Barrage of sewage

Kanpur will have a Rs 412.44 crore Ganga drain by 2031

By Ritu Gupta
Published: Thursday 30 June 2005

-- Kanpur can now chant river Ganga's dirge. On May 11, 2005, Uttar Pradesh (up) chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav inaugurated a barrage on the river, named the Luv-Kush barrage, which threatens to greatly increase the river's pollution load. The government claims the barrage will help meet the city's water needs and also, for devotees' sake, bring the (holy) Ganga back to the ghats (banks). But experts warn Luv-Kush will reduce water flow in the river, converting it into a drain. They also allege the government's hidden agenda is to develop a township project on 16,000 hectares (ha) of land on the barrage sides. A disaster, they say, for the river.

The 621-metre-long barrage has been constructed by the state Irrigation Department (id), w hich will withdraw 200 million litres of water per day (mld) now and 1,600 mld by 2031. Yadav also inaugurated a water treatment plant near the barrage, constructed by the up Jal Nigam under the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Jal Aapurti Pariyojana (rmljap) (see map: Disaster scheme). In 1993, when both projects were drawn up, the cost was estimated at Rs 173 crore; "due to unforeseen factors", they were completed after 15 years, at Rs 412.44 crore!

Since 1963, the river has receded more than four kilometres from its banks in the city. Consequently, the Jal Nigam has had to dredge a channel every year to carry the water to a treatment plant (located upstream, near Bhairoghat, from where the city use to get most of its water), incurring an annual expenditure of about Rs one crore. "The barrage not only means saving the money, but also restoring the historical and religious importance of the ghats, with the water flowing next to them," Yadav proudly declared, adding: "My government has finally fulfilled the promise of providing clean drinking water to one of the most important cities of the state." But nobody gave a thought to the Ganga.

First blow: minimum flow "Setting up a minimum flow standard is necessary...the river has been re-channelled, which means changing its entire ecosystem. Such human interventions are bound to have adverse consequences: the river had changed its course earlier, when a bridge was constructed downstream...Water withdrawal also means leaving the river bereft of its self-cleansing properties," points out Vinod Tare, professor, environmental engineering and management, Indian Institute of Technology (iit), Kanpur. "Withdrawing 1,600 mld water also implies increasing the river's pollution, as less water means increased concentration of dumped sewage and toxic effluents," he explains. Already, the river's biochemical oxygen demand (bod) level -- an index of pollution load -- had increased from 4 milligrammes/ litre (mg/l) in 1988-1991 to 16 mg/l in 2001, despite the Union government spending Rs 67 crore of Ganga Action Plan money to clean the Kanpur stretch (see Down To Earth, 'Rs 67 crore later', Vol 13, No 20, March 15, 2005, p 36).

An expert group formed by the Planning Commission also suggests that the minimum flow required in the Ganga at Kanpur is 3,425 mld. But declares Gajendra Mohan Jha, superintendent engineer, id, Kanpur: "We haven't taken any decision regarding minimum flow. Whatever be the flow rate, 1,600 mld would be withdrawn, as the project aims to supply drinking water. One should not worry about minimum flow as there is ample water in the river. Minimum flow will automatically be maintained." Official figures show the river's minimum recorded flow in Kanpur is 2,153 mld but experts claim this dips to 1,598 mld during summer. Withdrawing 1,600 mld water would virtually dry the river up in that season.

Even the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) hasn't considered this question while granting environmental clearance to the barrage. An moef letter written to the id, dated August 6, 1997, says clearance is given because Luv-Kush met the provisions of the environmental impact assessment notification, 1994; it makes no reference to minimum flow. Such sloppy assessment is abundantly evident in id's detailed Ganga barrage project report, dated September 1993. The report says the project has no expected adverse effect on water resources downstream, since downstream flows won't be cut. This, despite the withdrawal of 1,600 mld water upstream. It also claims: "There will be no water logging water siltation...." In fact, contrary to reality, it says the project's main advantage is the dilution of municipal and industrial waste, necessary to maintain the river's quality.

Second blow: more sewage
Experts say the government's omissions spell doom. The river's bod level will rise further: use of an additional 200 mld water will generate another 160 mld sewage (1,600 mld of water consumed will produce 1,280 mld sewage) for which no treatment facility will exist for a long time. "We have not planned for any sewage treatment. All that would be taken care of in the new master plan prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (jica), which would be completed by 2030," says U S Vaish, project manager, rmljap.

The increased sewage will kill the Ganga; even now the sewage load is far beyond the installed treatment capacity. According to a jica report based on up Jal Nigam's data, in 2003 the total water consumed was 589 mld; the domestic wastewater generated was 395 mld. Given that wastewater produced is usually 80 per cent of the water consumed, the Nigam's sewage calculations are an underestimation. Even so, it far outstrips what Kanpur can clean up; the installed treatment capacity here is only 171 mld. Worse, jica says the wastewater actually sent for treatment is a mere 79 mld. The rest is dumped into the river!

By 2030, the total water consumed (1,600 mld + 589 mld) will generate at least 1,751 mld sewage. According to jica's Rs 2,148-crore masterplan, more sewage treatment plants will be established, increasing treatment capacity to 920 mld. But 831 mld sewage will still be dumped! The actual situation might be worse if one considers that the actual sewage load at present is much higher than government estimates. The jica report says that of the 589 mld water demand, the government supplied 462 mld. Groundwater accounted for 127 mld. "But these figures cannot be relied upon. Nobody has any estimate of the city's groundwater consumption," asserts Rakesh Jaiswal of Ecofriends, a local non-governmental organisation. Kanpur's groundwater consumption is actually much higher, as the government supplies water to only one of its four sub-divisions and the rest tap groundwater, a fact reflected in Kanpur's plummeting groundwater table: 10.86 metres (m) in May 1992 to 16.35 m in May 2002.

Bithin Dutta, head, department of civil engineering, iit, Kanpur, who conducted a modelling study for the government, says due to the barrage's construction, the water table around the reservoir will rise, making it easy for sewage to mix with the groundwater.

Ulterior motive
Experts allege government authorities don't care about cleaning the river. "Had that been the case, they would have thought of reviving traditional water structures and harvesting rainwater instead," reasons Tare. Jaiswal adds: "They also don't really care about supplying drinking water to people. Their main aim is to develop the Gangotri township project on the 16,000 ha land on both sides of the barrage." Yadav announced the plan to develop the township during the inauguration.

moef's environmental clearance says Kanpur Development Authority (kda) should reclaim the land at the barrage, with a green belt over 31 per cent of the area, water works over 37 per cent, sewage treatment plants over six per cent, roads over 15 per cent and residential area over only 11 per cent of it. But kda chief Anil Kumar was blissfully unaware of the directive till Down To Earth revealed them before him. He had earlier declared: " kda's main job is to develop a township, and we will do that." On seeing the moef letter, he said a township will obviously accommodate a green belt!

Jaiswal says the township will further pollute the river. The waste it will produce has not been accounted for in the jica masterplan. Y N Khare, technical expert, project planning and coordination unit, Indo-Dutch Ganga Action Plan Support Project, warns that Ganga's fate in Kanpur may soon be like river Gomti's in Lucknow: it dried up fully when the Gomti barrage and the Gomti township came up.

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