40% of the groundwater in the vicinity of Ghaggar river, has been declared unfit for consumption due to high content of toxic chemicals present in the river.
The Ghaggar river rises in the Shivalik range of Himachal Pradesh, India and flows through the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan for about 290 km, eventually losing itself in the sands of the Thar Desert.
The Indus Valley Civilization is also believed to have flourished in the basins of the Indus and the Ghaggar-Hakra River.
CAUSES OF POLLUTION
- INDUSTRIAL EFFLUENTS
River Ghaggar faces severe pollution threats right from its origin as several industrial units in Himachal discharge their effluents into the river. The scenario gets worse in Haryana, around Mansa, Chandigarh where the river has turned black and stinks unbearably.
This river is a disputed one, as the states of Punjab and Haryana are blaming each other for causing pollution in the river. Cities of Dera Bassi and Patiala in Punjab are infamous for their soap factories.
Meanwhile, in 2013, more than 40% of groundwater had been declared unfit for drinking and irrigation due to the high content of fluoride, arsenic, residual sodium carbonate (RSC).
In 2015, high pollution levels were recorded in the Ghaggar river at the interstate border.
- Biochemical Oxygen Demand – which is the demand of oxygen in water for aquatic life to survive – was found to be 8 times more than the prescribed standards.
- Total dissolved solids was more than double the prescribed limit.
- The level of total coliform bacteria – which are found in human and animal faeces – amounted to a shocking high of 6,34,000 times of the prescribed standard.
In the town of Kalka, Haryana, the Biological Oxygen Demand was 277 times more than the permissible limit
River Ghaggar is included amongst the 351 polluted river stretches of the country categorized as the highest priority due to the level of pollution.
- UNTREATED SEWAGE
Ghaggar river is adversely affected due to the dumping of untreated sewage due to lack of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), and other non-biodegradable, household wastes.
The water quality of Sukhna Drain, a tributary of the Ghaggar, was between B category – water is suitable for outdoor consumption and E category – water is unfit for human consumption. Thus, river water is gravely polluted as per the standards of the Central Pollution Control Board.
People can be seen bathing and immersing idols and other religious wastes into the river.
The Ghaggar river is facing twin attacks: the industrial waste from Himachal Pradesh and sewage from Punjab and Haryana, causing irreparable damage to animals, plants and humans alike.
In 2019, with continuous discharge of waste in the river, the affected areas were visited by various NGOs.
A. S. Mann – a member of an NGO – said: “Residents of many villages located on the banks of the Ghaggar are suffering from cancer and other kidney and skin diseases.”
Pollution of the river causes contamination of subsoil – which is an important layer of soil for agriculture – making crops prone to damage, due to the chemical wastes from industries.
- In 2014, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took voluntary action, based on media reports about pollution of river Ghaggar and the plight of those living along the course. Upon pursuing the matter, untreated effluents and sewage from Punjab and Haryana were found to be the sources.
- In 2016, the NHRC forwarded it finding to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which accepted the case and asked Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh authorities to submit reports about the same.
- Action plans were made by the authorities to bridge the gap in terms of sewage generated and treated, and ensure compliance of sewage treatment plants with prescribed norms.
- First cleanliness drive in Sukhna Drain was organized on 2nd October, 2019 by Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) along with MC Parwanoo and Parwanoo Industries Association (PIA) in the catchment area of Sukhna Drain and more than 10 Metric Tonnes of solid waste was collected.
- Ghaggar action plan has been formulated and implemented by authorities of the 3 states.
In April 2017, the Ghaggar Bachao, Zindagi Bachao (Save Ghaggar, Save Life) campaign was organised by Jat Samaj Sabha, an organisation of the Jat Sikh community.
Renowned environmentalist and Padma Shri awardee, Balbir Singh Seechewal lent support to the cause.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
- Deficiencies were found with regard to functioning and inadequacy of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), use of treated water and waste management.
- Punjab: For the 30 towns identified for discharging their sewage into River Ghaggar, 43 STPs are required to be installed. Presently, only 21 STPs in 18 towns have been installed.
- Haryana: Of 61 STPs being monitored, 9 STPs were not meeting with the BOD, and Faecal Coliform parameters.
- Himachal Pradesh: No STPs are in operation in the catchment area of Sukhna Drain and River Markanda, the tributaries of Ghaggar.
- BY ADMINISTRATION
- Establishment of Sewage Treatment Plants in the vicinity of the river is the primary step. It is of utmost importance to treat the waste before discharging it into the river.
- Industries must be monitored by the authorities to follow the prescribed norms, and checks on the industrial effluents are necessary.
- Recycling programmes must be set up by the state authorities with local NGOs and community groups, in order to segregate waste and spread awareness about reducing the waste generation.
- THE EARTH5R RIVER RESTORATION APPROACH: CIRCULAR ECONOMY BASED SOLUTIONS
Despite the instalment and strict enforcement measures the administration needs to take, the local community must also contribute.
By establishing circular economy based programs that have active collaborations with local stakeholders such as city administrations, local communities, universities, and educational agencies, private sector companies, and NGOs / NPOs, local problems can be turned into opportunities for the local community.
- Educating locals to make them conscious of their waste generation and possible solutions through a circular economy and sustainable practices.
- Conducting awareness workshops and programs on domestic waste segregating and management and sewage waste disposal, and composting to form a circular economy that benefits everyone and increases community participation.
- For festivals, eco-friendly idols made of clay and mud could be used, instead of the non-biodegradable material, which when immersed in the water bodies, does not release toxic chemicals or pollute the river.
- NGOs along with schools and other community groups can organise cleanliness drives, to do their part in keeping the river clean.
- The citizens must take up action and pursue authorities to take strict action against industries, which are releasing harmful effluents into the river.
Once a source of livelihood, river Ghaggar might be reduced to a souvenir, a memory. Administration along with the stakeholders, NGOs, industries, schools and communities can together protect this river from deteriorating.
Reach out to Earth5R to know more about solving environmental issues by creating a circular economy based sustainability projects.
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– Reported by Aastha Dewan, edited by Riya Dani