Skip to main content

Water pollution 'failing' to get right attention in India: Social scientists to blame?

By Soumi Roy Chowdhury, Devendra B Gupta, Sanjib Pohit*

In India, everybody regards water pollution is an externality, and an outcome of production and/or consumption process with laxity in environmental also standard in the society. There is a general agreement that it affects the society in a multitude of ways. For instance, takes the case of the Ganga basin with an area of around 1,080,000 square km spread across several states of India namely Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal running across a total length of 2,525 kms.
The basin comprises of one-third of total India’s surface water and 90% of which is used for irrigation. Ironically, Ganga river basin is home to the poorest section of the population who are economically dependent on the river for their survival. Ganga also holds a special cultural and spiritual significance for people in India. The river is revered as a goddess and it is believed that bathing in Ganga purifies one and cleanses away all their sins.
But with increasing pressure of an ever growing population, the growing hub of industrialization and urbanisation along the basin makes it high vulnerable due to incessant outpouring of sewage and large volumes of solid and industrial wastes. The mainstream of the river runs through 50 major Indian cities.
Most of these cities discharges billions of litres of untreated sewage every day to the river water. Rapid increased economic activity, inadequate infrastructure for pollution abatement and weak environmental governance has resulted in rapid deterioration of the quality of the water.
The formidable pollution pressure faced by the river is a threat not only to the livelihood of the millions of individuals that depend on Ganga (fisherman community to be particular) but also to its biodiversity. Moreover, it has health ramification on people who uses the river water for daily needs. Studies by researchers has indicated that drinking, taking baths, rinsing one’s mouth, and washing dishes or clothes in polluted water are the primary risk factors for developing water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid fever, cholera and Hepatitis A, and skin infections.
Ganga is the principal source of water supply to cities/towns located around/on its banks and to the multiple power station locations on the banks. The high level of pollution in the rivers implies the civic bodies as well as power station need to take extra measure to clean the river. Furthermore, use of polluted river water in irrigation has other ramification especially in terms of presence of heavy metals in crops and vegetables, which is carcinogenic if eaten over a prolonged period.
While everybody understands the danger of polluted river, the government always is hesitant to allocate sufficient fund for its cleaning or enforcing a strict norm of discharge of pollutants. Of course, one can say that the Union Cabinet has approved an action plan to spend Rs 20,000 crore till 2019-20 on cleaning the Ganges river, increasing the budget by four-fold. However, once one consider the length of the river, it may not seem a large number.
To some extent, social scientists are to be blamed for inadequate allocation fund for cleaning of rivers. With perennial shortage of funds, first question that comes to the minds of a policy-makers is what are the implications of this project in terms of income and job opportunities? Politicians would always push for project that create/job. For this reason, an infrastructure/industry related with job/income creation always gets the policy-makers nod.
Of course, river pollution also leads to livelihood loss, additional health cost of communities using the river water. However, these costs are rarely being considered by social scientists and brought to the policy-makers attentions. As a result, government is not forthcoming to allocate fund for cleaning river.
Social scientists, including health and water scientists, need to take up this challenging task of providing quantitative evidence in respect of job/income loss/health cost arsing due to water pollution so that the policy-makers cannot ask the question: Why allocate fund on cleaning river instead on infrastructural project?
---
*Soumi Roy Chowdhury is associate fellow, Devendra B Gupta is senior adviser and Sanjib Pohit is professor at National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi. Views are personal

Comments

Anonymous said…
Wonderful article with a very clear direction for improving data collection and analysis for considered decision making..
Himanshu Thakkar said…
Interesting perspective on failure governments, judiciary, cities and industries of controlling River Pollution: "Of course, river pollution also leads to livelihood loss, additional health cost of communities using the river water. However, these costs are rarely being considered by social scientists and brought to the policy-makers attentions. As a result, government is not forthcoming to allocate fund for cleaning river.
Social scientists, including health and water scientists, need to take up this challenging task of providing quantitative evidence in respect of job/income loss/health cost arsing due to water pollution so that the policy-makers cannot ask the question: Why allocate fund on cleaning river instead on infrastructural project?" But authors allow the governments to get away lightly. The equation of less funding is also reductionist, what about the money spent, is it being effectively used? Are the institutions on whom so much of resources are spent doing what they were supposed to?

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Top ex-Gujarat babu tells Modi: Not yoga but solar system is our biggest source of energy

By Rajiv Shah  An email alert to Counterview from a top ex-IAS bureaucrat, termed as Gujarat’s turnaround man for revamping loss-making state public sector undertakings (PSUs), has sought to take a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark on the Yoga day – that the ancient Indian exercise provides an “infinite solutions” within ourselves, offering “the biggest source of energy in the universe.”

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.