Until recently, most of the sewage produced in Varanasi found its way into the holy Ganga untreated. Here’s how this is set to change soon.
You can also read this article in Hindi- नमामि गंगे- किस तरह मोदी के वाराणसी से गंगा में शून्य सीवेज जाएगा
When Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat and the prime ministerial face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, promised on the campaign trail in Varanasi in 2014 to make the Ganga nirmal and aviral again, it was seen as another pre-poll sop that may never materialise. The launch of Namami Gange and allocation of Rs 20,000 crore in the 2015 budget for the project proved that the government was serious, but hardly anyone believed that the situation on the ground would actually change.
Under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) launched in 1985 by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, three sewage treatment plants (STPs) were constructed in Varanasi. The first of these came up at Dinapur in 1986, the second at Bhagwanpur in 1988 and the third was the Diesel Locomotive Works STP built in 1989. No significant capacity addition took place for over two decades between 1990 and 2014, limiting Varanasi’s treatment capacity to around 102 million litres per day (MLD).
This is grossly inadequate as, according to the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam, the nodal department for water supply in the state, around 309 million litres of sewage is generated in Varanasi every day. This, by some accounts, will rise to nearly 400 million MLD by 2035. Some other accounts, including that of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), suggest that the city is already generating around 410 MLD of waste water. The discrepancy, which is not limited to Varanasi, could have resulted due to the assumption that 80 per cent of the water supplied to the city returns as waste water. (This assumption, as explained in an earlier piece on the Namami Gange project, has resulted in wrong estimation of sewage generated.)
So, effectively, the city had a sewage treatment gap of around 308 MLD before the implementation of the Namami Gange project. In other words, at least 308 MLD of waste water found its way into the Ganga untreated.
Since 2014, work has begun on three sewage treatment units. The first one of these is a 140 MLD STP in Dinapur, work on which was completed in November 2018. The STP has been built with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Modi had inaugurated the STP in November last year.
The third treatment plant, a 50 MLD unit for the Assi sewerage district, being built in the city’s Ramana area, will be completed by the end of March. According to the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which releases a progress report every month (the January version of which is available here), nearly 40 per cent of the work on this treatment plant has been completed.
The 50 MLD Ramana STP is being built under the Hybrid Annuity Model. Under this model, up to 40 per cent of the capital investment is made by the government through construction-linked milestones. This ensures timely completion of projects. The remaining capital is paid over the utility life of the project as annuities along with operation and maintenance cost expenses, and is linked to the performance of the STP. This ensures continued optimal performance. More STPs under this model are under construction in Haridwar, Mathura, Kanpur, Unnao, Farrukhabad and Parayagraj.
Another treatment plant, which is coming up in Ramnagar, a satellite town of Varanasi, is expected to be ready by December this year.
The completion of the 140 MLD STP in Dinapur has taken Varanasi’s total sewage treatment capacity to 242 MLD. When the 120 MLD STP in Goitha and the 50 MLD STP in Ramana come online, this capacity will go up to 412 MLD. Therefore, between 2014 and now, Varanasi has come a long way in terms of treatment capacity – from being capacity deficient to having excess installed capacity.
But the STPs would not function if the city’s wrecked sewerage network is not fixed. In the GAP years, missing or broken sewerage network in many cities meant that only a fraction of the sewage generated reached treatment plants. This, in turn, led to the underutilisation of treatment infrastructure. CPCB states in a 2013 report that less than 60 per cent of the capacity was put to use in 51 out of 64 STPs in Ganga’s catchment that were inspected.
To fix this end, the government has laid a 28-km sewerage network to direct the flow of the waste water generated in the city towards the STPs.
An interceptor sewer has been laid along the Varuna river and three pumping stations have been built along its stretch – in Chaukaghat, Phulwariya and Sariya – to pump waste water to the 140 MLD STP at Dinapur. A similar interceptor sewer has also been laid along the Assi river. And to reduce the load on the city’s Old Trunk Sewer, which runs along the Ganga, a new relieving trunk sewer has been built. This means that all the three rivers in Varanasi now have an interceptor sewer.
Therefore, infrastructure gaps left under the GAP are largely being filled under Namami Gange. As Modi prepares to pitch for re-election, his constituency is marching closer towards the goal — zero sewage discharge into the Ganga.