River Pollution in India – Who Will Bell the Cat?

River Pollution in India
River Pollution in India

River Pollution in India

India is a blessed country when we consider its rich natural sources of water in the form of numerous rivers and lakes. The country has rightly been referred to as the “Land of Rivers” and the people worship the rivers as gods and goddesses. But what is ironical is that in spite of our profound respect and reverence for our rivers, we have not been able to maintain their purity, cleanliness and the physical well-being. Be it Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra or Kaveri or any other river flowing in the soil of our motherland, not a single river is free from pollution. River pollution has been causing serious water-borne diseases and health problems affecting human population as well as animals, fish, and birds in the environment.

Causes of river pollution

River pollution is increasing day by day. In spite of various governmental projects going on in many rivers, there is no sign of water pollution being prevented or stopped. Whom do we blame? Lots of factors lead to water pollution and reducing overall quality of river water. Some of the most serious contributing factors are:

  • Industrial wastes, mixtures of chemicals, heavy metals are all discharged in water and these are difficult to clean up.
  • Agricultural wastes, chemicals, feritilisers, pesticides used in agriculture have made the river water bodies contaminated.
  • Nature’s rain also brings with it pollutants as it falls through polluted air. We call this acid rain, which when reached the soil, releases harmful substances.
  • Domestic wastes from households and the sewage that we throw into rivers increases the pollution levels.
  • Regular disposal of plastic bags and plastic objects, solid wastes, flowers, garlands is another cause of pollution.
  • People responding to nature’s call in open spaces near the water bodies also contribute to river pollution.
  • Animals washing, car washing, clothes washing are other causes.
  • Another cause of river pollution is the dumping of human remains, partially burned bodies, dead bodies, which pose serious health threats.

Some hard facts about river pollution

Surveys undertaken by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have come up with some hard facts on river pollution, in terms of statistical figures, which makes it a matter of really serious concern:

  • Out of the 445 rivers surveyed, not even a quarter of them are fit for bathing.
  • Indian cities generate 10 billion gallons or 38 billion litres of municipal waste water every day, out of which only 29% of it is treated.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board also stated that there were only 160 sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants in nearly 8,000 towns surveyed in 2011.
  •  Only 20% out of nearly 40,000 million litres of sewage produced daily in Indian cities are treated.

Extreme cases of pollution in river Ganga and Yamuna

  • Yamuna has become a garbage dump area with more than 57 % of Delhi’s waste thrown into it.
  • Only 55% of Delhi’s residents are connected to a proper sewerage system.
  • According to the CSE, around 80% of Yamuna’s pollution is due to raw sewage.
  • Ganga is considered to be the most polluted river in India.
  • Approximately 1 billion litres of raw, untreated sewage is dumped in Ganga regularly.
  • Ganga contains 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml, which is a threat to human health.

Effects of river pollution

River pollution is a big menace to the economy, the environment and, of course, human health and the other living organisms. It is a big contributor to a number of health problems and disorders in humans. River pollution also affects aquatic life, leading to growth of unhealthy fish unsuitable for human consumption and also mass fish death. Polluted river waters have affected the lives of animals and birds as well, sometimes threatening their very existence. In the long term, continuous river pollution can lead to loss of biodiversity and even extinction of some species and can disrupt the ecosystem as a whole.


We should never forget how much we are dependent on our rivers. It is the river systems in our country which provide us with potable water, irrigation, electricity, transportation and also they are a great source of livelihood for a large majority of people in the country. So we cannot ignore our rivers and let them die.

The Government is already splurging massive amounts of money for the last so many years in the name of preventing and reducing river pollution. No change. And there won’t be any, either.  Meaningful action may bear fruit. The  readymade programmes of setting up effluent treatment plants and sewage treatment plants to clean up industrial wastes and the sewage and then dump the waste water into the rivers are, as usual, creations of extraneous intentions.

It’ easy to lecture that the farmers should adopt organic methods of farming, thereby reducing chemical pollution of rivers. We have heard enough. So also there is demand that religious practices should be banned on river banks. Besides, that there should not be any dhobi ghats. Proper drainage and sewerage systems that will not allow the river water to get mixed with polluted water should be set up, it is always argued.

Often it is also heard that we as citizens of the country are equally responsible  –  But collective responsibility is virtual! It is claimed that we can promote communities’ involvement in cleaning up of local river and water bodies –  Then why it has not been done? We should raise the awareness among the people on the causes and effects of river pollution by organising awareness programmes, meetings and distribution of literature on river pollution and its dangers – But who doesn’t know pollution is bad!

Instead of advising and suggesting steps to reduce river pollution, could the people who preach stand up and show the way, by example, a small instance, a small act…

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