GANGA ACTION PLAN ON ITS LAST LEGS IN KANPUR
 
(Nov. 15, 2004)
 

Ganga is a twelve-part radio series for National Public Radio (USA) and BBC Radio 4 (UK) on the cultural and environmental ecologies of the Ganga river basin in India and Bangladesh. The project includes an extensive website and a two-year outreach program for schools in the USA and in India (through Kanpur-based Eco-Friends). It is funded by the National Science Foundation in Washington and its aim is to bring science to a broad and well-educated audience through the electronic media. The Producers are husband and wife team Julian and Martine Crandall Hollick of Independent Broadcasting Associates (their website is www.ibaradio.org ) who have spent twenty years in India. This is by means their first visit to Kanpur: in 1996, they spent three months in anpur experiencing and recording the monsoon - a program voted one of the best of the year in 1997 by listeners. They started their journey down Ganga in April, 2004 in Gaumukh and Gangotri (the opening of the Ganga temple in Gangotri) and continued in mid-October in Haridwar, hoping to end at Sagar Island in mid-January 2005. They cast anchor here in Kanpur the first two weeks of November and assessed the state of the Ganga Action Plan and the Indo-Dutch project.

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Report for Eco-Friends
written by

Julian and Martine Crandall Hollick

Since our last visit in September 2001, things have gone from downhill in a big way in Kanpur. The amount of filth along and in the river still continues unabated. Polybags are tossed in publicly and casually; piles of refuse tumble down slopes to the river edge. The river is still the private garbage dump of industries and individuals alike, all too typical of a phenomenon unfortunately not unique to India or even the developing world, of vast private wealth behind high brick walls, and public squalor on the streets and river banks.

Yes, public awareness of the extent of pollution of Ganga has increased, notably in schools and amongst members of the public. But awareness of what? Of the sheer scale of the pollution? Or of the abject failure of the Ganga Action Plan ? One hundred and sixty crores of Rupees have been spent intercepting sewage, tapping nullahs (drains) linking them to new pumping stations, building complex treatment plants at Jajmau, and a new sewage treatment plant near the Pandu river in south Kanpur. In theory a wonderful technological solution.

But!!!! Last week, Martine and I went with Rakesh on a tour of the various nullahs and intercepting stations the length of Kanpur. It was a nauseating experience as the photos demonstrate . At Bhairon ghat two nullahs from West Kanpur were still pouring their toxic cocktail of raw sewage and hospital waste directly into the river one hundred yards upstream of the intake point for the city's drinking water supply. Yet the Jal Nigam (the agency responsible for the execution, operation and maintenance of most of the GAP schemes) had blithely assured us just four days previously that not only were these nullahs tapped but that their waste was carried by pipe over the river to the far bank and disposed of downstream . While it's nice to be told that Kanpur does treat its drinking water, it's scarcely reassuring to know that the officials at the Jal Nigam at worst tell outright lies, at best are blindly ignorant of the true state of aff airs. Or are they bureaucratic Pollyannas who think that if you say everything is fine often enough not only will Kanpurites believe them, but their fantasies may somehow become reality?

But worse is to come! The various nullahs that flow from the interceptor plants in Jajmau are once again full of the oily blue-black stench of tannery waste. Tannery owners for once are probably not guilty. It's not their fault. The untreated tannery waste is flowing directly in the river because the interceptor plants are either blocked or malfunctioning. Responsibility again falls on the Jal Nigam. And the main trunk sewer that carries the entire sewage (industrial and household) from Kanpur to the Jajmau treatment plant is dramatically broken, water pouring in a waterfall into a nullah.

Time and again, tannery owners assured us plaintively that at least the CETP plant at Jajmau - the jewel in the Indo-Dutch Project's crown, is working. But it isn't working! It hasn't been working for many weeks, because its workforce has been on strike for the past four months, waiting to get paid. But the Jal Nigam complains the state government hasn't released the funds to pay their salaries. So if the plant isn't working where does the sewage go?

Answer again: directly into Ganga through overflow pipes, which may or may not be broken. So no sewage at all is getting treated, and that includes tannery wastes that still contain chromium from the small tanneries, which claim they had been promised that the 36 mld UASB plant would be able to handle the chrome in their wastes. Misunderstanding or lies? No one will probably ever really know. The result is the same: a sickening black river that flows out into Ganga along the riverbank, until finally the two merge. At the CETP there are large warning signs DO NOT SMOKE. But the warning might make more sense along the actual banks of the Ganga, where only geese and dead bodies dare venture into the stinking brew.

And at Motipur village we saw at first-hand the effects of years of irrigating fields with a mixture of sewage and tannery wastes - an experiment the Dutch initiated under GAP. Should have been safe. But chromium could not be removed at the 36 mld UASB plant, so the irrigation water was fatally tainted with a toxic cocktail that has caused abortions and skin diseases in humans and buffaloes alike, leprosy and crops that, while they may appear green at a distance, in reality are dry and empty of seeds. One farmer - Sunil - showed us a pathetic pile of rice paddy that will yield at most 25 kg of rice, instead of the usual one thousand kg.

Here is the human indictment of the GAP and the Indo-Dutch project. Ignorance of the human tragedy that is unfolding in these villages thanks to their irrigated sewage water is no defense. If we, Eco-Friends and the researchers at the National Botanical Research Institute in Lucknow could document this tragedy, why couldn't they? This is a crime against Humanity, for which the GAP and the Indo-Dutch project must stand indicted. For there is nowhere to hide and one else to blame!

   
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