Water of Ganga, 21 other rivers in Bihar unfit to even bathe in, finds state pollution control board

Six sewage treatment plants in Patna not fully functional, direct discharge of effluents in Ganga

Photo for representation: iStock

The water quality of 22 rivers in Bihar, including Ganga, is unfit even for bathing, according to Bihar State Pollution Control Board’s (BSPCB) annual report (2023-24). 

Meanwhile, on February 25, 2023, this reporter found groups of people taking holy dips in the Ganga Collectorate ghat in Patna. The people also filled up bottles with the water to carry home for use in prasad (holy offerings) and other rituals.

“Ganga water is pure and can’t be polluted. We took holy dips and will carry home water too,” Niranjan Kumar Singh and his wife Sobha Devi told this reporter at the ghat. On being told the water was unfit for bathing, they refused to accept it. “Ganga has been holy and clean for ages,” the couple said. 

They are not alone; hundreds of people partake in holy dips and fetch water from the Ganga and other rivers for use every day, despite the potential risks to their health. The dangers of the water were reflected in the latest BSPCB report. 

The water from the Ganga and its 21 tributaries, flowing through 27 districts in Bihar, is unsuitable even for bathing, the report revealed. BSPCB monitored water quality at 98 locations in the state and observed that these rivers failed to meet the prescribed water quality criteria. The water in these rivers exhibited elevated levels of bacterial contamination, including faecal coliforms and total coliforms.

The rivers whose water quality was examined are: Ganga, Son, Punpun, Gandak, Burhi Gandak, Ghaghra, Bagmati, Kosi, Sikrahna, Mahananda, Ram Rekha, Harbora, Parmar, Manusamar, Lakhandei, Kohra, Ghaunsh, Daha, Kamala, Gangi, Harha and Sirsia.

The water quality of the Ganga was monitored at 35 locations. The pollution levels stem from release of untreated sewage and contaminated wastewater into rivers, including the Ganga in Patna and other urban areas, the report said. At Gandhi Ghat in Patna, the presence of faecal coliforms was discovered to be 36 times higher than the prescribed criteria. 

In Patna, six sewage treatment plants (STP) were installed as part of the highly publicised Namami Gange project. However, the STPs are not operating at full capacity. It has been reported that ongoing network work is in progress and it will take some time for them to become fully functional. Although the installed STPs have the capacity to treat 350 MLD, the daily discharge in Patna exceeds 700 MLD.

“Unfortunately, a significant portion of sewage, domestic waste, and biomedical waste in Patna is being directly released into the Ganga. As of now, there is no infrastructure in place to treat these wastes, leading to the discharge of untreated sewage and other pollutants. Approximately 20 major drains are contributing to the discharge of untreated sewage water into the Ganga in this area,” a BSPCB official told this reporter. 

In the previous year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its report, highlighted that the treatment capacity of STPs in Patna is insufficient to handle the effluent discharge. “None of the six STPs and their networks are completed in their entirety, even as the executing agency, Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation, was sanctioned almost the entire cost of the projects, amounting to Rs 3,288.69 crore,” the CAG report said.

Former chairman of BSPCB Ashok Ghosh admitted that the water of the Ganga in Patna is neither fit for drinking nor for bathing due to the presence of huge bacterial load. “Sewage and domestic wastes are going directly into the river and turning it dirtier, more polluted and dangerous for the health of human beings,” he said.

Ironically, despite persistent assertions of having clean rivers, especially the Ganga, the stark reality on the ground is that their pollution is escalating with each passing year. The unfortunate truth is that not only is the pollution persisting, but the number of polluted rivers is also on the rise.

According to a study by the Central Pollution Control Board, the number of polluted river in Bihar increased from six in 2018 to 18 in 2022. But now this number has increased to 22, as per the latest annual report of BSPCB. Alarmingly, thousands still continue to use and drink the contaminated water, risking their health massively.

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