Kumbh brought Allahabad to verge of an epidemic, says NGT

The tribunal has asked UP chief secretary to immediately act on the mismanaged solid waste from the pilgrimage

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 24 April 2019
Kumbh Mela
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Both the governments, at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh, claimed to have organised a 'swachh' — clean — Kumbh in the winter of 2018-19, but the National Green Tribunal seems to differ. In fact, the quasi judicial body rang alarm bells on April 22, 2019 about host city Allahabad being on the the verge of an epidemic.

The green bench flagged poor solid waste management during the months-long religious gathering on the Ganga and asked the state chief secretary to appear before it on April 26, 2019.

Quoting the chief secretary of the state, the NGT said 60,000 metric tonnes (mt) of solid waste had been collected at Baswar Solid Waste Treatment Plant which was lying untreated. Of this, 18,000 mt was generated in Kumbh, but the plant was not operational since September 2018.

While predicting a rise in case of acute diarrhoea, enteric fever, viral hepatitis and cholera, the NGT has said responsibility needs to be fixed so an epidemic can be prevented.

Also, the tribunal pointed out that groundwater too has been polluted. “Dirty water from toilets was being collected in kutcha pits. The base of the soak pits had not been lined and the dirty water could percolate underground,” read the order.

The tribunal had appointed a committee to see to it that the Ganga does not suffer any damage during the Kumbh. The order of the NGT has come based on the committee’s report.

The experts are livid. “This is just the glimpse of the flip side of the optics that was the recent Ardh Kumbh. What the NGT committee has reported is shameful and a case of dangerous neglect. The regular monitoring by the NGT and its desire to fix the responsibility for inaction or non-cooperation is a welcome move. Hopefully exemplary actions would follow this,” said Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.

Ganga bears the brunt

The order clearly states the Ganga was left in lurch. “The committee found that a large number of toilets were constructed in camps on the Arail side, very close to the river. Rajapur Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) received excess sewage than the installed capacity. Only 50 per cent of Rajapur drain was being treated through geo tube (it extracts solid waste from the waste going in the drain so that only water enters it) and the remaining 50 per cent was being permitted to enter Ganga without treatment,” read the NGT order.

Regarding another STP at Salori, the NGT said it too was not working satisfactorily. “It had more sewage than it could treat. The geo tube was not working satisfactorily and 50 per cent of the sewage from the drain was trapped and the rest was going into the Ganga,” the tribunal said in the order.

Geotube technology, a failure

The NGT also came down heavily on the administration over the geotube technology. “The Mawaiya Nala, where the technology has been adopted, had a bypass because of which untreated water from the drain entered Ganga. The committee also found that there existed a big dirty water pond at Parmarth Niketan Arail and human excreta was seen floating in it,” read the order.

Mansuthia, another drain, presented a similar picture to the committee. It too had a bypass, due to which untreated waste met treated waste just before it was flowed into the Ganga. “Creation of bypass at places where geotube technology had been adopted has let dirty water enter the river,” the NGT order read.

The committee found several other violations of NGT orders for preserving any river. Calling it the grossest violation NGT’s earlier orders, the order said, “Thirty six temporary ponds at the bank of the river were constructed with no lining and some of them still contain dirty water.”

The order scathingly criticised the Mela administration for being non-cooperative with the supervisory committee in several matters, including uninstallation of public toilets built right on the banks of the Ganga. “Pucca constructions were being raised at Yamuna bank and despite notice, the authorities did not disclose as to who had sanctioned the maps/building plans,” the order cited. It added that the administration was trying to “hoodwink the cleaning of waste from the soak pits and septic tanks and ponds.”

This is not the first Kumbh to have come under criticism for poor management. Things were far from perfect during the last Kumbh as well. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s audit report of the event read, “No effective planning for protection of environment and pollution control was made for the Maha Kumbh Mela.”

Last Kumbh too the issue was of solid waste management. More than 25,000 tonnes of solid waste generated during the festival went unmanaged and was found choking the river and city drains.

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