Draft CAG report slams Andhra pollution control board for negligence

The report blames the board’s inaction for unchecked pollution of water bodies and deteriorating air quality

By M Suchitra
Published: Thursday 09 October 2014

Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar lake (now in Telangana) is one of the 25 most polluted water bodies in the region, according to the report (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

More than 100 million litres of sewage is discharged daily into the Tungabhadra river in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool town. This shocking fact has been highlighted in a confidential draft audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The draft report has come down heavily on the state’s pollution control board (PCB) for failing to discharge its duties and causing heavy damages to the environment and human health.

The performance audit of the Andhra Pradesh PCB was for the financial year that ended in March 2014, before the state was bifurcated to form Telangana.

Lack of sewage treatment plants

In 10 of 19 PCB regional office areas, the audit found that no sewage treatment plant had been constructed in 86 of the 87 municipalities and four of the 12 municipal corporations. The board’s own data shows that urban local bodies in these areas generated 1,499 million litres of sewage a day (MLD). Of this, only 512 MLD or 48 per cent of the sewage was treated and the remaining 987 MLD of untreated sewage was discharged into rivers, streams, tanks, lakes and open land.
While the board issued notices to the municipal bodies that were violating rules and regulations, no penal or legal action was taken, notes the draft CAG report.
The Kurnool Municipal Corporation, which generated 45.46 MLD of sewage in 2010, does not have a sewage treatment plant. All the sewage is discharged directly into the Tungabhadra. The board’s zonal laboratory in Kurnool had recommended the construction of a sewage treatment plant and had identified nine severely contaminating sewage outlets that were to be connected with this plant through an interception sewer.

However, no such treatment plant was built by the corporation. PCB survey data of January 2014 reveals that six major drains in Kurnool discharged more than 4.44 million litres of untreated sewage into the river every hour. At this rate, the town poured a total of 106.6 million litres of sewage into the Tungabhadra every day, endangering public health and environment, points out the audit.

Funds, meanwhile, lie unused

According to the audit, the board was preparing budget estimates without any scientific assessment or stipulation of targets for each year. Only 12.87 to 17.1 per cent of funds were utilised during 2009-2014, resulting in the accumulation of unused funds to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees.

The board has six laboratories: the central laboratory at Hyderabad and five zonal labs at Vijayawada, Kurnool, Visakhapatnam, Guntur and Warangal. As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines of July 2008, laboratories under the state boards must be equipped to conduct at least five essential group tests for water samples – physical, inorganic, organic, microbiological and toxicological. Even as funds were accumulating in the board’s account, none of the zonal labs had even the most basic equipment required for sample analysis. In some labs, the available equipment was found to be non-functional. Only the Hyderabad facility has mandatory accreditation from the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration of Laboratories (NABL). 

“In the absence of required facilities, equipment and staff, there was no assurance that the sample analysis was being done as per required standards in these laboratories and pollution control functions are performed by the board,” observes the report.

As per the protocol prescribed by the CPCB in December 2011, laboratories must monitor the presence of pesticides in groundwater and surface water at select locations once a year. Since none of the five zonal laboratories had the equipment required, they had been sending samples to the board’s central laboratory in Hyderabad or getting the analysis done by third parties.
With such negligence by the board, water bodies in the state continued to be contaminated by garbage, sewage and industrial effluents, reveals the report.

Water bodies face threat of unchecked contamination

The PCB inspected Srisailam reservoir, bordering Mahabubnagar and Kurnool districts, in September 2012 following news reports about a change in the colour of water. It found that around 3.78 MLD of sewage was discharged into the reservoir from three outlets. Algae bloom was noticed at various upstream points of the dam.

To avert this, it was decided that effluents would be diverted and treated before discharging them into the reservoir, and plastic would be strictly banned in the entire area of Srisailam. The Srisailam temple administration was preparing a master plan for the entire area, including the construction of a sewage treatment plant, the PCB mentioned in its report. However, the CAG audit report observes that the reservoir continues to be contaminated.

Another study conducted by a private agency on behalf of the state PCB in January 2010 had revealed that Kolleru lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the country that spreads over West Godavari and Krishna districts, was contaminated with 14 pesticides like organochlorines and carbonites and 16 heavy metals. Some of the pesticides are highly toxic for mammals, fish and other wildlife and can cause severe health and environmental problems. “No remedial actions were taken by the board to improve the water quality in this important lake, though the board was testing water samples every month at 20 locations,” notes the draft CAG report.

The CPCB in 2010 had identified nine polluted river stretches in the state. Of these, the stretches of the Musi river in Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts, and the stretch of the Nakkavagu river in the downstream of the industrial district of Medak (now in Telangana) were found to be highly polluted. In all tests, the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) was more than 6 mg/litre on all occasions compared to the standard BOD level of 2 to 3 mg/litre. The river stretches had been identified as top priority for restoration of water quality.

The CAG audit says that even after three years, the board has not prepared any action plan for the restoration of these river stretches. In fact, the average BOD in the Musi river at Nagole monitoring station in Rangareddy district increased from 34 mg/litre in 2008 to 118 mg/litre in 2013.

The 25 deadly water bodies of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

The report lists all the water bodies with BOD recorded at more than 30 mg/litre as those in need of priority action. It includes the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad as well as Khasipally lake, Isnapur tank, Asanikunta lake, Kistareddypet tank, Gandigudem tank in the industrial areas in Medak. All these bodies were rated below the lowest class ‘E’, which make them unfit for drinking, bathing, irrigation and even industrial cooling.

Poor monitoring led to poor air quality

The board was monitoring air quality at 74 monitoring stations across the state. In April 2011, the CPCB had prescribed a list of important air quality parameters to be analysed by the monitoring labs. It was observed in the audit that none of the zonal laboratories had monitored parameters like fine particulates, lead, nickel, ozone, and benzene, as they did not have the required equipment.

A 2013 scrutiny report of the PCB revealed that in 53 of 74 stations, Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) levels were more than the National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standards prescribed by CPCB. “The board neither conducted any studies (except in Hyderabad) to identify the causes for pollution nor prepared any action plan to mitigate pollution levels,” points out the audit report.

The state PCB is in the process of providing explanations to the observations and comments made in the audit report. The report will then be finalised and included in the report of the CAG for the economic sector of Andhra Pradesh.

Key findings of the draft audit report:
  • The board spent less than 20 per cent of funds during 2009-14.
  • No sewage treatment plant was constructed in 86 of 87 municipalities in 10 regional office areas of Andhra Pradesh PCB.
  • All five zonal laboratories of the PCB lacked the basic equipment required for sample analysis.
  • Kurnool discharged 106.6 million litres of untreated sewage into the Tungabhadra river every day.
  • Kolleru lake was contaminated with 14 pesticides and as many as 16 heavy metals.
  • The water in 25 water bodies is unfit for drinking, bathing, irrigation and even industrial cooling.
  • In 53 of 74 air pollution monitoring stations, RSPM levels were more than the standards prescribed by the CPCB.

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