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Just 20% of India's city sewage is treated; urban areas' groundwater "to turn into" contaminated aquifers

By Our Representative
A recent Government of India report has delivered stiff warning that groundwater resources in growing urban centres are likely to become “contaminated as much by residual contaminants from erstwhile agricultural activities and poor rural sanitation as by contamination from more current haphazard waste-water disposal.”
Pointing out that “only 33% urban Indians are connected to a piped sewer system and 13% – roughly 50 million urban Indians – still defecate in the open”, the report, prepared by a committee headed by India’s foremost water resources expert Dr Mihir Shah, says that “large parts of the modern cities remain unconnected to the sewage system as they live in unauthorised or illegal areas or slums, where state services do not reach.”
Noting that surveys of groundwater quality in many cities reveal “a large magnitude of water-borne pathogenic contamination – commonly referred to as bacteriological contamination – , the report insists, they signify “clear signs of groundwater contamination by sewage.”
The report, titled “A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms Report”, comes at a time when top Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, a noted economist from the University of Columbia, has been advocating the need to encourage urbanization as fast as possible.
According to the report, however, number of people living in urban areas is expected to more than double by 2050, and “this will pose unprecedented challenges for water management in urban India”, because there is a huge demand for rapidly industrialising and urbanizing when the potential for augmenting water supply is “limited”, water tables are “falling” and water quality issues have “increasingly come to the fore.”
Insisting that “many urban stretches of rivers and lakes are overstrained and overburdened by industrial waste, sewage and agricultural runoff”, the report states, “These wastewaters are overloading rivers and lakes with toxic chemicals and wastes, consequently poisoning water resources and supplies” and the toxins find their way into “plants and animals, causing severe ecological toxicity.”
“In India, cities produce nearly 40,000 million litres of sewage every day and barely 20 percent of it is treated”, the report asserts, quoting a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) survey as stating that “only 2% towns have both sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants.”
“Averaged for 71 cities and towns, groundwater constitutes 48% of the share in urban water supply. In India, 56 per cent of metropolitan, class-I and class-II cities are dependent on groundwater either fully or partially”, the report says.
Further noting that “unaccounted water in urban areas exceeds 50% according to the Central Ground Water Board’s report on the groundwater scenario in 28 Indian cities”, the report, which has been submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office for further action, says, “Privately driven, individualistic pumping of groundwater has led to problems of co-terminal depletion and contamination of aquifers.”

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