Sewage discharge in Ganga: NGT orders Uttarakhand PCB to take criminal action against officials concerned

Just half of total sewage generated daily in 13 districts treated properly before being dumped in river

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Thursday 29 February 2024
The Ganga in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Ganga does not find reprieve from pollution, even in its birthplace in Uttarakhand. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board (UKPCB) to take punitive measures, including initiating criminal proceedings against local body officials and departments concerned, under relevant sections of the The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 for discharging untreated sewage into Ganga river.

Additionally, an environmental penalty for pollution should be evaluated and fines should be imposed on the relevant authorities or departments, the NGT added. Examining sewage treatment reports from 13 districts in the state, the tribunal noted that even districts located in hill stations are directly releasing sewage into rivers, which are regarded as ancient and sacred.

The reports from 13 districts also showed that half of the total 700 million litres of sewage generated daily (MLD) was not being treated appropriately before being released. Many houses are yet to be connected to the sewer line.

The bench of NGT Chairman and Justice Prakash Srivastava said the increasing number of tourists and devotees further increases the sewage generation during the season, while most of the hotels and dharamshalas (rest house for spiritual pilgrims) are still running with septic tanks or soak pits.

In every district, the local bodies concerned were directly discharging domestic and industrial sewage into the Ganga or its tributaries, causing river pollution, the bench said. At some places, the sewage discharged into rivers is being treated, while at other places, the sewage was partially released into the river.

This is not only illegal but also a violation of the provisions of the Water Act, it pointed out. Section 24 of the Act 1974 completely prohibits direct or indirect discharge of pollutants into rivers. These districts of Uttarakhand are not only violating the provisions of the Water Act but also all the orders of the NGT for the last decade, the bench said.

The bench stated that in the majority of districts, the work of sewage treatment plants (STP) was either at the detailed project report (DPR) stage or awaiting construction proposals. It is evident that untreated sewage is being released into rivers, the tribunal said.

Sewage generated and treated in Uttarakhand

The NGT additionally found the water quality report was not clearly outlined in the submissions made by district magistrates concerning STP and sewage. In numerous locations, the outlet water was left untested. The tactic was employed to divert the tribunal’s attention away from the facts, the bench said.

The bench also observed that no punitive action was taken by the UKPCB against those violating the orders. The Board has remained a mute spectator instead of discharging its constitutional duties, it added.

Despite being given many opportunities, the authorities have not taken appropriate steps to ensure sewage is not discharged in the river. Even the National Mission for Clean Ganga, which is responsible for the rejuvenation of Ganga, is not properly looking into the issue of sewage in the hills. The tribunal also ordered NMCG to file its reply on this matter by the next date of hearing.

The bench has ordered UKPCB to initiate criminal prosecution against the concerned officials under Section 24 and Section 43 of the Water Act, 1974. The report is to be submitted to the tribunal within two months.

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