Rivers of India-In India, rivers are treated as Goddesses and mothers. These worshipped rivers I provide hope, life and salvation to Indian people. The rivers, from early vedic periods were considered divine who brought wealth and abundance to people. Unfortunately, the same rivers have become increasingly polluted over the decades due to human aspirations, greed and desires. About 61000 million litres of sewerage is generated in India in the urban areas but only some amount flows after treatment into the rivers. Other sewage is disposed untreated into the rivers or water bodies. Several industries working along the river banks discharge their effluents into rivers and pollute them.
Huge amount of waste water goes into the water bodies and major rivers and percolates into the ground. Crores of rupees have been pumped into cleaning the rivers in India under various programs but still the pollution levels in India’s rivers have not shown any significant improvements. The top five states having most polluted river streches are Maharashtra, Assam , Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal
Extent of Pollution in Indian Rivers
More than half of India’s rivers are polluted. The number of polluted stretches have increased from 102 to 351 over past few years. The number of critically polluted river streches have also increased. Pollution has affected larger as well as smaller rivers equally. This has mainly been due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation along the river banks. Low priority has been given to river conservation efforts in India. The environmental degradation due to river pollution in India has costed India about $ 80 billion per year. This problem will reach at catastrophic levels if it is not contained immediately.
Causes of River Pollution in India
• Domestic Waste
Domestic sewage is the largest contributor of pollution in the rivers. There has been a rapid increase in the urbanisation levels in India. Presently, 377 million people reside in urban areas of India which generates huge amounts of sewage that is drained into the rivers untreated. The waste water from domestic use that is not treated effectively to remove contamination of heavy metals and other harmful wastes. Only 22% waste water from larger cities and 14% water from smaller cities is treated and disposed into rivers. The rest of the waste water is left untreated.
• Industrial Waste
Indian rivers are polluted by industrial wastes and discarded effluents. Almost 1100 industries are located around Ganga river alone. Its water has become unfit for even bathing. The thermal power plants generate largest amounts of waste water. Engineering industries are another major generators of wastewater. Other than these industries, paper mills, steel plants, textile industries, distilleries etc. also contribute significantly to waste water generation that is disposed into the river directly without much treatment. Small scale and cottage industries also cause large scale pollution in India’s rivers. About 3 million small scale and cottage industries in India are devoid of any waste water treatment facility. Thus, these industries dispose huge amounts of water into rivers directly.
• Agricultural Runoff
Fertilisers and pesticides are used on large scale in Indian agriculture. Agricultural inputs require large irrigation mechanisms. Agricultural runoff due to irrigation by water and rain takes away water from agricultural fields and drains them into the rivers. Excess usage of fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides further aggravates the problems and pollutes the river water more. During monsoons, this wastewater flows increases and water drains into the river, making them more polluted.
• Over Withdrawal of Water
Indian rivers have plenty of water around their upper courses but as they reach downstream, irrigation channels and large amount of water requirements in urban areas takes away this supply of water. As result of this very less amount of water reaches the downstream plain areas. This results in reduced flow in the river downstream. As the flow downstream reduces, the pollution from urban and industrial areas being drained into the river does not get diluted. Several streches of river get so polluted that they turn into stinking sewers. Therefore, it becomes essential that a minimum quantity of flow is maintained in the rivers so that pollution does not get accumulated and pollutants are washed away at a faster rate than they are being generated
Religious and Social Practises Faith and belief in religious practises such as idol immersion also pollute river water. Dead bodies are cremated on rivers banks, partial burnt bodies are also immersed into rivers. Mass bathing in rivers during religious festivals also leads to river pollution. Thus, these practises have contributed to pollution of rivers.
• Oil and Natural Gas Exploration
Several river basins in India are used to derive oil and natural gas stored in them for commercial purposes. While necessary steps are taken by oil exploration companies for preventing pollution in rivers yet rivers in India are contaminated with residual wastes of oil and gas exploration as the implementation of laws are not stricter.
Effects of River Pollution
Impact on Flora and Fauna
Chemical effluents, harmful elements etc. pollute Indian rivers and significantly impact aquatic flora and fauna. River pollution threatens biospheres, habitats and natural ecology of rivers. Natural conservation areas are also severely affected due to river pollution. Migratory birds also face extinction due to polluted and contaminated rivers.
Loss of Livelihoods
Pollutants in rivers affect livelihoods as the fishermen who survive on traditional fishing methods are affected because of reduced fish productivity. Also fishes from polluted rivers have lower demands in the markets as compared to fishes produced in safe and fresh water. Fish from polluted rivers are high in mercury, lead and cadmium content and hence become unfit for human consumption.
•Loss of Exports
Indian fishes and fish products have higher demand in the foreign markets . But river pollution has caused these varieties to be contaminated with disease causing microbes and harmful chemicals. As a consequence several fish varieties from India have been banned thus reducing exports and significantly affecting the foreign revenue that was generated from export activities.
• Spread of Diseases
Pollution in rivers is significantly impacting spread of disease in India as the harmful chemical effluents and contaminants have caused several skin diseases, allergies and other uncommon ailments. Increasing disease burden also causes significant economic loss and burdens on the healthcare infrastructure of India.
• Polluted Drinking Water
Contaminated drinking water itself is the cause of several diseases and causes deaths in India. The health hazards associated with consuming contaminated water includes cancer as well as gastrointestinal disorders that occur due to harmful bacterias in the rivers.
• Agricultural Productivity
Polluted river water is used for irrigating large fields having food crops as well as commercial crops. Contaminated water is used for irrigating agricultural fields. This affects the crop growth because polluted water does not allow the crop seeds to germinate, which results in stunted growth. Hence, agricultural production gets affected.
Reducing Water Availability Already several large and small cities of India are facing severe water crisis. Polluted water further reduces water availability and creates shortage of water. Water treatment costs are further higher that results in lower availability of clean water for domestic purposes.
Rising pollution of any type affects 1.3 billion people of India. Water is a valuable resource that ensures the survival of life on earth. Unless and until stringent steps are not taken to control pollution of rivers and strict environmental safety rules are not enforced, the current dismal state of India’s rivers will remain like this. The conservation, preservation and sustainable availability of water is needed to be ensured so that human, animal as well as floral life forms are not affected due to severe water pollution. While various waste water facilities have been developed but they have been insufficient to stop river water pollution. Hence, policies and strategies are needed so that the problem of water pollution can be resolved.
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