Lack of sewage treatment plants in city prime reason for Brahmaputra contamination
Guwahati is battling several water contamination related woes thereby polluting the lifeline of Assam - the Brahmaputra River - on a regular basis. This is mainly due to lack of a scientific sewage treatment plant in the city.
The Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) had suggested building a sewage treatment plant in the city way back in 2008, which has seen no progress so far.
“We had filed a report back in 2008 to the state government to open up a sewage treatment plant in the city after conducting a toxicity test. The water of Brahmaputra River near the city was not fit for drinking. The city has grown exponentially over the decade both in terms of population and industries. The toxicity too has more than doubled. A sewage treatment plant is the need of the hour,” Gokul Bhuyan, Senior Environmental Engineer, of PCBA told G Plus.
The city has a network of natural drainage system that carries the sewage of the entire city which ultimately falls untreated at two points – Bharalumukh and Chandrapur – on the Brahmaputra River. One such natural drain is the Bahini River that originates in Meghalaya's Khasi Hills, enters Guwahati on its south-eastern side and flows through densely populated areas like Basistha, Rukminigaon, Mathura Nagar, Dispur, Ganeshguri and along the RG Baruah Road and then meets a major water channel near the state zoo becoming the Bharalu River and joining the Red River (Brahmaputra) at Bharalumukh.
Another major water stream originates from Deepor Beel and passing along the National Highway falls into the Silsako Beel and then ultimately falls into the Brahmaputra at the Chandrapur area.
“Both the channels are highly polluted. These channels don’t have any aquatic life form along the stream. Even within a kilometre upstream of its outlet into the Brahmaputra, there is no life form,” PCBA said.
The Chief Environmental Scientist of PCBA, Rafiqua Ahmed said, “The bacteriological oxygen demand (BOD) level is much higher in the lower streams of the river and its tributaries. If the contamination level rises over the next decade, the Brahmaputra will become another Ganga.”
The BOD measures the quality of river water, especially the population of coliform bacteria or disease-causing bacteria per 100 ml of water.
“These bacteria are found in sewage. The standard norm for total coliform is 5,000 most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml while for faecal coliform it is 2,500 MPN. The Brahmaputra has shown a rising trend in BOD levels in the last eight years,” Ahmed said.
"There are a few plants set up by Oil India Limited (OIL) and Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) but no other in the entire state. The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change has been asking the state government to set up a sewage treatment plant on numerous occasions but the government has paid no heed," Ahmed said.
Demand for a sewage treatment plant grows shriller
29-year-old Krishna Devi, a homemaker who lives near Fancy Bazar, is concerned about the health of her 14 month old daughter after he developed rashes on his body by bathing in contaminated water.
“We used to get water directly from the river. Even though we boiled the water meant for drinking, I used to bathe my then 6-month-old daughter with the river water. But we had to stop after she developed rashes,” Devi said.
Such kind of contamination would not have been the case if there was a sewage treatment plant, Devi said.
She is not the only victim as several residents living on the banks of the Brahmaputra in the city, are facing similar water-related contamination.
Pappu Kumar, a washerman (dhobi) who lives at Fancy Bazar said, “At times, the dredgers clear the floating plastic and other wastes. The water, however, still remains polluted. It still stinks and the area near the Bharalu River is still very dirty. This is the scenario along the entire stretch from Bharalumukh, where the rivulet meets the Brahmaputra, till the Sukreshwar Ghat.”
When contacted, Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) however said that even though the river water is not potable, the supply water provided by GMC is good enough to drink. After the recent rise in turbidity in the Brahmaputra River, the Public Health Laboratory had conducted a study and found the GMC supplied water fit for drinking.
However, only 30% of the city gets GMC water.
The long pending project
The Guwahati Jal Board had prepared a detailed project report of sewage treatment plants in the city back in 2008, but these haven’t seen the light of the day yet.
According to the DPR, Guwahati was divided into three main sewerage catchments: one on the north side of the Brahmaputra River and two on the south, the latter comprising roughly the water supply west zone and the central and east water supply zones. The Asian Development Bank financed the facility that will augment the water supply and sewerage services in the south-eastern zone extending to over 15 municipal wards.
“The sewerage and sanitation improvement sub-project will address the incremental waste water generated by channelling those through trunk sewers, treatment plants, sewer networks, pumping stations and maintenance equipment,” a source in the Guwahati Jal Board said.
The source said that the project is under process and currently the pipe laying works are going.
“After laying the pipes, we will mull on setting up the sewage treatment plant. It is a massive project and it’s linked with the important water projects that have been delayed due to several reasons,” the source said.