The 100-day-old government’s newly established minister for water resources, Uma Bharti, on Sept. 15 committed to cleaning up India’s largest and holiest river, the 2,500-kilometer-plus Ganges, within three years.
The Ganga Action Plan was released by Bharti’s predecessors two decades ago but barely accomplished any of its goals.
The pledge comes at an opportune time. The population of people and industrial units in India near the Ganges is ballooning, creating pressure on sewage, wastewater and effluents that are discharged into surface water and causing water-quality problems.
Each day, 2.9 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources are dumped into the Ganges. A report by the Central Pollution Control Board disclosed that, among the 152 sewage treatment plants (STPs) spread over 15 states with a treatment capacity of 4,716 million liters per day (MLD), actual treatment capacity utilization is only 3,126 MLD, or 66%.
Guidelines for all sub-projects have been released. STPs are to be built on a design-build-operate model, to ensure maintenance and operation. Following a new trend, the technology will be based on an analysis of life-cycle costs. A notice inviting tenders already is being released by state governments. Funding for the project will come from the federal government (70%), state governments (20%) and local city boards (10%).
The first large tender released by the new administration through the Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd. as part of the $1.4-billion, World Bank-funded project, established in 2011, for the Ganges River Basin. According to the World Bank, the objective is to reduce point-source pollution loads at priority locations on the Ganges.
The tender calls for the design and construction of a 60-MLD sewage treatment plant, related pumping stations and an 198-kilometer underground sewerage network. Five more tenders are expected for four states under the World Bank grant.
However, with the new ministry of water resources formed to address the approximately $6.5-billion Ganges cleanup, the cleanup funds have to be transferred to the new ministry from the ministry of environment and forests, say officials.
“Funds are no longer an issue," says Prodib Mukherjee, head of water, Egis India Consulting Engineering. . Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Japan resulted in a $2.4-billion Official Development Assistance loan by the Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA] for the Ganges program. JICA is also funding phase three of the Delhi mass rapid transport system, to enhance transportation capacity.
“A good thing is, [the] Japanese insist on quality of contractors,” said one Indian manufacturer, who asked not to be identified. Technologies used for STPs in the past include upflow anaerobic sludge blanket digestion, activated sludge processes, oxidation ponds and waste stabilization ponds. Decisions on technology will depend upon the maximum required biological-oxygen levels, Egis Consulting Engineers' Mukherjee says.
According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, less than 5% of wastewater is recovered. A CII survey of around 40 industries revealed that, although they all had treatment plants, only 25% were working at more than 50% recovery, and 30% had evaporation equipment, resulting in a zero discharge status, with just two units having a fully working evaporation euqipment.
Challenges remain. “How do we manage industrial [waste] mixed with solid waste. ... We don’t have enough flow of the river as cash crops are holding it up... Strict legislation is required to ensure the problem doesn’t come back,” said Nandini Tripathi, of non-governmental organization Ganga Action Parivar (GAP).
Five hundred million liters of untreated wastewater is dumped daily into the river, with 90% coming from the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. For instance, Kanpur, known for tanneries and responsible for the most harmful type of toxins, releases 790 times, or around 1,125 metric tons per liter, the accepted standard of chromium in addition to cadmium, arsenic, mercury, nickel, sulphide ammonium and other salts, chemical dyes, sulfuric acid and methane, says GAP.
There is a government plan to put the STPs in clusters. In the case of effluent treatment plants, in which every waste has a different composition, it is being suggested that instead of the government setting up a single large plant that will incur high costs and not be sustainable because of lower quantities, each company should have its own effluent treatment plants. “But these are early days yet,” said one industry official.