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River Water Pollution

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    2nd Aug, 2021

Context

The National Green Tribunal has directed the Punjab and Rajasthan governments to submit quarterly compliance reports to the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti (water resources), about the remedial action being taken to curb the inflow of effluent discharge into the Satluj and Beas.

Background

  • The water in the Indira Gandhi canal has apparently turned black due to the presence of pollutants in it.
  • The canal is a source of drinking and irrigation in the north and western Rajasthan. The pollution has caused several health complications among people such as skin diseases, gastroenteritis, indigestion and loss of eyesight.
  • One of the reasons for the pollution is Buddha Nallah, a tributary of the Sutlej. Traces of chromium and arsenic can be found in the Sutlej after confluence of Buddha Nallah.

Analysis

Importance of Rivers in India

  • According to a World Bank report titled ‘Issues and Priorities for Agriculture’, India has about 195 million hectares of land under cultivation.
  • Of this, about 63% or nearly 125 million hectares is rain-fed, while remaining 37% or 70 million hectares of the agricultural land depends on irrigation. Generally, rivers around agricultural zones provide much-needed water for irrigation.
  • Several wildlife sanctuaries of India are located on banks of rivers and their backwaters.
  • These national parks are home to several endangered species that feature on Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Hence rivers in India are critical to their survival.
  • Further, rivers of India also provide livelihood to millions of people including fishermen, sand dredgers and various other professions.

Causes of Pollution

  • Oil & Natural Gas Exploration
    • While exploration of oil and natural gas blocks firms claim to take all the necessary steps to prevent pollution, it is but natural that their methods are not 100% efficient.
  • Chemicals & Effluents
    • Industrialisation along the river belt is polluting the water with chemicals and other industrial effluents.
    • While large corporations adopt advanced techniques to treat effluents , smaller firms often have no such considerations and violate environment safety standards.
  • Garbage Dumping
    • High population density around the river banks and the reckless dumping of non-biodegradable waste, especially plastics, is further adding to water pollution.
    • Despite warning and strict fines imposed by local administrations on those found dumping garbage into rivers and their estuaries, this uncivilised practice continues unabated.
  • Washing & Sewage
    • Laundering clothes on river banks is a common sight in India. Modern detergents are made of chemicals that contaminate river waters. Defecating around river banks is yet another horrible practice in rural parts of the country that contributes to rising pollution of rivers in India.
  • Cremation & Last Rites
    • Cremation grounds in rural India are located on the banks of rivers like Varanasi.
    • Unfortunately, lots of Indians families that cannot afford cremation consign mortal remains of loved ones to rivers. These human cadavers cause severe water pollution.
  • Sand Dredging
    • High-quality sand from river beds is needed for India’s booming construction industry. This has led to rising pollution in Indian rivers.
    • Dredging operators- usually the unlicensed ones- deploy kerosene and diesel-fueled cheap watercraft manned by cheap labour for sand dredging.

Possible Consequences of River Water Pollution

  • Impact on Flora & Fauna
    • Chemical, effluents and sewage that pollute Indian rivers is causing several species of aquatic life to go extinct or move away to safer havens.
    • River contamination threatens biospheres and nature conservation areas. Migratory birds shun these rivers, and hence, they can face extinction.
  • Loss of Livelihood
    • Fishermen and fish farms that once flourished on banks of various Indian rivers are finding it increasingly difficult to find sufficient catch of edible fish.
  • Food Security
    • Fish from polluted rivers is found to be high in mercury, lead and cadmium and hence, unfit for human consumption.
    • Also, edible fish is contaminated with Salmonella, Shigella and other harmful microbes found in human faeces. Thus, such fish is unfit for human consumption.
  • Drinking Water
    • According to Niti Aayog, whopping 200,000 people lose their lives every year due to various problems caused by consuming contaminated water.
    • The health hazards associated with infected water range from cancer to gastrointestinal disorders that occur due to deadly microbes that are creeping into the rivers.
  • Agriculture
    • While agriculture is impacted adversely by rising pollution of rivers, it is also one of the reasons for contaminating waters.
    • Polluted water does not allow seeds to germinate and cause stunted growth, denying farmers of a bumper harvest.
  • Loss of Export Revenue
    • Freshwater fish varieties including the famous Hilsa, Rohu, Katla and prawns from Indian rivers once had a high demand in foreign countries, especially in the Middle East.
    • Sadly, river water pollution has caused these varieties of prized fish to get contaminated with disease-causing microbes and chemicals.
    • Consequently, several countries have banned imports of freshwater fish from India, including farmed varieties.

Measures to Control Water Pollution

  • Reducing the effluent concentration of the waste input by:
    • Wastewater treatment
    • Industrial in-plant process control
    • Eliminating effluent constituents by pretreatment prior to discharge to sewer systems or by different product manufacturing for an industry.
  • Reducing the upstream concentration by upstream point and non – point source controls.
  • Reducing the effluent volume by:
    • Reduction of direct industrial discharge volumes into the municipal sewer system.
    • Reduction in infiltration into municipal sewer systems.
    • Reduction of waste volumes through process modifications in industries.
  • Increasing the upstream flow by low flow augmentation, i.e., releases from upstream reservoir storage or from diversion from nearby water bodies.
  • Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and other aquatic weeds are used to upgrade wastewater treatment lagoons and treat chemical wastewaters

Conclusion

As we have seen, rising pollution of India spares no area of life in this country. It impacts everyone.  Unless urgent steps are taken to check the pollution of rivers and stringent environment safety rules are enforced strictly, the situation is likely to worsen further.

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