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GPCB admits industry polluted Sabarmati as lockdown 'improves' river water quality

Sabarmati downstream of Ahmedabad before lockdown
By Rajiv Shah 
A new Gujarat government report, “Impact of Lockdown due to Covid-19 Pandemic on Surface Water Quality”, published by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has claimed that the health of several of Gujarat rivers, many of which fall into the list of the most-polluted rivers of India, has improved, thanks to “the enforcement of the national lockdown.”
Insisting that the lockdown has “minimized” the inflow of pollutants into the state’s rivers, the report, prepared by Dr Sweta Patel, scientific officer, Central Laboratory, GPCB, seeks to inquire into the extent of impact of sharp fall in industrial activity “owing to Covid-19 pandemic followed by national lockdown” on the rivers.
Pointing out that the water quality of Sabarmati, a river that passes through Ahmedabad, has particularly improved, the report says, eight different locations, which were previously polluted, have shown considerable improvement in water quality. Sabarmati shot into prominence after Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to sell its 11 km long riverfront as a model for other states to follow.
Especially referring to two downstream spots of Sabarmati, Miroli and Vautha, 25 and 55 km downstream of Ahmedabad respectively, the report says at both of them one could observe “very good impact of lockdown on water quality”, with biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen (COD) improving by “above 50%.”
Notably, a recent study the top Government of India agency, Central Water Commission, identified Vautha, the point after which Sabaramti merges into the Gulf of Khambhat, as one of the dozen most contaminated sites across India requiring "immediate attention to remedy the river waters for drinking purpose concern."
The GPCB report admits, a major reason for the pollution of Sabarmati has been effluents dumped by units in around 20 industrial estates developed by the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation – the major ones being Naroda, Odhav, Vatva, Narol and Danilimda – in the Sabarmati Basin area.
It says, “The textile industry continues to dominate the industrial scene in Ahmedabad. The immense urban and industrial growth combined with growing demand of irrigation water has taken their toll as observed by the deteriorating water quality recorded particularly from Ahmedabad city to Vautha.”.
Vadodara's Vishwamitri river
The report further says that the water quality of Sabarmati in Ahmedabad’s 11 km riverfront stretch has also improved, as suggested by GPCB tests at Narayan Ghat, Railway Bridge, Gandhi Bridge and Hansol Bridge. At each of these spots, the water quality has reached the Class A criteria for drinking water after disinfection, though previously it was of Class B – “for outdoor bathing which was before the lockdown.”
As for the downstream, the report underlines, the “dissolved oxygen value” at Miroli and Vautha has “dramatically increased”, indicating “good quality of water for the survival of aquatic fauna and flora.” concluding, overall, “the health of Sabarmati has significantly improved after the enforcement of nationwide lockdown caused by coronavirus outbreak, which has reduce the inflow of pollutants into it.”
To assess water quality of Gujarat’s rivers and other water bodies during the lockdown, GPCB took water samples from 50 different spots
To assess the water quality of Gujarat’s rivers during the lockdown, GPCB took water samples from 50 different spots. Its analysis is based on five parameters: Total dissolved solids (TDS), ammoniacal nitrogen (NH3-N), chemical oxygen demand, (3) biological oxygen demand (BOD) and dssolved oxygen (DO).
Sabarmati is not the only river which has shown improvement in water quality, according to the report. Khari river, a river that passes through Ahmedabad district, has also “observed an improved water quality”, thanks to the “lockdown effect”, it says, adding, “Many of the locations of the Khari river reflects reduced concentration of BOD, COD, TDS and NH3-N significantly.”
“The water quality has been improved at stations of Khari river at Lali village near Ahmedabad, before and after confluence with Kharicut Canal at Ropada, near Dehagam, Naroda Road Bridge, Odhav Kathavada Road Bridge, behind Maradiya Chemicals and so on.
Referring to yet another major river on which a riverfront project has been planned, Vishwamitri in Vadodara, Gujarat’s cultural capital, the report says, on its downstream at Khalipur BOD was found to have been reduced by 42.6%, while COD got reduced 49.4%, indicating the water quality has “improved in the lockdown.”
Further referring to several South Gujarat rivers, which get polluted because heavy concentration of polluting industries in the region, the report says, Damangaga, Kolak and Amlakhadi have also observed “improved water quality” due to reduction of COD and BOD.
At the same time, the report claims, monitoring stations at other major rivers of Gujarat -- Narmada, Tapi, Mahi, Kim, Kaveri and Par – found that “the water quality remains almost unchanged and continues to remain satisfactory as it was before the lockdown period.”
In a Lok Sabha answer to an unstarred question on November 28, 2019, Gujarat’s 20 rivers were identified as “most polluted" -- Amlakhadi, Bhadar, Bhogavo, Khari, Sabarmati, Vishwamitri, Dhadar, Triveni, Amravati (tributary Of Narmada), Damanganga, Kolak, Mahi, Shedhi, Tapi, Anas, Balehwar Khadi, Kim, Meshwa, Mindhola, and Narmada.
Wondering whether the improvement in river water quality is enough, senior environment activist Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra said, there is reason to look into why, despite the lockdown, COD, BOD and TDS were found to be higher in some spots. He says, the GPCB report "does not specify the reasons for decrease pollution at some of the spots it has assessed."
Commenting on the report, in a letter to GPCB chairman Mukesh Puri, Pandya said, he has demanded that, based on the report, the Gujarat government should come up with an action plan “so that the environmental conditions could improve after the lockdown comes to an end.”

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