Environmental expert Mahesh Pandya on the latest Paryavaran Mitra survey of the quality of water of Sabarmati river, flowing through Ahmedabad, which is being projected as the ideal river for other river systems of India to follow:
Rivers are a lifeline of any society. They are closely interwoven with each society’s culture and civilization. At the same time, they are a barometer for the health and well being of large sections of people who live by the riverside. Quality of the life of a population has much to do with the quality the water they consume. Sabarmati is one of the most important rivers of India and Gujarat. It passes through Ahmedabad, the state’s biggest city and business capital. The relationship between the people of Ahmedabad and Sabarmati dates back to even before the city was founded nearly 600 years ago.
It is quite possible to opine that Ahmedabad is doing considerably well on the developmental front. It has been able to attract various types of industries. More recently, it has developed some of the best infrastructure facilities, needed for a city which is expanding fast and facing demographic pressure. Not without reason, Ahmedabad has been acclaimed for its infrastructure, including roads and bridges. One such infrastructure facilities developed in the city is Sabarmati river front, created on the upstream of the river. The authorities are doing all they can to maintain it well. In fact, Ahmedabad has been beautified with beautiful gardens along the riverfront.
But few have noticed a contrasting phenomenon – the effluents flowing in the downstream of the river. Anyone noticing this would simply question the image of beautiful Sabarmati riverfront, sought to be propagated worldwide by the powers-that-be as an example for other states to follow. Efforts were recently made to compare how Ganga has been reduced into a gutter with the “beautiful” and “clean” Sabarmati. Those who make such comparisons need to just move 500 meters downstream of the river – and the mirage of the riverfront would end.
It is here that the city vomits its nauseating expulsions. There is nothing new about it. Rivers have for long been used as sink to carry waste effluents to places which are far from visible. The basic concept of treating rivers thus is, their “self-purifying” capacity would automatically dilute the effect of the waste. And, as humans, we tend tolerate a situation in which the dirt is thrown far away, to places we do not see or feel.
The same is true for Sabarmati. Effluents from industries and human waste are all pushed towards the downstream of the river. Various norms have been set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in order to ensure that only well-treated effluents flow into the river. But nobody seems to care.
Unregulated and uncared waste disposal, i.e. the waste, without following any norms, is poured into the river. This has ruined the life of many who are dependent on the river for their livelihood. Few city dwellers are aware of the fact that various villages on the downstream are dependent on the river water for cattle, for agriculture, indeed for their daily needs. All this has affected them adversely. Any river should reach its end point in the same way as it enters into the city.
A survey carried by the Paryavaran Mitra has revealed something which is not known to many. A sample was collected from Sabarmati river mainstream (sampling point was taken from the point after the effluent is discharged from mega pipeline into Sabarmati) and was sent to laboratory for testing. The standards for treated effluents from various industries have been set by the CPCB. There are Industry-specific standards – permissible limits vary according to industry. Also, there are general standards for discharge of environmental pollutants (effluents) in inland surface water, public sewers, land for irrigation, marine coastal as well. The result of sampling was compared with discharge standards of inland surface water.
Take on February 3, 2014, the results were astounding. As against the standard pH level – a measure of acidity in liquid has to be 5/5-9 for inland surface water. The sample taken at Sabarmati had the pH level of 6.75. As against the norm for total suspended solids for inland surface water of 100 mg per litre, the sample taken from Sabarmati had total suspended solids of 530 mg per litre. The chemical oxygen demand (COD) level of Sabarmati was 720 mg per litre, as against the norm of 250. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) level of Sabarmati was 288 mg per litre as against the standard requirement of 30.
The result shows that the water quality of Sabarmati has very high COD, BOD, and total suspended solids, indicating its polluting nature. The river water does not meet the water quality criterion set by the CPCB.