Narendra Modi promises to nurse the Ganga back to life, will Rajnath Singh treat the Gomti with similar love and care, wonders Mehru Jaffer

Gomti key sahil par rang-o-bu ka tufaaN hai,
Shaam kiya gulistaaN hai!
Gomti kay sahil par door door tak koi hamsafar nahiN milta,
Rah ro to miltay hai, rah bar nahiN Milta…

wrote the late Sajida Zaidi one evening in celebration of the storm of colour and perfume on the banks of the Gomti as she seeks an unseen soul mate in a verse titled Gomti key sahil par…

Rajnath Singh has received a generous mandate in the recent Lok Sabha elections from a city that is in tears to see its beloved river gasp for breath and reduce itself to a drain. Turning their back on other political parties, voters have given a generous mandate to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to fulfill their dreams of a better today. The expectation of voters is sky high as they hope that Rajnath Singh will not disappear to Delhi but also make sure that the city is flooded with good water, food and job opportunities. After all happy days are here again as promised by the BJP during its election campaign.

There was a time when the same Gomti was able to raise itself by several feet to water the roads here, and to fill reservoirs for numerous fountains that had tinkled within many a walled garden.

The Gomti was able to do all this besides quenching the thirst of not only its citizens, but countless visitors attracted to the lovely city of Lucknow. Then the waters of the Gomti were said to be magical and those fortunate enough to get a sip of it were rewarded with a tongue so sweet that they became great poets like Anees and Dabeer.

According to The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register maintained by the British in India in the 19th century, the Gomti had exhibited a scene of uncommon activity, traffic boats, small barks and fishing boats had rowed backwards and forwards. The king’s gondola with its forepart adorned with two horses leaping from the jaws of a fish, had steered towards the pleasure garden incase it might be His Majesty’s pleasure to come back to his palace from the Dilkusha Park by water.

Much closer to our times pleasure boats had rowed from the eastern palace of Dilkusha to the western palace of Barowen, passing en route many of the major riverside buildings. It is no longer possible to travel from the eastern to the western palaces due to the Gomti barrage.

But apart from providing immense pleasure, the river has always been an important asset for ordinary citizens. Besides being a source of water, it provides employment to countless citizens. Agriculture has always thrived along the banks of the river and fishing too is an important source of income for many.

For the same reason all politicians promise to rescue the Gomti but none have actually done so.

Politicians

Soon after his nomination as the BJP candidate from the city, Rajnath Singh promised to work towards fulfilling former BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream of developing Lucknow into a Biotech City and ensure a cleaner Gomti river.

Now that Rajnath has won the Lucknow seat to the 16th Lok Sabha, it remains to be seen what efforts he will make to clean the Gomti.

I want to clean and beautify the Gomti,” Abhishek Mishra, the Samajwadi Party minister told The Lucknow Observer adding that it is his dream to convert Lucknow into an environment friendly metro city.

Earlier, senior Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Satish Chandra Mishra had surveyed the banks of the Gomti in 2008, promising a massive cleanup drive. He admitted that in 2003 a private company was engaged to clean the Gomti but even after spending Rs 2.44 crores only four kilometers of the river was cleaned.

Officials at the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN) responsible for development and regulation of water supply and sewerage services claim that sarkata and pata nala, two major drains have been cleaned under the the Gomti Action Plan (GAP) started in 1995 with British financial assistance. Rs 5.92 crores were spent to clean pollution of the Gomti mainly due to the discharge of 30 drains directly into the river in Lucknow.

However the British terminated the financial assistance in 1997. The government of India gave Rs. 42.90 crore against which seven schemes of interception and diversion and 42 sewage treatment plant have been completed and made functional, according to the UPJN.

As citizens wait for the government and politicians to fulfill promises, Gomti, the pride of the city shrinks further into a drain choked with toxic content. During its 13 km stretch through the city of Lucknow, it is found to be the dirtiest here.

Scientists from Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University’s School for Environmental Sciences say that the Gomti is polluted due to discharge of sewage and industrial effluent. An assessment of water quality carried out by UP’s Department of Irrigation shows high levels of pollution in the Lucknow and Jaunpur stretch of the river.

Gomti_1

Problems

The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) monitors the quality of the river every day to conclude that the level of dissolved oxygen is low and still waters lower oxygen levels even further. The problems faced by the river are multiple. The UPJN says that around 37 million litres per day of untreated sewage is flowing into the river. NGOs observing the river claim that the official figures are even higher and that at least 401 million litres of sewage is disposed daily into the Gomti. The two sewage treatment plants at Bhawara and Daulatganj do not have the capacity to treat the amount of sewage flown into the river.

The Lucknow Municipal Corporation has plans to connect all homes of around three million residents to a main sewage treatment plant by the end of this year. Till that happens some 30 drains will continue to empty hundreds of million litres of untreated waste into the river daily. The barrage about two km downstream is meant to maintain the water level but it also stops the flow of the river making it stagnant in the area, contaminating the water that is still supplied to citizens as a drink. Rivers come into land from the sea. They are tidal. That is why it is important that rivers contain no pollution, rubbish or toxic waste as tides deposit all the good and bad in a river onto land as well.

Origins

Gomti, a tributary of the Ganga River originates from Fulhar Jheel, a lake about 30 km east of Pilibhit. The 900 km long river flows southwards through the districts of Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Sultanpur, and Jaunpur to confluence with the Ganga in Ghazipur near Varanasi.

A river expedition of a group of scientists from the same department observed in 2011 that there is no flow in the Gomti for about 60 km during non monsoon months. The stream is even dry at many places due to an increase in built up areas along the river depriving the water basin of wetland forest and plantation cover, including water bodies that help fast flowing fresh waters to remain clean.

The quality of water is worst downstream due to long term discharge of domestic and industrial waste that is killing the river.

There is a drastic drop in the river’s biodiversity with a decrease in the variety of fish and aquatic plants, further depleting the river of its self purification powers. The result is a major drop in the population of freshwater turtles.

Study after study shows that the stretch of water between Lucknow and Barabanki and between Sultanpur and Jaunpur is the most polluted. Over the years, the water source feeding the river has shrunk, reducing the flow of the river. The problem is aggravated with the discharge of untreated wastewater through many major drains.

Gomti_2

Not for drinking

Besides Lucknow, the river supplies drinking water to other towns located on its banks, including Lakhimpur Kheri, Sultanpur and Jaunpur. While each of these towns pollutes the river, the condition is worst in Lucknow where much of the river looks like a drain.
Researchers have been saying for decades that the quality of Gomti’s water is worsening due to wide encroachment of flood plains. Downstream the pollution is so high that the water is not fit without treatment for either bathing, drinking, fishing or recreation. This is due to the daily dumping of municipal and industrial waste into the river.

As long ago as 1987, scientists analyzed the water of the Gomti in Lucknow at several place for heavy metal and found that it was polluted with copper, zinc and chromium. The quality of water deteriorates in the Lucknow stretch of the river due to direct disposal of untreated sewage from the city and from dumping of garbage along the river bed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) standards demand not more than 5,000 bacteria in 100 ml of water. But in the Gomti River between Daliganj bridge and the Hanuman Setu, the bacteria count has soared to several lakhs per 100 ml of water. Rough estimates show that 25 nullahs, including Sarkata, Pata nullah, and Wazirganj, pour waterfall like waste daily into the Gomti.

The quality of water improves as a result of self purification process upstream but the Reth River carrying waste from Barabanki further pollutes the Gomti. Sultanpur too dumps all its garbage along the river bank.

While Jaunpur has no sewage treatment system and discharges most of its rubbish into the same river.

Solutions

High levels of pollution have depleted oxygen levels in the river, rendering the water unsuitable for the sustenance of any form of life. This has resulted in the death of numerous fish in the river. What is alarming is the raised levels of heavy metal in the river water and the sediments found along the river bank.

The toxic waste is seeping into the soil and will eventually cause the depletion of the quality of the soil. The condition is alarming. The city is dependent on the river for water. Citizens continue to use the same, ignorant of the condition of the water and with little action taken by authorities who do not speak to the media about the problem.

It is clear that immediate steps are needed to improve levels of dissolved oxygen in the Gomti. The dumping along the river banks needs to be controlled to reduce levels of heavy metals in the river water as well as in the sediments along the bank of the river. The dumping of animal carcasses as well as polythene bags is lethal, damaging the aquatic ecosystem and blocking the water treatment plants.

The list of what ails the Gomti is long and the consequences leading towards nothing short of an ecological disaster.

To cut a long story short, the crying need of the hour clearly is immediate action to conserve and to restore the waters of the river Gomti for the survival of not just the river, but all of us.

The blah blah of politicians

During the hectic campaign of the recently concluded elections, all party candidates expressed concern for the Gomti. Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh addressed a gathering at the river front Kudia Ghat just before polling ended in Lucknow on 30 April. He lit candles and incense sticks before Gomti in the form of a statue of a woman and promised to protect the river.

Aam Admi Party (AAP) candidate Jaaved Jaaferi does not want money from the government but to generate funds from water tourism. Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate, Abhishek Mishra talked of a river front project to clean and to keep the river pollution free.

Congress Party’s Rita Bahuguna constantly expresses concern for the receding water level of the Gomti river. Mayawati too has plans to develop the riverfront. While in power she laid the foundation for a Sewage Treatment Plant and a Gomti Action Plan that was expected to be ready in 2009. There was a proposal to install iron gates at all the drains to block polythene and other wastes but none of the political parties have actually made that life saving difference that the Gomti desperately seeks.

No to polythene

The receding waters of the river reveal the amount of polythene that is dumped into the Gomti. The polythene reaches the sole sewage treatment plant at Daulatganj. As a result of this, the plant is often chocked and unable to process the wastes. Meanwhile untreated water continues to flow into the river causing the depletion of the aquatic environment as well as marine life.

Worldwide, there is approximately 150 billion tons of plastic waste debris floating around. Such things as tooth brushes, combs, lighter cases, fishing tackle, bowls, buckets, plastic cups and toys and polythene bags by the million. Lager and fizzy drinks cans, ring tops, old crates and the dumping of toxic industrial waste such as polychlorinated biphenyl’s is also unscrupulous and an horrific hazard, both to wildlife, birds and to humans and it is slowly killing mother earth, nature and the human race. Such things also as heavy metals:- mercury and methyl mercury, uranium, arsenic and lead are all being dumped into the river.

Pollutants

Pollutants of major concern are non biodegradable polythene that do not degrade in the natural environment. This pollution is mostly created by polythene bags, plastic syringes, pesticide containers, and medicinal bottles. Ban on the use of polythene bags is the answer. Also students should be made aware of water pollution.

Polythene pollution is widespread and affects the ecosystem. It obstructs drains, natural water bodies and landfills. Plastic causes serious damage to environment and the only way is to reduce the use of plastic and its production. The major chemicals that go into the making of plastic are highly toxic and pose serious threat to living beings of all species. Besides hitting the ecosystem which is already fragile, these chemicals can cause an array of maladies ranging from birth defects to cancer.

Plastic dumped into rivers, streams and sea contaminate water, soil, marine life and also the air. Choked drains are excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes besides causing flooding during the monsoon. Since plastic does not undergo bacterial decomposition, land filling using plastic means preserving the poison forever.

Catching them young

A Clean Gomti Campaign is started by the City Montessori School (CMS) that engages students to create awareness in the public about the urgency of treating the Gomti with respect. The CMS has adopted ‘Green School Programme’ of New Delhi’s Centre of Science and Environment to encourage student participation in environmental protection as well as water and energy conservation. Through the Green School Programme, over 47000 students and 3000 teachers and workers of CMS hope to motivate over two lakh people of Lucknow to rescue the Gomti.

Water Harvesting Plants have already been installed in many CMS campuses and various measures are in the pipeline for environment protection and water and energy conservation.

Last year the students observed World Water Day by staging a march and raising slogans like Clean Gomti, Save Life.

The march began at the city GPO in Hazratganj and culminated at the Jhulelal Vatika.

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