The location of the Hindon river flowing between two major rivers — the Ganga and the Yamuna — has proved to be its undoing. While the entire government machinery is focused on the revival of the two major rivers, this beautiful 400-kilometer river which has its origins in the Shivalik hills, north of Saharanpur and flows into the Yamuna near Noida, has received a step-motherly treatment. The extent of which, can be gauged from the fact that the river has completely lost its aquatic life and has acquired a red colour thanks to the toxic pollutants being dumped on it.
The river starts as a Monsoon-fed spring near the village of Pur Ka Tanda. It is from here that it receives its water supply primarily during the monsoon months.The water is pristine pure at its origin. It receives its first round of pollutants comprising of untreated sewage and effluents from the paper industry in the city of Saharanpur. From here onwards, it’s a sad tale for the river as large quantities of sewage and industrial effluents are dumped into it from the towns of Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautambuddh Nagar. The pollution load received from over 400 factories in these cities has resulted in high levels of water contamination both in the surface water and in the ground water.
Nusrat Begum, wife of Mohammad Shamim, a farmer who grows crops along the river banks near Muzaffarnagar laments, “Till 20 years ago, we would throw a coin in the river and we could see it sink to the bottom. Now, the river is so polluted that if we were to put our hand in the water we cannot see it.”
Shamim is equally dispirited. He says, “All the villagers living along the banks of the river have been warned not to drink its water as it has become a major health hazard. But from where can we get an alternate supply of drinking water?”
The ground water has been found to contain high levels of chromium and heavy metals that are 140 times the maximum permissible levels for drinking water set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
Manu Bhatnagar, who heads the Natural Heritage Division of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), pointed out that his organisation is currently preparing a blueprint on how to revive the river.
“Our plan should be ready within the next few weeks. It will be easy to implement and will not require a large investment,” said Bhatnagar.
Sajid Idrisi, a conservation biologist with INTACH, who is involved in preparing the nitty-gritty of this plan expressed regret that the Hindon’s two main tributaries Krishni and Kali were equally polluted.
Idrisi said, “While travelling along the river I found that farmers have extended their agricultural fields right up to the river bank, thereby destroying the river floodplain. That should not be allowed as these floodplains act as a source of self-filtration for the river.”
“Our study will provide a baseline data on ecological, social and institutional aspects of the river, and suggest measures for its revival,” Idrisi added.
But INTACH is not the only body working to revive the Hindon river. India’s waterman Rajendra Singh, who heads Jal Biradiri agrees that the Hindon river needs special attention. “The Hindon is the most polluted tributary of the Ganga. It is practically a dead river but we cannot afford to lose it,” said Singh.
Another initiative has been taken by Ghaziabad-based lawyer Vikrant Singh who along with some colleagues has filed over 100 RTI applications to try and ascertain just how much solid waste is being dumped into the Hindon river. Vikrant Singh has also filed cases in the National Green Tribunal to stop dumping of waste into the river.
Concerned with all these developments, the city of Muzzafarnagar, has put in place a successful waste management system under a public-private-partnership model appointing over 200 safai mitras who hit the streets at 6 am in the morning. Stopping at every doorstep, they collect the garbage at a minimal cost of Rs 30 per household and take it to the nearest garbage collection point where it is segregated.
A2Z is one of the companies involved in the process and handles 80 percent of the garbage covering 40 wards in the city. After collection and segregation, the A2Z safai mitras also help in processing and disposal of the waste. A2Z has extended its operations to other cities but members of its senior management team confess that one of their biggest stumbling blocks remains the lack of timely payment from the Muzzafarnagar Municipal Corporation.
The importance of garbage segregation cannot be underestimated because this prevents a huge quantum of waste from making its way into the river.
Maidul Islam, deputy manager of a plastic factory located in this region believes that the time has come for the government to take firm steps to end the percolation of harmful chemicals and waste in the ground water.
The 2030 Water Resources Group(WRG) dedicated to promoting multi-stake holder partnerships in addressing issues of water security has also stepped in to clean the Hindon river.
“Rajendra Singh asked us, around 15 months ago, to come and try and help rejuvenate this river. We had been working with farmers in Karnataka who were facing water shortage and we succeeded in persuading them to move to drip irrigation,” said WRG executive Annelieke Laninga.
“During the last 15 months, we have held several field missions and held meetings with academia, industry and civil society in order to highlight good practices towards river rejuvenation. The major share of the water from these rivers is being used by farmers. Just a 5 percent change in water usage by farmers will result in greater water efficiency,” said Laninga.
Anders Berntell, executive director at WRG and a colleague of Laninga had earlier stated that over $1.2 billion would be required to clean up the Hindon.
Where is this money going to come from was the question put before Laninga” “The industry needs to put some money on the table,” she replied.
Some of the affluent industries such as Bindals Duplex Ltd in Muzzafarnagar have installed effluent treatment plants and also installed online monitoring systems. But whether they are willing to pay up remains to be seen.
Water experts admit that raising funds is a hurdle and so will be putting in place good practices. But there is unanimity in admitting that India’s two main rivers — the Ganga and the Yamuna — cannot be cleaned without restoring the water quality of its tributaries including the Hindon.