New plan on the anvil to save Hindon

Ghaziabad: 16 August, 2019(Hindustan Times)

Once a major lifeline for western Uttar Pradesh, the Hindon is now reduced to a vessel carrying pollutants to Yamuna. Can it still be salvaged?

The polluted waters have contaminated groundwater in many villages in west UP where metals such as lead have been found in the water. Such metals can lead to serious diseases.
DR CHANDRA VIR SINGH, retired scientist from Haryana pollution control board As of now, the Hindon has no water flow of its own. It gets water from the Upper Ganga Canal or from drains. Maintaining water flow is a major issue with most of the rivers.
MANU BHATNAGAR, principal director (Natural Heritage Division), INTACH

GHAZIABAD: The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) has embarked upon a plan for restoration of the polluted stretches of the Hindon – from Saharanpur to Ghaziabad – over a distance of about 300km. The plan, drawn up following directions by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), promises to restore of the quality of the stretch so that it is fit for at least bathing purposes, within six months’ time.

The plan has listed long-term and short-term measures to deal with the water pollution in the Hindon, besides plans for maintaining the ecological flow and groundwater management The Hindon – west Uttar Pradesh’s most important river – has a basin area of about 7,000 square kilometer. Its tributaries include the Krishni and Kali, which are also highly polluted.

The Hindon originates from Shivalik range in Saharanpur district, to Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar to meet the Yamuna downstream in Delhi.

Earlier in 2015, the UP government had roped in agencies and drawn up a plan wherein they intended to construct check dams at the origin of the river in order to accumulate water, so as to release it gradually into the river and revive water bodies which were part of the river system. The engineers had also taken stock of river revival measures in countries such as China, South Korea and Austria, while drawing up the plan.

However, the plan never really took off. “The present plan is different in that it has better mechanisms for coordination and monitoring. Targets have been defined for all departments involved. At the lower level, a district-level committee will monitor progress. This will be further monitored by the divisional commissioner. The monthly reports will further be monitored by a state-level committee. Gaps will be identified and corrective measures, including making fund available, will be undertaken,” said Utsav Sharma, assistant environmental engineer, UPPCB, regional office, Ghaziabad.

The pollution control body’s plan has put the plans, related to sewage management, industrial waste management, solid waste and flood prone zone management, and action plans for ecological flow and ground water management, in a time frame, Sharma said.

According to environmentalists, the situation of the river has gone from bad to worse and is also affecting human population in nearby villages and cities.

“The polluted waters have also contaminated the groundwater in many villages where metals such as lead have been found in the water. Such metals could lead to serious diseases. The idea is not only to save the river, which is a tedious process, but to save groundwater as well. There are hardly any checks on encroachment on floodplains and the resultant diminishing greenery along the river,” said Dr Chandra Vir Singh, a retired scientist from the Haryana pollution control board, who had filed a petition in the green court over the issue.

According to UPPCB, the identified water quality of the polluted stretch of the Hindon is neither fit for drinking nor for bathing. The condition is so bad that the river, between Ghaziabad and Saharanpur, has no aquatic life left. It can only be used for industrial cooling or controlled waste disposal, but is also used for irrigation for nearby fields, a practice which results in pollutants entering the food chain.

Associate professor (History) KK Sharma from MM College, Modinagar, said Hindon aided the flourishing of ancient civilisations during the Harappan and the Mahabharata periods.

“At Alamgirpur in Meerut, there have been discoveries of items from the Harappan civilisation (2,500 BC) while painted grey wares from the Mahabharata period were discovered at Barnawa in Baghpat (1,500-1,000 BC). All this shows people lived near river areas. But there is no water in the river anymore, only contaminants. The upper reaches of the river have already run dry,” he said.

Experts said growing pollution is one of the reasons rejuvenation work is necessitated but it is of prime importance that the flow of water in the river is restored. Revival strategy should focus on basin approach, they added.

“As of now, the Hindon has no flow of its own. It gets water from the Upper Ganga Canal or from drains on its way to meet the Yamuna. We can say that the Hindon is no more a river but is acting as a transfer canal to supply water to the Yamuna. Maintaining water flow is a major issue with most of the rivers and the basin approach is of prime importance,” said Manu Bhatnagar, principal director (Natural Heritage Division) of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi.

“It will take about 15-20 years to revive water flow and the basin approach has to be initiated at the earliest. It requires restoration and development of forests along watershed lines, agroforestry, allowing of tree farming, making use of water-efficient practices in cultivation, water efficiency measures and recycling, among others. The groundwater should go up to or above the river bed level,” he added.