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“The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error.”

– Voltair

Editor’s Note, March 2019

March 14th is celebrated as the International Day of Action for Rivers since 1997. As we take a look at the state of rivers in this issue with the inputs from domain experts of river water management, one thing is clear – “It will take our entire community to come together and act now, if we want to mend our ways and revive our rivers”.

India’s total estimated polluted riverine length is 12,363 kms, about 5 times the length of Ganga main stem. In case of river Ganga itself, there are different levels of pollution along its 2,525 kms, as it flows through five states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal) before merging into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganga basin covers 26% of the country.

The flagship programme of Indian Government – ‘National Mission for Clean Ganga’ or Namami Gange was approved in June 2014 with an initial budget outlay of INR 20,000 crores. Five years down the line, despite the allotment of INR 22,000 crores, most of the goals are still not achieved. Till August 2018, water was fit for drinking only at 5 out of 70-odd monitoring stations on the banks of Ganga and on 7 for bathing. The Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) with over 2,000 million liters a day capacity had to be rehabilitated, of which only 328 MLD have been done. Around 68 sewage infrastructure projects were sanctioned and only 6 are completed. Till 31st August 2018, 236 projects (including STPs) were sanctioned, out of which only 63 had been completed.

The Central Ministry for Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation had earlier targeted to achieve an 80% clean Ganga by March 2019 and 90% by December 2019. It’s now struggling to achieve even a 70% clean Ganga. The new contracts are being awarded, funds are being disbursed, yet Ganga is still far from being called clean. Herein lies the problem – more funds, technology, and infrastructure will not solve the issue. There are no concrete actions to ensure the Aviral (incessant) flow of the river. The baseline amount of the river has decreased by 56% in 2016 compared to the 1970s. Clearly, the NMCG could do better than hiring advertising agencies and spending crores of rupees on it (as per last year’s CAG report).

As per the 2017-18 assessment study by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), around 61,948 million liters of urban sewage is generated daily in India while our cities have an installed treatment capacity of only 38% of this sewage. The number of polluted stretches of India’s rivers has increased from 302 to 351 in the last 2 years. And the number of critically polluted stretches (where water quality indicators are poorest) has gone up from 34 to 45. Several of Ganga river’s stretches in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states are in fact less polluted than many rivers in Maharashtra, Assam, and Gujarat. These 3 states account for 117 of 351 polluted river stretches. In 37 places out of 41 where the Ganga passes through, the water pollution is in the medium-to-severe category, prior to the monsoon.

The situation is grim, to say the least…people are still drinking only partially-treated sewage water. While presenting the interim budget of 2019-2020 in Indian parliament in February 2019, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal had said that “our rivers and water bodies are our life-supporting assets.” We still need to see if we are actually serious about saving our lives.

Mark Twain had once compared a river to a book with endless stories to tell. Our dying rivers have all the stories to share if we care to read between the lines.

– Mayur Sharma
Editor, Smart Water & Waste World Magazine

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