Rs 6,500 crore (1,200 million dollars) and 19 years later, Yamuna dirty as ever

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Rs 6,500 crore (1,200 million dollars) and 19 years later, Yamuna dirty as ever

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Mon Mar 11, 2013 9:35 am

On Monday, when SC reviews [color:6d44=#0000FF !important]Yamuna's pollution, it could be back to the drawing board. Six years after Delhi Jal Board proposed interceptor sewers to treat sewage before it flows into [color:6d44=#0000FF !important]major drains, just Rs 51 crore of [color:6d44=#0000FF !important]the Rs 1,963 crore scheme have been spent.

Worse, it is not even clear if the measure that was to improve water quality by 2010 will actually work in light of the rapid growth of unauthorized colonies discharging sewage into the river, an issue flagged even in 2007 by [color:6d44=#0000FF !important]an official committee that approved the interceptor proposal.

The committee had warned that 1,432 unauthorized colonies were the nub of the problem. By 2012, their number had jumped to 1,639. Although these colonies have been promised regularization, drainage and sewers are years away. In 2007, 517 of 567 unauthorized regularized colonies had sewers. The number grew by just six in the next five years. DJB says it is a difficult task to provide sewerage in such densely populated colonies where they have barely any road space for their work.

A report submitted to the court by an inspection team that included amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar as recently as November last year, called for sewage connections to all new colonies, whether authorized or not. It pointed out that Delhi's 17 sewage treatment plants (STPs) have a capacity of 2,460 MGD against an utilization of 1,558 MGD. Delhi's sewage generation is around 3,800 MGD.

The challenge will only become stiffer as projected [color:6d44=#0000FF !important]sewage generation by 2021 is likely to be about 4,500 mld. This means sewage treatment capacity will have to be augmented by 2,000 mld in less than 10 years, says the central pollution control board.

"I agree that our STPs are not performing up to standards but we are working at addressing this," says Debashree Mukherjee, CEO of DJB. "Utilization of STPs is a problem but that is exactly what the interceptor system will address. We are also upgrading and augmenting the STPs with the new ones meeting standards set by CPCB," she said.

The SC-mandated team inspected four sewage treatment plants. It found one plant was operational but not up to capacity and another did not meet requisite parameters. A third one was non-functional and another received limited flows of untreated sewage.

Apart from the nearly Rs 2,000 crore budgeted for the interceptor scheme, money has simply gone down the drain since 1994. Uttar Pradesh has spent Rs 2,052 crore, Haryana pollution control board Rs 2,084 crore and Delhi around Rs 2,394 crore. The spending is up from Rs 5,000 crore reported earlier by TOI.

On May 19, 2010, the cabinet committee on infrastructure approved Rs 1,357 crore for the interceptor project. The Centre's component — additional central assistance — amounted to Rs 475 crore of which Rs 118 crore was transferred.

Touted as a solution to preventing untreated sewage from unauthorized colonies flowing into the Yamuna, the plan has been barely implemented. The apex court has repeatedly sought updates but DJB and Engineers India Limited, the consultant, do not have much to show.

In January, 2008, DJB informed the court that it had appointed EIL as a consultant and that data collection of likely sewage flows will be complete after "rehabilitation of sewers" in 2010. Yet, DJB submitted a plan much earlier.

The Central Pollution Control Board and Sunita Narain from Centre for Science and Environment have been sceptical of the proposal with CPCB pointing out that sewer flows were grossly underestimated and that even after implementation, Yamuna water will be far short of being "bathing quality", as envisaged by the court.

The 25km interceptor sewers are to come up along three main drains — Najafgarh, Supplementary and Shahdara. But a CPCB report last December said that as per EIL's assessment, there was a shortage of 1,000 mld treatment capacity. The present capacity was 1,500 mld and by 2036, this would increase to 2,300 mld.

"These figures seem to be an underestimate. For instance, the actual gap in Shahdara works out to about 520 mld as compared to 290 mld reported by EIL," CPCB said.

But CPCB's report has been contested by DJB in court. "Work on the interceptors is 37% complete and we are targeting 2014-end for its commissioning. The data compiled by Engineers India Ltd is accurate and the project is being monitored by me monthly and by the chief secretary every two months. The government is very serious about pushing this project and having a clean river. It must be understood that this work will take time and there cannot be an overnight change," said Mukherjee.

In 1997, Delhi government filed an affidavit in court, saying work on common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) had begun although it did not start even by 1999. In September that year, the court directed the government to pass orders to ensure that from November 1, 1999, no industrial effluent was to be discharged into the river.

In April 2000, the court noted that "this river cannot be classified as Class C possibly not even as Class E which is the least grade". By that year, 16 STPs should have been constructed. But as the court itself commented, "Performance is lagging far behind."

The 2012 Central Pollution Control Board report says there are 13 common effluent treatment plants with a capacity of 221 mld catering to 28 planned industrial estates in Delhi which generate 218 mld of industrial waste water. However, it notes that "there is a wide gap in installed capacity and its utilization".

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee's study has revealed that nine CETPs do not meet prescribed standards for one or the other pollutant.

It pointed out that renovation of STPs at Keshopur had been completed at a cost of Rs 150 crore and should have been a showcase example of design parameters of 10mg/l BOD and 10 mg/l TSS. But the performance of the STP disappointed as the plant did not meet operating parameters as well as those of effluent quality.

Expensive hardware is not the only solution for Delhi, say experts. Sunita Narain, CSE director says that DJB should a look at other inexpensive methods of cleaning the river.

"At Kumbh this year, there was a strict enforcement on industries, sewage was intercepted and reused, and bio-remediation was done at all nallahs, which ensured that sewage in nallas was much cleaner by the time it reached STPs or the Ganga," she said.

Delhi could adopt several of these techniques, Narain said. "Bio-remediation is an effective, natural and non-expensive mechanism of waste water treatment. More importantly, Delhi should take less water from the Yamuna to ensure a minimum flow in the river. Instead, it should regulate and rejuvenate its water bodies and develop its groundwater sources," she added.

>>> No surprise there. Before any money is allocated for such programs, there should be a well defined and plausible plan of action. The mere shouts and chants "let's clean the river" won't lead anywhere, no matter how much money is spent / wasted in the process

Seva Lamberdar

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