Monday, Aug 14, 2023

G Asok Kumar: ‘By December, there will be a substantial improvement in water quality in Yamuna’

The NMCG, which functions under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, implements the Namami Gange Programme that was launched in 2014 to deal with pollution in the Ganga.

asok kumar interview"In the last year, we have started focusing on the Yamuna. STPs in Delhi are being completed," said G Asok Kumar.
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G Asok Kumar: ‘By December, there will be a substantial improvement in water quality in Yamuna’
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With work on the ‘main stem’ of the Ganga already underway, the focus is now turning to the tributaries of the river, including the Yamuna, which should see a “substantial improvement in water quality” in Delhi by December this year, said G Asok Kumar, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), in a conservation with Abhinaya Harigovind.

The NMCG, which functions under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, implements the Namami Gange Programme that was launched in 2014 to deal with pollution in the Ganga.

The criteria used by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) identifies five categories of polluted river stretches based on Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels – priority 1 to 5, with priority 1 being the most polluted with a BOD level of 30 mg/litre or more. Priority 5 is the least polluted with BOD levels of 3 to 6 mg/litre.

Data from the CPCB from January to September last year that Kumar points to, said that the Uttarakhand stretch of the river, which was in the priority category 5 in 2014-15 was found to no longer be polluted in 2022, with BOD levels being below 3 mg/litre. In Uttar Pradesh, from Kannauj to Varanasi, the river was in priority category 3 in 2014-15, and in 2022, had improved to category 5. In Bihar, from Buxar to Bhagalpur, the river was in priority category 2 in 2014-15, and was found to have BOD levels below 3 mg/litre in 2022. In West Bengal, from Triveni to Diamond Harbour, the river has remained in the same category – category 5 – in 2014-15 and in 2022.
Kumar explained the work so far, and what is still to be done with regard to the river and its tributaries.

What has worked so far?

Drains are being trapped and water in them is being taken to treatment plants. Earlier, projects were sanctioned, but many were not completed. There was a huge delay in projects because the capacity of the people below to absorb or take this work forward was not there. DPRs (detailed project reports) were not properly prepared, and many projects took time to execute. We have improved the capacity of people preparing the DPRs and engaged multiple agencies for checking them. Initially, because the project is centrally funded, all the cost variations were to be borne by the Centre. In the past two-three years, we took a stand that with any change from the original DPR, any additional cost will be borne by the state government. This helped fix accountability.

We also introduced business models like the Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM) in 2018. The HAM is a performance-based contract – we pay only 40% of the capital cost at the outset and the remaining 60% is paid over 15 years. Time overrun, cost overrun and lack of quality, which used to happen in earlier projects, have been addressed this way.

After completing the main stem, we are now moving to the tributaries. In the last year, we have started focusing on the Yamuna. STPs in Delhi are being completed.


Can we say that work on the main stem has been completed?

Except two stretches, which are in category 5. All the higher categories (of polluted river stretches) are all gone in the main stem. In the West Bengal stretch, faecal coliform is creating a problem. In earlier projects, we were focusing more on the BOD, and disinfection of water was not being taken up. We are now looking at chlorination and disinfection of water before sending it out. We are looking at multiple ways to ensure that the STPs are functioning.

When I say completed, taking the water, treating it, and sending it back to the river at a predetermined standard is through.
There are other things associated with this—you generate gas out of the sludge, ensure tertiary treatment for higher quality, or ensure zero liquid discharge. These are additional embellishments. Basic requirement of ensuring compliant water is being sent to the river…that is happening.

Are all STPs compliant?


The CPCB had said earlier that in some areas, they are not compliant. This is important because the non-compliance they talk of is with new standards specified by the NGT. This has not been notified by the ministry. These are NGT directions and they are to be notified by the MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change). The CPCB says they are not compliant, but if you look at the actual figure, it is within the standards.

When we say they are compliant – to what standards?

BOD levels below 30 mg/litre.

The STPs that are being built in the past few years, we are taking the new standards. Many that the CPCB says are not compliant are not according to BOD levels, but on faecal coliform levels. Hence, we are putting in chlorine and monitoring.

In addition to this, we have tightened monitoring of CETPs and carried out inspections. And from NMCG’s side, we have closed (industrial) units in Mathura and other areas. Now they have resumed after upgrading CETPs. Monitoring of industrial clusters has also been increased.

On the Yamuna, is there a timeline on improving water quality?

By December this year. Drains flowing into the river have been identified, are being trapped and are getting diverted to new STPs that are being constructed. The flow of sewage into the Yamuna will be reduced. Treated water will flow back to the river and water flow will be improved. By December, there should be a substantial improvement in water quality in the Yamuna. Other rivers which bring polluted water to the Yamuna – Kali and Hindon – are also being addressed.


Lot of things have happened together…we started focusing on the Yamuna after the Ganga, and the NGT also came in and formed a high-level committee under the chairmanship of the L-G. These things happening together will have the cumulative effect of ensuring water is clean. It is a collective effort.

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Q. What are the challenges that are to be dealt with in maintaining the work that has already been done?


For NMCG projects and projects under the HAM, we have a 15-year operation and maintenance (clause). My task is to ensure that by then the state governments and the municipalities develop sufficient capacity and generate sufficient revenue to maintain them. That’s why we have taken up projects of monetisation of sludge. This will give additional revenue to the municipalities and hopefully municipalities will look after it.

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We have now built in people’s participation in the programme. We have started District Ganga Committee meetings, which is decentralised monitoring that has not happened before. We are asking them to look at where drains are coming from, where solid waste is coming from.

First published on: 14-08-2023 at 03:00 IST
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