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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?
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*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?

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