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Above: Materials used in religious rituals being dumped into the Gomti post-Diwali/Photo: UNI

An NGT panel has indicted the UP government for the pathetic state of the Gomti river, which passes through Lucknow, and has recommended huge fines on various stakeholders

By Atul Chandra in Lucknow

In a strong indictment of UP’s bureaucrats, the UP Solid Waste Management Committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has exposed the degradation that has befallen the Gomti river and recommended that the UP government “may deposit a performance guarantee of Rs 100 crore as decided by the NGT to ensure that within two years all drains discharging their effluents and sewage will be tapped”. Failing to do so will lead to the forfeiture of the amount, it said.

The UP Pollution Control Board also has not been spared “for failing from its very inception to implement the statutory mandate to keep the Gomti clean” and has been “saddled with environmental compensation” of Rs 6,84,75,000. In addition, district magistrates of the 11 districts along the river have been directed to issue an advisory to people against bathing in the polluted river. The Committee also recommended that the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC) be fined Rs 5 crore for failing to curb open dumping and Rs 2 crore be imposed on the partner company, Eco Green, for “not discharging its contractual obligations”.

The Committee’s chairman, Justice DP Singh, has prepared a report which will be sent to the NGT, and said that for the last two-three decades, “the Uttar Pradesh government has been guilty of causing pollution in the Gomti and not taking effective steps to manage sewage drains, solid waste, bio-medical waste and plastic waste”, which had resulted in a legacy of waste.

The Committee was made the oversight body for the rejuvenation of the Gomti through an order dated February 17, 2019. In response to the Committee’s strict monitoring over the last few months, the chief secretary, UP, Anoop Pandey, told the Tribunal on April 26 that “he himself” would “monitor the management of solid and bio-medical waste”. The NGT then ordered: “…After expiry of the six months term of the Committees, the Chief Secretary may take a decision whether such Committees are required to continue further.”

The six-month deadline will end in August, after which the river will be at the mercy of babus and politicians.

The NGT report also said: “The system which has failed in last 70 years wants to disrupt the control and initiatives of the Hon’ble NGT to monitor their functioning through judges of the High Court…For one or the other reason, it appears the sinister design of previous Governments to pollute the environment is being intended to …stop the exposure of commission and omission of previous Governments and its authorities because of which the oxygen level of Gomti is almost zero (below detectable levels).”

The Committee’s first report on Lucknow’s lifeline presents such a stark picture of the “dying river, converted into a sewage drain” that it appears criminal for the chief secretary to do away with a watchdog body in a thoroughly corrupt system. This is what the report said: “Gomti river, as it exists today, has been converted into a big sewage drain with almost zero oxygen in the water. The drains of 11 cities, namely Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Hardoi, Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Faizabad, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh and Jaunpur straightway discharge the untreated sewage into river Gomti, making its water neither fit for human consumption nor for taking bath, killing fishes and other aquatic life, thus disturbing the ecological balance.”

From four of these urban settlements alone—Sitapur, Lucknow, Sultanpur and Jaunpur—45 drains disgorge their untreated wastewater and effluents into the river. In Lucknow, 33 drains pour their untreated toxic waste into the river.

A team of environmentalists confirmed the alarming state of the river. Prof Venkatesh Dutta, the team leader, was reported to have said that the dissolved oxygen (DO) level had fallen drastically to 0.5 mg per litre of water “along some stretches”. The toxicity has rendered it unfit for any use. The DO level “should be at least 8.5 mg/litre for human consumption”, while less than 5 mg/litre renders the water toxic for aquatic life. The DO level was 5 mg per litre upstream between Ghaila and Gaughat. “The stretch near Shaheed Smarak, Shani Mandir Ghat and Kudiya Ghat were among the most polluted, with the DO level being as low as 0.6 mg/litre, 0.5 mg/litre and 0.8 mg/litre,” Dutta was reported to have said. As a consequence of low oxygen, most of the 51 fish species have disappeared from the river and it is now left with only eight.

Besides the untreated effluents of 33 drains flowing into the river, solid waste is also being dumped into the lifeless river. There are 29 places in Lucknow where solid waste, including plastic, is being dumped. The monthly solid waste being generated is 36,000 tonnes, of which only 22,000 tonnes is being managed. The rest can be seen along the river’s banks, flowing into it and polluting the underground water.

As a result of the LMC’s poor performance on solid waste management, Lucknow was ranked 121 in a nationwide cleanliness survey conducted by the urban development ministry early this year. It was expected to improve on the 115th position it held in 2018, but that hasn’t happened. It is not that the LMC is short of manpower. It has an army of over 9,000 safai workers, 3,000 of whom are on contract. Yet the municipal corporation fared poorly in consecutive national sanitation tests.

Justice DP Singh pulled up the LMC officials for this. On May 2, the panel ordered that solid waste and biomedical waste be removed from the Gomti’s banks. On May 13, the civic body was pulled up by the Allahabad High Court which gave it a month’s time to cover the entire city under the door-to-door (DTD) garbage collection drive. At present, only 3.25 lakh of the total 5.78 lakh households are covered by this drive and the LMC has a long way to go.

During an inspection, the monitoring committee found garbage dumps littered along the Gomti. The most shocking sight was in Ghaila village on the city’s outskirts where nearly 20 lakh metric tonnes of garbage was piled up.

In the committee’s opinion, the unscientific management of garbage was responsible for air and water pollution in the city. Before recommending the hefty fine, the committee had warned the LMC several times, but the warnings were ignored.

It awaits to be seen if these monetary fines actually work and the state government and other authorities become serious in their approach towards cleaning up the Gomti.

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