Gaps in action

An alternative plan to clean up the river Ganga at Varanasi has been submitted by a local NGO

Published: Tuesday 15 July 1997

Unclean dip: a new scheme to c (Credit: K K Chawla)THE Varanasi-based NGO, Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF), has submitted an alternative to the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) to the Centre in early May. The group has approached the Ganga Project Directorate for its plan to be included in the GAP phase II. The plan envisages the construction of a 'gravity flow interceptor' sewer along the Ganga to prevent sewage from entering the river. The plan also aims at doing away with the use of expensive equipment usually required at pumping stations.

Varanasi, one of the oldest towns in the world, is responsible for one-fourth of Uttar Pradesh's contribution of Pollutants to the Ganga. The seven-km stretch of the river receives the highest pollution load anywhere along the course of the river. In addition to its population of 15 lakh, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Varanasi every year.

"While the government has already spent around Rs 43 crore in Varanasi, not much has really been achieved in terms of improvement of water quality," says V B Mishra, president of the SMF. "The main reason is that the present design is a cost-intensive one, entirely dependent on power supply to carry the town's sewage to the sewage treatment plants (STP)," he adds. Three STPs in Varanasi generate 147 million litre a day (mld) of waste water. Of this, GAP sought to treat 1,215 mld (this has since been scaled down to 101 mld). SMF members argue that as Varanasi faces severe power shortages, the schemes constructed under GAP did not function as planned. Moreover, they point out that the upflow anaerobic sludge blanket in the STPs are unable to reduce the faecal coliform in the river water, which has touched an astounding count ranging from 5,000 to over 4,00,000 MPN (most probable number)/100 ml against the specified limit of 500 MPN/100 mld.

Narayan Mishra, chairperson, Nagar Nigam Working Committee of Varanasi, says that the municipality has accepted the new scheme. "What is the use of the existing schemes? Most of the pumping stations and the equipment in the STP lie idle, and untreated sewage enters the river just as before, because of lack of power supplies," he says. Saroj Singh, mayor of Varanasi, adds that the interception and diversion work by GAP Summing up poverty has led to houses and roads to sink at Kabirchaura, Madanpura. The alternative plan - estimated at Rs 80 crore - envisages setting up of oxidation ponds, around 14 km downstream of Varanasi, on the dry riverbed between Mustafabad and Ramchandipur. The SMF claims that by introducing pisciculture and using the treated water for irrigation, a substantial earning is possible from these ponds.

Jai Prakash Mani, project engineer with the Uttar Pradesh Jai Nigam, however, points out that as the proposed 'gravity drain' would have to be below the high water mark, it would be ineffective during the monsoons. "Besides, this plan requires pumps as well, when the sewage would have to be lifted into the oxidation ponds," says Mani.

The land proposed to be used for oxidation ponds is on the river bed. This, says Mani, would imply that during the monsoons, all the collected waste water would return into the river spurring recurring expenses for desilting these ponds. However, N C Gupta, general manager of the Ganga pollution control unit-Allahabad and Varanasi, contradicts Mani and adds that erratic power supplies remains the bane of GAP. "We face power shortages at the STP as well. There are no alternative arrangements at the STPs."

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