Strengthen participatory urban governance to prevent pollution in Ganga at Kanpur and recognise the need to look for decentralized solutions

A one day Area Water Partnership Conference was held on 22nd July, 2012 by Shramik Bharti, Kanpur; Society for Action in Community Health (SACH) and Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), New Delhi at Jajmau, Kanpur, an industrial city on the banks of the Ganga which also happens to be a major centre for leather tanneries, which let out toxic effluents. The Ganga at Kanpur is dirty and synonymous with pollution and is a proof of the government’s failure to clean up the river. 

The Conference brought forth the fact that the real agenda of the state is in commercialization of Ganga water, all in the name of cleaning the river. Kanpur is a convenient whipping boy and efforts are still on to motivate individual tannery owners to treat the effluents. The Conference preceded by ward level community meetings raised critical issues related to Ganga water pollution and stressed the need to strengthen Urban Local Bodies to play a greater role in addressing the issue.  

Group discussion with Swami Anand Swaroop ji, Dr. Hishmi Jamil Husain, Dr. Onkar Mittal on Save Ganga at GNN TV, New Delhi

Video courtesy: Dr. Hishmi Jamil Husain; Ganga Sewa Mission (

We are in a potential state of water war today. The ground water table has seriously depleted in several cities in India. Millions of women in the cities of India are forced to spend many hours, in queues for collecting water. Water is being supplied through tankers in cities like Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. The hand pumps and ponds have dried up. Everywhere there is contamination from fluoride and arsenic.

As regards Ganga, 550 new dams are being proposed on 17 streams of the river in Uttarakhand. The energy generated from these is not for the local needs but for the energy consumption of the commercial establishments in cities like Delhi. If all these dams are constructed, no water from Ganga will reach the plains. This was not the vision of the Uttarakhand movement. This model is being promoted by politicians who are agents of the corporate groups. The Uttarakhand villages are today starving of water and water is being supplied through tankers. There is no long term employment from hydropower projects. The water bottle today is being sold in Uttarakhand for Rs. 20.


Industrial waste is the main reason behind Ganga's pollution in Kanpur

Video courtesy: ABP News

The grim situation of water pollution at Kanpur

The Ganga water from Uttarakhand Himalayas is not reaching Kanpur at all and gets diverted for other uses like thermal power plants, atomic power plants, irrigation and domestic water supply, on the way through barrages, dams and canals. Kanpur is getting polluted water of rivers Ramganga and Kali, water polluted by domestic sewage, the paper mills and sugar mill effluents. The other states also have a right over Ganga water from Uttarakhand and all the water cannot be diverted, as has been also declared recently by Allahabad High Court in one of its orders on a Public Interest Litigation.

On the whole, the quantum of water in Ganga at Kanpur, especially in the lean season is very low and only the sewer water is flowing into Ganga. The tributaries going into Ganga also are devoid of water. There are 29,000 industries in Kanpur whose effluents are going untreated in the domestic sewer network of Kanpur and this is causing pollution of Ganga water. These industries also include 400 tanneries.

Large numbers of transnational waste water treatment companies are promoting the centralized solutions to these problems. However, this is not going to work, just as it did not work in case of Ganga Action Plan -Phase 1 (GAP-1). We need to explore decentralized solutions. Construction of a parallel drain in Kanpur also is no solution, as the water will ultimately need an outlet somewhere. The water cannot be used for 365 days a year in agriculture and hence it will have to flow into the Ganga river. All these lessons are very clear from GAP-1 and cannot be ignored.

The World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have played a big role in promoting neoliberal solutions since 1980s, which are contributing to the present state of affairs. An example was given of Udaipur city where the dam has been constructed and water is being diverted to sell Udaipur as a tourist destination, ignoring the ill effects on the river ecology altogether. The rest of the water is being used for the needs of Hindustan Zinc-Vedanta. Infrastructure led growth model is not providing basic employment to people and MNREGA has not been successful either.

Kanpur city today has acquired the ill reputation of being the city where Ganga is most polluted. The tradition had given utmost importance to the quality of water and Ganga water had the highest rank in this. It is unfortunate that today, Ganga water has become absolutely polluted and it is not even of bathing quality.

The GAP-1 was initiated in Kanpur in 1987. Till date, it has failed to achieve its objective. In fact the situation is much worse than before. The proposal to supply treated water of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) for agriculture purpose has been total failure. The rose cultivation has failed in these areas, after initial success and large number of people are suffering from skin diseases due to coming in contact with contaminated water of the STPs.

The state of access to water and sanitation is pathetic and grim in the city. There is a general crisis on the availability of water. The streets are full of garbage dumps. The sewerage water is flowing on the roads. There was an incidence of police firing in a muslim locality a few days ago on the people rioting against power failure, but the real reason for people’s anger was non-availability of water due to power failure. The water tax has increased over the years, from Rs. 88 per year in 1980s to Rs. 1470 per year today. Half the city does not have access to water. There is no confidence in quality of drinking water supplied by the Jal Board and common people do not have the means to install reverse osmosis filters in their homes. The people are getting hard water from piped water supply from chakeri plant and depend on tanker water for drinking purpose.

The process of commercialization of water has affected the civil society consciousness also. Today, there is a competition to get deeper boring and extract more water for one’s own family and the commitment to share water with one’s neighbor is completely lost. This has ulterior consequences. The ponds in the area have been encroached over by the vested interests. The hand pumps which supply good water are usurped by the vested interests and they sell the water.

Privatization of soild waste management a failure in the city

The experiment of corporatization of solid waste collection through A2Z seems to have failed completely and garbage is not being collected. People are not ready to contribute Rs. 20 per month to the garbage collectors. The garbage dumps in the streets are becoming bigger. The garbage is being thrown in parks and the stink is unbearable. It was also pointed out that there was no involvement of Kanpur Nagar Nigam in arriving at contract with A2Z and the contract was given by the State Government which is against the constitutional provision of 74th Constitutional Amendment Act. The containers and vehicles were purchased by the State Government for the A2Z Company. However it has failed to perform its role to keep the city clean. The proposed plant for tertiary disposal of the garbage near Transport Nagar has also caused resentment and people would like it to be shifted due to bad stink emanating from the plant.

Officials, residents must tackle water problem at Ward level

The water supply and sewage is also managed by Jal Board and Jal Sansthan which are practically under the control of state government and Kanpur Nagar Nigam is powerless. In the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, the powers for these functions should be transferred to Kanpur Nagar Nigam and the planning of solutions to these problems should be worked out by Kanpur Nagar Nigam in a participatory planning process. It was also stated that giving more powers to National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), as is being proposed in some quarters is no solution to the problem. Only a participatory planning process led by the urban local body can help find appropriate solutions and implement these. The current plans developed under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and NGRBA for Kanpur and other cities for prevention of pollution to Ganga are inherently faulty and will fail, irrespective of the issue of corruption.

The micro-planning process has been taken up by Shramik Bharti in selected bastis in the zone. But the initiative rests with Kanpur Nagar Nigam and Jal Board to find solutions to some of the most difficult problems. At the same time, there is a need to bring about a change in people’s awareness and consciousness. The use of street plays can be a very good medium for it. This should be coupled with formation of local Peoples Committees and motivating them not to pollute Ganga by immersion of idols and flowers. The Area Water Partnership (AWP), Jajmau should take a lead in this process.

Area Water Partneship - Jajmau

AWP Jajmau project has been supported by India Water Partnership (IWP) and Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD). On the ground, implementation has been undertaken by Society for Action in Community Health (SACH) with support from Shramik Bharti, Kanpur and other local civil society organizations. The Conference was the culmination of a process set in by the AWP project for the last six months in Zone 2 of Kanpur Nagar Nigam, known as Jajmau area. This zone is in south eastern part of the Kanpur city, just south of Ganga River. The famous tannery industries of Kanpur are also located in this area. This Zonal Conference was preceded by ward level community meetings in the month of April, 2012. 

The Conference was attended by nearly seventy participants from the different wards of Zone-2 of Kanpur Nagar Nigam. The highlight of the Conference was participation by three Councilors of the Kanpur Nagar Nigam from Zone 2,  - Madan Lal Bhatia, Aditya Shukla and Mohammad Shamim. The Chairman of Ganga Sewa Mission – Gangaputra Anand Swarup was one of the guest speakers at the Conference. Some of the other notable participants were Ganesh Pandey (Shramik Bharti), Atal Behari Sharma, Ramjee Tiwari, Onkar Mittal (SACH), Prem Sundriyal (Maharishi Balmiki Ganga Yamuna Sewa Sankalp), Farrukh Riaz and Junaid Khan (SPWD), Arun Kumar (Pani Baba) and Deepak Shukla. A play on pollution of Ganga was performed by a team from a local NGO ‘Shrishti Samajik Sansthan’. A group of participants also visited Sarsaiya Ghat and met the local people to discuss the issue of maintenance of the cleanliness of the ghats. They also met the newly elected Mayor of the Kanpur Nagar Nigam and apprised him of the proceedings of the Conference.  

A strong case was made against the privatization of water. It was suggested that in the name of cleaning the Ganga river, the commercialization of Ganga water is the real agenda. The draft water policy 2012 suggests that water is an economic good and therefore by implication cannot be provided free. Some are proposing that holy water of Ganga should be bottled even before Hardwar and sold in the market. The barrage was constructed in Kanpur to provide supply of 200 mld of drinking water, while people are not interested in the piped water and using only ground water for domestic use. Now it is being suggested that people cannot use hand pumps without permission of the government.

Outcomes of the Conference

The conference has been able to consolidate the process of making contact with people, NGOs, industrialists, officials and people’s representatives in the last six months. There is greater realization of the grimness of the situation as far as access to water and sanitation is concerned and its link to macro issues of flow in Ganga river and the issue of river pollution. It is expected that the process of formation of AWP in the zone will be further consolidated in next six months and some goal oriented activities will be taken up jointly.

Next steps

  • The Membership of AWP now includes nearly 40 residents of zone 2. The membership will be further extended in the months of August, September and October-2012.
  • Key informants interviews will be sought from the Councilors from the 20 municipal wards in Zone 2 to get their views on the access to water and sanitation and Ganga pollution.
  • AWP will participate in the formal meeting with the Councilors of Zone-2, proposed to be organized by Shramik Bharti in September on these issues.
  • AWP will also meet the Mayor to present the findings and seek his intervention.
  • At the same time the Civil Society Organizations in the city should come forward to intervene in the master plan process of the city. 
Post By: Amita Bhaduri