India’s booming population and rapidly expanding urban areas have exacted a huge toll on its rivers, which are badly polluted and choked by development. Water pollution is a major environmental issue in India. The largest source of water pollution in India is untreated sewage. Other sources of pollution include agricultural runoff and unregulated small scale industry. Most rivers, lakes and surface water in India are polluted.
The majority of the government-owned sewage treatment plants remain closed most of the time due to improper design or poor maintenance or lack of reliable electricity supply to operate the plants, together with absentee employees and poor management. The waste water generated in these areas normally percolates into the soil or evaporates. The uncollected waste accumulates in the urban areas causing unhygienic conditions and releasing pollutants that leach into surface and groundwater.
In the technology hub of Hyderabad, activists went to the National Green Tribunal, a quasi-judicial authority, in 2015 to prevent illegal construction near the city’s Musi River. In Chennai, in South India, citizens have petitioned the tribunal to stop pollution of the Cooum River, as well as to ensure proper dredging of a large canal to remove silt and improve flow. In New Delhi, activists have been fighting one legal case after another over the years to keep the floodplain and river bed of the Yamuna, a major tributary of the Ganges, free of myriad developments, including a subway depot and road. And the sacred Ganges, which runs through five Indian states, has been at the center of a legal battle by environmentalists and citizens frustrated by the failure of a government plan to clean up the badly contaminated river.
Rivers and streams have borne the brunt of the recent urban explosion in India, a nation whose population has nearly doubled in the last 40 years to 1.35 billion. Unplanned growth has led to the use of water bodies as dumping grounds for sewage and industrial effluent.
The cost of this abuse has mounted over the years. A study last year linked increasing cases of typhoid, hepatitis, and diarrhea in New Delhi to severe pollution in the Yamuna River, which provides much of the city’s drinking water. Large stretches of the Yamuna, as well as Chennai’s Cooum and Mumbai’s Mithi and Ulhas rivers, are considered dead zones, with oxygen levels too low to support most fish life.