UP needs to treat its sewage

An RTI application reveals huge gaps in sewage treatment infrastructure in UP.
Excess sewage from the Bhairon nala (drain) in Agra flows into the brimming Yamuna. (Photo courtesy: Sumit Chaturvedi)
Excess sewage from the Bhairon nala (drain) in Agra flows into the brimming Yamuna. (Photo courtesy: Sumit Chaturvedi)

Uttar Pradesh generates second most urban sewage in India at 12 percent of the national total behind only Maharashtra at 13 percent. As per the response of Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr Harsh Vardhan to a question asked in the Lok Sabha on August 1, 2017, urban areas in UP generate a total of 7124 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage but has the installed capacity of treatment of only 2646.84 MLD or 37.2 percent.

The information provided by the UP Jal Nigam in response to the RTI application filed by this correspondent reveals that there are 59 sewage treatment plants (STP) in the state spread across only 20 districts out of which 57 are operational. However, this information is contradicted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) which carried out an “Inventorisation of Sewage Treatment Plants” in 2014-15. According to this report, there are 73 STPS across 19 districts out of which 63 are operational. While some of the districts are not mentioned in the former list, there are others omitted from the latter. Combining the names of districts in the two lists, there are in total, 24 districts with STPs installed.

 

The information sought in the RTI application is as follows:

District-wise details of

  • completed sewer work
  • targeted aim of sewer work
  • operational sewer system
  • sewage treatment plants
  • operational sewage treatment plants

The application was redirected to all the individual district Jal Nigam offices, out of which 37 responded. Based on these responses, it is revealed that three districts—Hapur, Unnao and Pratapgarh—besides those which are mentioned in the list above, are in the process of commissioning or have ongoing sewer work.

Banda has completed sewer-related work but it is not yet operational. Bareily, on the other hand, had sewer work done in 1963-64 by Jal Nigam but none since then. Sitapur proposed sewer work under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) Yojana but it was not approved. In Jhansi, one unit of STP of 26 MLD was proposed under the Lakshmi Tal Pollution Control Scheme. Work was started on the STP but due to non-allocation of money, it was stopped. 

Eighteen districts have reported that either no work is proposed or that no work is being done by units of Jal Nigam in the respective districts. Most of these districts are located on the banks of the Ganga, the Yamuna or the Gomti or on tributaries and sub-tributaries of these three rivers.

 

Low household connections: A major problem

The lack of sewer connection to individual households in the state compounds the problem. Household waste, mainly faecal waste is a major part of sewage pollution. Thus, the linkage of toilets to a sewer network, also known as the off-site sewage disposal system, is important as it directly conveys sewage to a centralised treatment facility. On the other hand, onsite waste disposal systems such as septic tanks and pits have to be emptied through municipal emptying services or private services. These services are expected to take the sewage collected to the treatment plants. Many emptying services, especially private ones, however, empty the collected waste in open drains which then flows directly into the river without being treated. At the same time, there are many toilets that directly empty into open drains. Thus, while laying of sewer lines is important, last mile connectivity (i.e. connecting individual households to sewer lines) is crucial.  

The data obtained from the Ganga Pollution Control Unit, Jal Nigam Allahabad (through the RTI response) provides a good example of the poor last-mile connectivity scenario. According to the progress report of the ongoing Namami Gange Yojana in Allahabad dated January 31, 2018, out of a total of 41,207 sanctioned house-connecting chambers, only 17,317 (or 42 percent) have been executed. At the same time, out of a total 1,10,550 sanctioned house connections, only 16,714 (or 15.1 percent) have been executed. 

 

According to the census 2011 data (attached below), the status of sewer connection is worryingly low in the state. Out of a total of 61,90,972 households in urban UP with toilets built within premises, only 21,07,698 or 34 percent are connected to piped sewer systems. In contrast, 38,60,000 households or 62.35 percent have toilets connected to onsite disposal systems such as septic tanks and pits. Moreover, 95,054 households or 1.5 percent dispose of faecal waste directly into open drains.

Ineffective STPs and low household connectivity in Agra

Besides the lack of sewage treatment capacity, lack of STPs in many districts and low last mile connectivity, there is also the problem of inefficiency of existing STPs. Agra, located on the bank of the Yamuna river, provides a pertinent example. As per the RTI information from Yamuna Pollution Control Unit, UP Jal Nigam, Agra district has seven STPs which is a good number. This information too is contradicted by the CPCB inventory list according to which Agra has a total of nine operational STPs with a total capacity of 220.75 MLD. 

The City Sanitation Plan (CSP) for Agra (attached below) prepared in 2013 by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, Agra Nagar Nigam and Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad reveals that the STPs at Burhi Ka Nagla (2.25 MLD) and Peela Khar (10 MLD) were made to perform beyond capacity and still only treated 10 percent of the sewage received. Dhandupura STP also remained underutilised. 

Over the years, the situation has improved. As per a Times of India 2016 report based on information from UP Jal Nigam, Agra, Burhi Ka Nagla STP treats 77.78 percent of its capacity and Peela Khar STP treats 98.1 percent. The Dhandupura STP with most capacity at 78 MLD also treats 87.8 percent of sewage coming its way. Yet the total actual treatment of the seven STPs adds up to 124.44 MLD, 69 percent of their collective capacity of 180.25 MLD. Two of the STPs at Kalindi Vihar and Sadarwan-II have not been mentioned in this report. 

 

The RTI response from UP Jal Nigam, Agra also informs that there are no targets set for any more sewer work, thus limiting the sewage treatment capacity to its present status even though sewage generation keeps increasing. As per the projections in the CSP, the sewage generation in the city might increase to 236.81 MLD by the year 2020 and even more subsequently. 

 

Among all sources of water consumption and sewage generation, most sewage is generated through domestic connections. As per the CSP, domestic connections generate 115.2 MLD out of a total of 171.2 MLD or 67.3 percent. Thus, it becomes important to connect more households with piped sewer systems. According to the census 2011, the total number of households in urban Agra with toilets built within premises were 2,50,616 out of which those linked to piped sewer were 1,05,137 or 42 percent. This percentage, though better than the state average, still leaves a lot to be desired. 

According to the CSP, the sewer coverage in the city is one-fifth of the required level. Besides the sewer network which was laid out in 1976 in the old parts of the city, very few areas are covered by sewer lines. As per the information from Agra Jal Sansthan, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the sewer network, besides previously laid lines, only three other areas in the city, Avas-Vikas Sikandra, Trans-Yamuna Avas-Vikas and Devri Road are covered by sewer lines totalling up to a length of 330.67 km. According to the RTI response from Jal Nigam though, a total of 381.21 km of sewer lines have been laid. 

Besides environmental conservation, STPs also help farmers with affordable resources. Treated water from the 78 MLD Dhandupura STP released through open channel outlets is redirected into neighbouring farms. The demand for water is high among farmers, it is only in monsoon season that this water is left over after being used in farms to be discharged into the Yamuna. Moreover, the bricks made out of the sludge extracted from the sewage are also sold to farmers as fertilisers.  

Way ahead for sewage treatment in UP

With the ever-increasing urbanisation and population, sewage generation is not a static problem with a one-time solution. While those districts with existing STPs and sewer network need improvement in their performance and reach, many districts in UP still need to create sewage treatment infrastructure. Being crucial for prevention of contamination of freshwater sources as well as due to their contribution to agriculture in the form of treated and recycled resources, sewage treatment facilities have become integral for urban ecology and for ensuring sustainable urbanisation in more than one way.  

 

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