A miserable place to live

Kanpur's residents breathe polluted air and drink water of dismal quality, but do nothing

 
By Suresh Kr Pramar
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

A miserable place to live

-- Once known for its vibrant economy, Kanpur today has the ignominy of being ranked among the five most polluted cities in the country. Garbage festers all over the city; Kanpur's residents breathe a noxious mix of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, lead and ammonia gas, and they make do with drinking water of abysmal quality.

A recent study has noted that the suspended particulate matter (spm) and respirable spm levels in the city were 674 milligramme per cubic metre (mg/cum) and 302 mg/cum -- way above the permissible levels: 140 mg/cum for spm and 60 mg/cum for rspm. Vehicular emissions are among the main causes for such pollution. Kanpur has nearly five lakh vehicles, and almost 50,000 new ones are added every year.

Moreover, tempos rattle through the city without scrubbers that check noxious gas emissions. The near total absence of greenery in the city enables dust to mix with vehicular emission. The situation is getting worse by the day and experts claim that cases of tuberculosis and related chest diseases have increased in Kanpur.

Water woes River Ganga supplies most of Kanpur's water needs. At many places in its Kanpur stretch, the river is an open sewer that carries toxic materials spewed out by the numerous tanneries and chemical industries along its banks. Moreover, adds Rakesh K Jaiswal of Ecofriends, a Kanpur based non-governmental organisation, "People come from all over India to bathe in the Ganga, to offer ritual oblation to the holy river, or even to die along its left bank. They do not realise that their religious zeal pollutes the river."

Of course, the Ganga waters are decontaminated at treatment plants. But they are polluted again during supply to the households. Engineers associated with the Kanpur Municipal Corporation say that pipe leakage is a common problem; so is the inflow of sewage and other affluents into the water distribution network that dates back to 1892.

Rapid depletion of underground water coupled with groundwater pollution has compounded the city's water woes. Chemicals such as manganese, chromium, nitrate and fluoride have been detected in the groundwater on the banks of the Ganga. Recently, a team from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, has found that wastes from bleaching and electroplating units contaminate groundwater sources, rendering them unfit for domestic consumption. Kanpur's groundwater has also been sullied by sewage inflow.

Festering dirt Kanpur's sewage disposal system is outdated and incapable of handling the increasing amounts of garbage generated every day. Garbage dumps dot most parts of the city. Even the newly developed colonies are not spared of these eyesores. According to estimates, Kanpur generates 1,500 tonnes of solid wastes everyday from domestic and industrial sources. In addition, the city generates 64,000 tonnes of hazardous waste, annually. This includes metals and waste generated by tanneries, dye industries and chemical industries. Besides, the quantity of coal ash produced in Kanpur amounts to 71,000 tonnes per annum

Lots of funds -- from both domestic and international sources -- have been earmarked for reducing Kanpur's pollution. A lot of money has been spent on cleaning the Ganga, but to little avail. Kanpur is slowly going to seed. While indifferent authorities are responsible for many of its problems, Kanpur's residents are no less culpable. There is a woeful dearth of voluntary activity to check the scourge. It seems Kanpur's residents have given up on the city.

Suresh Kr Pramar is a freelance journalist

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