Allahabad: “Bhaiya, praises may have been heaped on the government for organising the Kumbh, but the garbage that was dumped during the festival is still lying here. Whether it gets picked up or not, and whether or not people die because of it, the government does not care,” says Jitendra Nishad. Nishad is a resident of Thakuripurwa village, situated next to the Baswar plant – the only solid waste treatment facility in Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad, also known as the City of Kumbh.
Due to the excessive amounts of garbage coming to the solid waste treatment plant, the air is in the region is foul – and causing a lot of trouble for the locals.
The Baswar plant has been practically closed since September 2018, which is why the garbage is lying untreated. As waste keeps piling up, the plant is overflowing with filth.
A local samosa-vendor, 50-year-old Vijay Kumar, says, “Despite the filthy smell, not a single government official has come here to fog the place. Various insects and mosquitoes are breeding here. My own son got a skin infection and we had to spend Rs 40,000 on his medical treatment.”
After spending crores of rupees in the name of the Kumbh in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath government is now under the scanner over the treatment of waste generated during the holy festival. Recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) came down heavily on the state government, saying that the Kumbh has brought Allahabad on the verge of an epidemic.
This year’s Kumbh was the most expensive yet; the Adityanath government allocated Rs 4,236 crore for it. The previous Samajwadi Party government had spent Rs 1,300 crore on the Kumbh in 2013.
Baswar plant still closed
While predicting a rise in cases of acute diarrhoea, enteric fever, viral hepatitis and cholera, the NGT has said responsibility needs to be fixed so an epidemic can be prevented.
However, the Baswar plant is still not operational despite the NGT’s order. The plant has five machines installed for processing waste, all of which are currently closed.
Anil Srivastava, director of Hari Bhari Allahabad Waste Management Private Limited, the firm entrusted with the task of processing solid waste at the Baswar plant, claims that the machines at the plant are being replaced to increase their capacity, after which work can be resumed.
Srivastava says, “Due to the Kumbh, waste beyond its capacity was left at the plant. We are unable to process that much garbage with the old machines. The government did a lot to organise the Kumbh, but paid no heed at all to the plants that would treat the waste generated during the festival. That is why we are in this situation.”
He adds that after the NGT’s order, the government has released funds and by the end of May, the machines will become operational. Srivastava claims that they will treat all the solid waste at the plant before June 15, and the manure created will be sold in the name of the Kumbh.
The Baswar plant was set up in 2011, and the machines installed then are the ones that are still being used.
Production incharge at Hari Bhari, Rajan Nath, says that the company had informed the government about the need to replace the machines even before the Kumbh. But the administration paid no heed. “The machines had the capacity to treat 400 tonnes of waste per day, but during the Kumbh 800-900 tonnes of solid waste was dumped on the plant. Owing to this, the plant was overflowing and could not operate,” says Nath.
The NGT formed a monitoring committee headed by Justice Arun Tandon. According to the report submitted by the committee, 60,000 metric tonnes (mt) of solid waste had been collected at the Baswar solid waste treatment plant. Of this, 18,000 mt was generated during the Kumbh.
The committee also found that nearly 2,000 mt waste was shifted to the Baswar plant unsegregated (without separating recyclable and organic waste), in violation of the orders of the NGT and the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. However, Allahabad municipal commissioner Ujjawal Kumar says that waste is segregated only after it is brought to the plant. Kumar claims that the plant was not completely shut down but was operating occasionally after September 2018.
He told The Wire, “What the report of the Justice Tandon Committee mentions about the plant not operating since September 2018 is not correct. The plant did operate occasionally.” Kumar claimed that the waste will be treated before June 15, as directed by the NGT.
However, Justice Tandon says that he has not yet received any action plan regarding how the Kumbh waste will be treated by June 15. “I am going to write to the district magistrate and the municipal corporation asking how the waste is going to be treated. So far, I have received no action plan from them,” he told The Wire.
Geotubes a failure
The Adityanath government had installed a system of geotubes for the treatment of drains at several places in the city during the month-long festival. However, the system has not delivered satisfactory results, as only a small portion of the polluted water that enters the drains is being treated.
Geotubes comprise two chemicals – poly-electrolyte and poly-aluminium chloride. As contaminated water enters the tube from one end, one of the chemicals separates waste particles from water while the other combines the waste particles, pushing them to the base of the tube. Clean water then comes out of the other end.
Six geotubes have been installed near Allahabad’s Rajapur drain. The contract for treating 1.8 crore litres of water every day in the area has been given to a company called Flexituff Ventures International Limited. However, workers present at the plant claim that around 2.6-2.7 crore litres of polluted water flows through each day.
Company engineer Shivam Agarwal says, “The BOD level of the water we are treating is usually 7-8 milligrams/litre, COD is less than 40 mg/l and TSS is less than 20 mg/l.”
The BOD level of water in a clean river should be less than 3 mg/l. If the BOD level is more than 3 mg/l, the water becomes unsuitable even for bathing.
For treating water using a geotube, the contaminated water is first drawn out of the drain using pipes which is then passed through the geotube. However, photos above clearly show that only a small portion of the sewage water is being passed through the geotubes. The rest of it is overflowing into the Ganga river as is.
The Justice Tandon committee report also raises several questions regarding geotubes. According to the report, the sewage going through the Rajapur sewage treatment plant was more than the plant’s capacity. It could treat only around 50% of the sewage, while the rest was passing untreated into the river.
During the Kumbh mela, geotubes were installed at five places. Rampal Pandey, the supervisor of one of the drains (Salori geotube), says that they were incharge of cleaning one crore litres of polluted water daily. During the Kumbh, he says, excessive amounts of water flowed through the drain, because of which the drain’s contaminated water overflowed directly into the river. However, 70-80 lakh litres of sewage is being treated daily now.
Two geotubes have been installed in Salori, of which only one appears to be functional. The other was blocked due to algal deposits. As per the guidelines, the upper part of the tube must be cleaned so that its mouth does not get blocked.
Amit, an engineer posted in Salori, claims that a total of ten people have been employed for cleaning the tube. However, when The Wire went to take a look, only four people were available.
Salori has a sewage treatment plant as well, but polluted water from this facility too directly falls into the Ganga. It has the capacity to treat 2.9 crore litres of sewage per day. However, according to Justice Tandon committee report, the plant too was not working satisfactorily as it had more sewage than it could treat.
The committee said that the BOD level of water flowing out of the plant is 47 mg/l, which means that it is dangerously contaminated.
In addition, the technology has been adopted at the Mawaiya drain, but there too untreated water from the drain is entering the Ganga. Allahabad’s Arail drain also presented a similar picture to the committee.
The committee found in its report that one geotube installed at the Latehar drain is not working and polluted water is flowing into the Ganga through a bypass. Another drain, Mansuthia, too has a bypass due to which untreated waste meets treated waste just before it flows into the Ganga.
Justice Tandon said, “If CCTVs can be installed to monitor sewage treatment plants, can cameras not be installed for monitoring geotube locations? What is the guarantee that in the absence of CCTVs, work will be carried out diligently? From the information I have received, there are no cameras installed at any of the geotube sites.”
Waste from ponds and toilets remains untreated
During the Kumbh festival, 1,22,500 public toilets were set up and 36 temporary ponds dug on the banks of the Ganga. The committee visited Indraprastham city and found that all the cross-section points, where dirty water and toilet waste was to be collected and ultimately transported to the sewage treatment plant, were practically dry and not a drop of water could be seen.
The kuchha pond constructed near the Hanuman temple was found to be full of dirty water, and insects and mosquitoes were visible.
However, Kumbh mela officer on special duty Ramesh Chandra Mishra claims that the administration followed the guidelines, and the soak pits mentioned in the committee’s report were not used for collecting waste. Plastic tanks were placed in them to collect human excreta.
He told The Wire, “We have presented our side of the argument before the NGT and informed it that we placed plastic tanks in those pits to collect human excreta.” Mishra said that the excreta was drawn out of the toilets using suction pumps and then sent for treatment to the plant.
However, Mishra was unable to tell us which sewage treatment plant the waste from the toilets was being sent to.
On this, Justice Tandon told The Wire, “The mela officer is wrong. We attached some photos with our report submitted to the NGT which clearly show that the polluted water from the toilets was being collected in soak pits very close to the river. Even a month after the festival got over, the waste water was lying there.”
The committee also found that there existed a big dirty water pond at Parmarth Niketan Arail and human excreta was seen floating in it. This is a gross violation of the NGT’s order.
According to the committee’s report, toilet waste drains had been constructed at a distance of less than 10 meters from the river, due to which its pollution levels increased manifold.
On cleaning toilet waste, the committee said that the Kumbh mela authorities have made an attempt to dodge the cleaning of waste from the soak pits.
The committee claims that the mela administration and the officer have not cooperated on dismantling the public toilets or on treating the waste generated.
In addition, treatment of drains using a bio-remediation technique was also undertaken in Allahabad, but the results are not satisfactory, according to the report.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.