Sewage treatment is the process of removing contaminants from waste water, primarily from household and industries. The untreated sewage, worrying at over 60 per cent in India, is the main cause of pollution in rivers. There are currently about 816 sewage treatment plants in the country.
A water ministry source said: “A dismal performance can be gauged from the fact that in the four states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, about 30 per cent of STPs are not operational and 94 per cent were not meeting pollution norms.”
Echoing the concern, Parliament’s committee of estimates (2015-16) on Ganga rejuvenation noted on May 11 that despite allocation of projects, lack of proper assessment of ground realties led to lapsing of funds in Bihar, Uttarakhand and UP. “Had there been effective coordination and good synergy between multiple authorities, delays in completion of the projects could have been avoided,” the committee observed, seeking details of “completed” and “scheduled to be completed” STP projects, along with figures of “cost escalation” and “time overruns”.
The committee chaired by Murli Manohar Joshi even urged the water ministry to explore the possibility of treating uncompleted STP projects as “new initiatives” and fund them entirely as a Central sector scheme to avoid “putting financial burden” on states. At present, the Centre and state governments share finances on a 70:30 ratio. A source said that no decision has been taken on this front by the ministry so far.
Taking note of the huge gap between installed capacity and actual operational capacities of STPs, the committee has recommended the preparation of a comprehensive roadmap on STPs for at least “next two decades”, which would include “imposing penalties on polluting industries and cities”.
A senior water ministry official, on condition of anonymity, said: “Because of inadequacy in working of STPs in all four states in question, a decision to propose hybrid annuity-based public private partnership (PPP) was taken. Through this scheme, the projects could be awarded to the lowest bidder and a part of the capital investment be paid by the Centre through construction-linked milestones to ensure progress on the ground.”
“As a final decision on this is still pending, approvals of STPs have nearly came to a halt ever since the empowered steering committee of the National Ganga River Basin Authority met in May last year.”
Manoj Mishra, convenor of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, said: “There is no problem with the intention of this government on cleaning the Ganga. It has to be converted into tangible outcomes on the ground but nothing seems to be happening even though this government is almost halfway through its tenure. It is a frustrating wait for the nation as our Prime Minister says this is one of his primary objectives.”
Mr Mishra said: “There is a lack of ownership by the states on cleaning the Ganga. And unless and until states take the task as one of their own, any amount of work would not make much of a difference. The states’ participation is paramount in realising this project.”
On STPs, Mr Mishra said: “Of course, the STPs play a very important role in cleaning the Ganga but until the natural flow of the river is not ensured anything else will not matter much. STP is more of an urban development challenge.”