged due to the activities of these illegal dyeing units. Around 30 dyeing units, big and small, operate in just the Bahlolpur area despite the NGT’s latest orders. 

In 2019, the Government of India released funds to the National Mission for Clean Ganga to implement the River Ganga rejuvenation programme. The first phase under ‘Namami Gange Mission-I’ took up 374 projects along Ganga's main stem, including the Hindon. 

The four projects in Shamli district, which is located along the course of the Hindon, include the construction of sewage treatment plants and septage co-treatment facility, interception and diversion and other works in Babri and Bantikhera villages, Shamli town and Thanabhawan town. 

Recently, the NGT launched a crackdown on illegal dyeing units in the Bahlolpur area. Ten illegal dyeing units were identified which were found to be releasing untreated chemical effluents into the Hindon, according to the officials with Noida Authority. 

A joint team of UPPCB and the electricity department found that most of these units were operating without licence and pollution clearances. As a consequence, the power connections to these units were cut on May 31, 2023. 

The state pollution control board declared that it would identify more such polluters in the area,  finding six additional units. The NMCG recently also approved eight new projects worth Rs 638 crore under its ongoing river rejuvenation programme, including four projects worth Rs 407 crore to clean the Hindon.

While residents in the area have welcomed the step taken by the state control board, the effectiveness of these actions will only be measurable over time. Yet, the problem of overall river pollution poses a serious threat, especially with the expanding need for clean and accessible drinking water. 

India is predicted to face nearly double the overall demand for water by 2030 compared to the available supply, according to a report by the Niti Aayog. In the face of a global water crisis, it is an impediment that India prioritises and takes up more stringent measures to rejuvenate its rivers. 

China has offered technological solutions and lessons for many countries that have struggles with underground water and river pollution. One major step taken by the country has been to set up a ‘River Management System' tapping into the country’s artificial intelligence potential to synthesise data at the provincial, municipal and national levels. 

With government authorities having adequate access to updated information from the ground level, this could help tackle the river pollution problem in India. However, this would require training and involving local communities to provide accurate information and reporting illegal dumping activities. 

The CPCB, in its Report on Assessment of Pollution from Textile Units in Tamil Nadu, had also proposed setting up treatment systems to achieve zero liquid discharge. It recognised the space and maintenance constraints for these facilities at small-scale dyeing units and proposed a Common Effluent Treatment Plant for a cluster of units. 

However, this can only be implemented in the case of dyeing units that are regulated by law and have valid operating licences. 

The urgent need for action on river pollution cannot be overstated. Rivers are essential ecosystems that provide clean water and support livelihood. To safeguard our rivers and minimise the detrimental effects of industrial pollution, the government must take strict actions against illegal dyeing activity. This action may require a more extensive look into the reasons behind the increase in such illegal dyeing activity and curbing it at the nascent stage. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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