Stark difference in reality and records, as rural India faces major challenges in managing greywater

On paper, 92.4% villages are ODF Plus, but ground mapping shows most only have poorly maintained community soak pits

This is the second installment of a two-part series on water and wastewater challenges in rural India.

In the first part, we came across Kharkhara, a village in Haryana’s Rewari district, which is grappling with severe water pollution issues and greywater issues. The second part of the series analyses the state of greywater management in other rural areas.

Greywater is the wastewater generated from kitchens, bathrooms and laundry facilities, which usually enters rural ponds. It is often connected to stormwater drains in most rural households. Black water from faulty toilets also ends up in these stormwater drains. 

In many cases, these drains are not properly designed. The drains are either not deep enough to accommodate both stormwater and wastewater or are constructed without proper surveys and mapping, resulting in faulty designs that lead to waterlogging and issues with mosquitoes and flies. 

Read more: Managing greywater: A Haryana village shows the way

Households sometimes encroach on these drains, obstructing the drainage path. Solid waste is also frequently dumped into these drains, causing blockages. Most wastewater ends up in village ponds.  These ponds serve as sinks for excess rainwater runoff and recharge sources for groundwater reservoirs. 

However, they are now contaminated with wastewater, which also pollutes the groundwater — exactly what happened in Kharkhara. 

According to Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin dashboard, 92.4 per cent villages (541,110 out of total 585,366 villages as of May 2024) have been declared open defecation free (ODF) plus villages. This means they are free of open defecation and have a clean appearance, as well as proper solid and liquid waste disposal arrangements.

Over 30 per cent of villages (179,988 villages) have been declared ODF Plus model villages, indicating that these villages have both solid and liquid waste arrangements in place and can sustain them, apart from maintaining the ODF status, meaning all village households have toilets available for use. Over 80 per cent (474,873 villages) have arrangements in place for liquid waste management. 

Moreover, states like Assam, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Kerala have been declared ODF Plus. 

However, according to Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the ground realities do not match the dashboard. CSE conducted extensive mapping studies in Raebareli, UP and discovered that most villages only have community soak pits, which are also poorly maintained. 

Read more: 75 years of people’s power: How these two villages in Chhattisgarh solved their grey water problem

In rural areas, the majority of household greywater drains into village and farm ponds. Many villages do not even have toilets. Some ponds, such as those in Bhuemau village in Rahi Block of Raebareli tehsil, have been revived but are now suffering from greywater contamination. Due to a lack of greywater management solutions, villages are forced to divert wastewater to ponds. 

A similar situation exists in Puducherry, where the Bahour Commune Panchayat is plagued by pollution and the extinction of centuries-old ponds and channels due to sewage entry.  

The situation is similar in other panchayats as well. Solid waste clogs the ponds and drain channels. Households have connected their wastewater to these channels, which are intended to serve as connecting channels to lakes and ponds, ensuring a steady supply of water in the villages. Tamil Nadu’s ancient temple tanks, which served as both religious and summer reservoirs, have been contaminated with wastewater and are now stinking.

Most states do not have mandates or laws to prohibit or prevent the entry of wastewater into rural water bodies or to mandate the treatment of greywater before it enters village waterbodies. 

Some states have acts that clearly prohibit the entry of sewage into water bodies, such as the Uttar Pradesh Pond Development, Protection and Conservation Authority Act 2017, while others, such as Haryana Pond and Waste Water Management Authority Act, 2018, discuss nature-based greywater treatment. 

However, none of these is absolute in nature. As in the case of Kharkhara resident Prakash Yadav, who filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal, the authority clearly does not want to address issues such as faecal coliform treatment.

Read more: How a water-scarce village in Maharashtra became water-prudent

This table lists the status of such regulations and the state of greywater management in various Indian states.

Status of acts dealing with greywater and status of greywater in India



Acts related to ponds / wastewater

Key features of the Act

Status of greywater — CSE observations / Official interactions

Uttar Pradesh

Raebareli, Jhansi, Banda and Rampur

Uttar Pradesh Pond Development, Protection and Conservation Authority Bill, 2017

The Act prohibits the entry of untreated sewage into ponds. Additionally, the designated authority shall meet once every three months to ensure better implementation of the Act.

Waterlogging in the villages and untreated wastewater end up in the village ponds as the villagers have no other place to dispose of the wastewater.

The community soak pits, in many cases, were not maintained properly.

Solid waste is often found disposed of on the banks of the ponds.

As per the Public Financial Management Systems (PFMS) report (up to March 2024) shared with CSE, most of the expenditure is spent on managing solid waste—which is also clearly lacking as the authorities remain clueless about the disposal of non-recyclable waste. Some work has been done on constructing soak pits, but in many cases, these were also not maintained properly. The village ponds were receiving greywater from the village. The revived ponds, in most cases, reverted to their previous condition as no effort is made to treat the entering greywater.

Himachal Pradesh

Kangra-Baijnath block

Una-Gagret block,

Hamirpur, Bilaspur

No special act on ponds or liquid waste


Most work is ongoing for community soak pits, where officials say that households are connected with a community-level soak pit. A lot of work for greywater is under planning and is delayed owing to the availability of funds, according to state officials.


Rural Assam

Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation & Conservation) Act 2008

The act is for areas under jurisdiction of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority but mentions the revenue village under the jurisdiction in Guwahati. The act talks about protection of Water bodies

In the rural areas of the state, there is a widespread traditional practice of using duckweed ponds, with some also featuring kitchen gardens. The remaining greywater is discharged into village ponds or open areas via drainage channels wherever they exist. A similar situation prevails in urban Assam.



Rajasthan State Sewerage and Waste Water Policy, 2016

The policy discusses the prevention of pollution and the use of untreated wastewater in agriculture, as well as advocating for the reuse of treated water. It specifically mentions septage, but greywater has not been clearly addressed.

Most villages do not have any proper disposal system for greywater. The greywater from households ends up in drains. Some villages have constructed soak pit structures, reaching depths of 20-30 feet, to manage community conflicts arising from the collection of greywater and waterlogging. However, most villages suffer due to faulty drains and a lack of management of greywater.

Villages like Manka have greywater treatment systems that suffer due to a lack of support from communities and maintenance by the gram panchayat.


Sirsa, Pataudi block of Gurugram district

Haryana Pond and Waste Water Management Authority Act, 2018

The authority would oversee the development, protection, rejuvenation, conservation, construction, and management of ponds, as well as the utilization of pond water and treatment. It would also address the management and utilization of treated effluent from sewage treatment plants for irrigation purposes, thereby reducing the stress of over-exploitation of groundwater.

Most villages do not have any proper disposal system for greywater. The greywater from households ends up in drains. Some villages have constructed soak pit structures reaching depths of 20-30 feet to manage community conflicts arising from the collection of greywater and waterlogging. However, most villages suffer due to faulty drains and a lack of management of greywater.

Some villages have community-level treatment systems developed by non-profits and under various schemes. However, many of them suffer due to a lack of planning as they receive more wastewater than planned or due to a lack of support from village panchayats and communities.


Bahour Commune Panchayat

No act

Various Acts, such as the Public Health Act 1973, address the need to manage water resources, but there is a lack of an Act specifically focusing on these aspects.

The village ponds suffer from pollution and the extinction of age-old ponds and channels due to sewage entry.




No act


A recent survey has been conducted, and samples suggest that ponds are contaminated with fecal coliform. Fifty percent of the state disposes of its household greywater in ponds. Districts like Alleppey dispose of their greywater in the ocean (marine disposal). Palakkad district faces waterlogging issues, and households have made arrangements to dispose of greywater in the nearest pond.


Giridih, Dumka

None for rural areas


Some households have a kitchen garden, and community soak pits are being developed. However, most of the household wastewater ends up in village ponds.

Source: CSE studies and interaction with state Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin officials

A former representative of a non-profit based in Durg, Chhattisgarh, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that in city, many greywater management and treatment systems have been planned and many have been completed. 

However, these often suffer from a lack of maintenance. Frequently, these treatment system designs are copied without proper consideration. They are constructed wherever the village panchayats find vacant land, without considering the flow of wastewater and other factors. 

A lack of survey and data availability is one of the reasons for over-designed or under-designed community-based systems. Communities, failing to understand the reasons behind faulty systems due to a lack of technical knowledge, become disappointed and do not support the maintenance of these systems. 

Instead of copy-pasting the solutions, districts should consider a proper scale of design after surveying the area. These surveys should identify the type of soil, suitable locations for treatment systems and the quantity and quality of wastewater generated. 

However, studies indicate that it is best to manage greywater at the household level, as the pollution load is less and the quantity to be managed is also smaller. This is contingent on properly designed soak pits that consider family size and soil type. It is also important to remember that soak pits are not meant to soak stormwater.

Read more: World Water Week 2023: Reuse of greywater can be an answer to India’s shortage problem

Other CSE studies also highlight that improper sanitation systems and soak pits in Himalayan towns contribute to natural disasters in these terrains. States like Himachal Pradesh need to consider terrain and soil-bearing capacity before opting for soak pits. Similarly, flood-prone areas should opt for modified soak pits. States with clayey soils and black soils should also opt for modified soak pits. 

Effluent from septic tanks can be connected to a nearby drainage line leading to a sewage treatment plant (STP) and should not be mixed with stormwater. Septic tank sludge can be sent to nearby STPs. 

Currently, in most scenarios, villages are clueless about the disposal of septage after desludging. States can learn from the urban-rural convergence model of Odisha for managing faecal sludge. States can also learn from Kolhapur, where villages have toilets linked to biogas digesters at the household level, which are also used for cooking purposes and the digested slurry is used in agriculture.

Climate change is a real issue and we are already facing its consequences, said Sushmita Sengupta, senior programme manager for water at CSE. “If we do not look into solutions and keep blaming each other, we will only end up with more problems,” she said. 

Source link

Most Popular

To Top