ECO FRIENDS

Eco Friends is an environmental NGO (non-governmental organization) based in Kanpur, India. Eco Friends is not just an NGO, but also a concept. The word "Eco" has been derived from a Latin word "Oikos" which means home, and planet Earth is home for us. Thus we all are Eco Friends, especially since no one would like to be labeled as an enemy of planet Earth.

Once known as the Manchester of North India, Kanpur today is the city of tuberculosis--stinking, decaying, and dying. Situated along the banks of the river Ganga, the city depends on the river water for most of its needs. In 1988, the entire stretch of Ganga in Kanpur was identified as highly polluted with effluents from leather industries, city waste water, and corpses. Various schemes were initiated under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase -I in order to depollute the river and restore water quality.

Almost a decade passed since Rs. 65 crore had been spent but there doesn't seem to be any evidence of the time and money in the waters of the Ganga. On the contrary the situation has worsened to the extent that the river not only has earned the reputation of being dead with no aquatic life, but has caused severe health problems to the entire population of Kanpur. Now even clean drinking water has become a luxury for the citizens of Kanpur which only a few elite can afford.

 

C.1 How was the problem identified

It was in 1993 that a young student by the name of Rakesh K.Jaiswal, successfully pursuing his Ph.D in environmental politics, one day opened the tap to collect drinking water. To his horror he saw black, stinking water flowing from the tap. It was definitely water from the sewage that had now replaced the once clean drinking water. Initially this occurred once a month, but soon the problem arose weekly, then it became a regular daily event. This was not the problem of an individual house but of the entire neighbourhood. Soon news started pouring in from other areas in the town through the media. Some of the households stopped using the water works supply for drinking purposes and installed tubewells for their direct consumption. However, given the investment required for tubewell installation, many poor families could not afford the luxury of clean drinking water. They had to depend from time to time on common community hand-pumps which were mostly crowded and so some families could not help but use the same black, stinking water for various purposes other than drinking.

Sickened by the situation, Rakesh decided to investigate. What he discovered was more horrifying. The raw-water intake point for Kanpur city was at Bhario Ghat on the bank of river Ganga, the holiest river in the world . This intake point was receiving highly contaminated and polluted domestic sewage water from five drains including one from a Tuberculosis hospital. The water drawn from this source and supplied to the city is subjected only to conventional treatment like chlorination etc. This drew Rakesh's attention to the problem of the river pollution.

C.2 Survey of the Ganga in Kanpur

Rakesh then decided to conduct a survey of the Ganga stretch in Kanpur on a boat. What he found in a stretch of 13 Km. was even more abominable. He came across many human and animal corpses at various stages of decay floating in the river. It disturbed him that the highly venerated and worshipped river was being treated like an open sewer and dumping ground for industrial wastes, dead bodies, garbage etc. and worse that this very water was the most important drinking water source for not only Kanpur city but almost 100 small and big towns along the entire river.

The survey also revealed many other startling facts. The river in its present state is a carrier of many toxic elements including chromium from leather industries. Hence many species are on the verge of extinction, in particular the Gangetic Dolphin and turtles. There exists little aquatic life at the moment due to the degraded habitat as a result of river pollution. Tannery effluent, rich in chromium content, is being presently used for irrigating agricultural fields in Kanpur.

Though there are various complaints from the farmers with respect to the damaging effects of tannery effluents on their farmlands, groundwater, cattle and personal health, they have no option. The entire stretch of the Indo-Gangetic plain uses this river water for irrigation, with the river water overflowing into farmlands and grazing fields during the monsoon season each year. This has also resulted in continuing degradation of soil and fertile cropland in the plains. It is but natural that these toxic elements have entered the food chain and are causing health problems to both human and animal populations who depend on the river directly or indirectly.

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 The river Ganga is the lifeline of many small and big towns along its entire stretch. Almost three-fourths of Kanpur city depends on the river for drinking purposes. Therefore, the health and environment of Kanpur is directly linked to the river's health. The number of cases from water born diseases like Cholera, Jaundice, diarrhoea, hepatitis etc. is steadily on the rise and the most affected are poor people who have to drink the water without any choice and live in water-logged areas prone to innumerable diseases.

A large number of people living on the banks have direct dependence on the river waters for their livelihood such as fisherfolk, washerfolk, boatmen and the traditional cremator communities like doms and pandas, who are at the lowest social level. As a result of the pollution in the river these communities have been greatly affected. Fish are almost nil and even those that survive are not fit for human consumption as they carry toxic elements. The people no longer take boat-rides on the river due to the repulsive order and sight thus affecting the livelihood of the traditional boatmen. The washerfolk have few places to go along the banks to wash clothes and their contact with the river water is equally dangerous.

C.3 Action Programme and the formation of Eco-friends

Rakesh decided that it was time for immediate action and was determined to do something about this. Since it is futile to expect any action on environmental issues till it is backed by environmental education, he adopted "education and awareness " as the first phase of its action-programme. He started informing everyone about the pathetic condition of river Ganga as well as the worsening environmental condition of Kanpur city and how it was affecting the health of the people and endangering environmental security. He visited prime educational institutions of the city to make the students aware of various environment and pollution-related issues, especially the condition of river Ganga which is the life-line of not only Kanpur but the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. He organised field trips for school children and general citizens to various polluted sites along the river in order to demonstrate how this was affecting our everyday lives. It was an attempt to wake the people of Kanpur from their deep slumber. Rallies, demonstrations, marches, cycle rallies, non-violent protests and signature campaigns were organised in order to shake the administration to clean up the deteriorating environment and that of the river Ganga.

It was within this context that he formed a group by the name of "Eco-friends" that took up the difficult task of depolluting the river Ganga which, in its present state, was a threat not only to the ecology of the river, but the health and hygiene of the entire population living alongside the river.

The response from the people to shake the administration was immense. Thousands of school children, citizens, policemen, army personal, religious institutions, media and communities directly dependent on the river for their livelihood such as Dom, Pandas, Washerfolks, Boatmen and Fisherfolk came forward to demonstrate their constitutional rights for a clean and healthy environment as well as a right to livelihood. It was a major steps in spreading awareness among the citizens of Kanpur who could now see the link between their health and the pollution of the river Ganga. They isolated the problems that perpetrated the pollution -

Untreated domestic sewage (more than 400 mld ) was being discharged into the river through dozens of drains. Most industries were held unaccountable for the dumping of inorganic wastes in the river.

The tanneries (one of Kanpur's mainstay industries) account for the pile of carcasses and toxic effluents laden with chromium through four major drains discharging them into the river. A number of tanneries did not even have Primary Effluent Treatment Plants (PETP) which is mandatory by law for all tanneries.

A vast number of human corpses were found littered in the river. This was due to superstition and poverty of the people and also the lackadaisical attitude of the police who made it a practice to dump the unclaimed and post-autopsy bodies into the river. Through 1995 and 1996, Eco-friends conducted informal surveys of the river in a 13 Km stretch from Bhairo Ghat to Buriha Ghat. In each survey, more than 100 bodies were counted on any given day. In a three phase programme ( June-12th, 14th, and 21st-1997) Eco-friends fished out 180 dead bodies, including 20 animal carcasses from a 13 Km stretch of river Ganga in Kanpur. The bodies were buried underground in the dry and sandy part of the river Ganga.

Five huge drains carrying domestic sewage and contaminated water from a TB hospital discharge their contents at the water intake points , which serves as the raw water source for the city. Although the authorities could now be seen to move out of their shell of inactivity, it was evident that they lacked strong will-power and determination. The circumstances undoubtedly required immediate action which could now only be brought about through litigation. In July, 97, Rakesh filed a Writ Petition (No-21552) in the High Court. This Writ Petition turned the campaign against pollution of river Ganga into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case. PIL is a form of Litigation in which an organisation or an individual is granted locus standi to bring a case to the higher courts on behalf of a deprived body of people whose rights are being violated and who claim to be unable to obtain justice.

C.4 A tough legal battle

The PIL faced a tough bureaucracy from dozens of departments. Notices were served to UP Govt., Director General of Police (UP), Urban Development Department (All Municipalities, Development Authorities and Water Works in UP), UP State Electricity Board, UP Jal Nigam, UP Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, National River Conservation Directorate (Ministry of Environment & Forests) and others. There was a strong effort and lobby to mislead the court with false facts and figures. After a prolonged battle with affidavits and counter affidavits, the court saw the truth after which a series of important orders were delivered by the court.

C.5 Some important orders passed by the High Court

The orders included the recent closure of many industries, namely 150 tanneries in Kanpur, 40 Saree printing units in Varanasi, 10 carpet dyeing units in Mirzapur etc. that did not have Primary Effluent Treatment Plants (PETP), 7 stone crushers at Hardwar, the formation of the river police in 22 towns of UP along river Ganga to ensure that no dead bodies and other pollutants are thrown into the river and prevent defecation on the banks, uninterrupted power supply to all assets like waste treatment plants, pumping stations, crematoria etc. created under Ganga Action Plan phase-I, cleaning of the Lower Ganga Canal System which is the raw water source for Kanpur (having capacity of 5.5 mld ), removal of 5000 truck-loads of chrome laden toxic tannery sludge from Jajmau area and to ensure its safe disposal, removal of illegal settlements on various ghats (river banks of Hardwar and Rishikesh towns). The court also ordered to form a " Ganga Fund" in order to promote public participation and contribution.

In its past orders the court made Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) party to this case. The GMVN is the premier body for the development and tourism work in the Garhwal Himalaya. This order came following a newspaper report that Gangotri Glacier (source of the Ganga river) is shrinking fast and Ganga is polluted right from the source at Gaumukh.

The court has also ordered the UP Pollution Control Board to do a monthly monitoring of river water quality from the user's point of view unlike the previous method of sampling water from the centre of the river. Thus, an effort to improve the quality of water at bathing ghats and intake points has been undertaken to ensure the safety of the users and communities living along the banks and for all those directly or indirectly dependent on river water.

The court has nominated a team of auditors with Sameer Gupta as leader (all senior Retd. Officers of Indian Audit & Accounts Services) to make an investigation as to how the money under the Ganga Action Plan Phase-I was spent. The audit team has already submitted its first report to the court.

Honorable High Court vide its order dated: May 5-1998 had formed a High powered committee under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary of the UP Govt. in order to ensure compliance of various orders passed by this court and on suggestions given by the petitioner from time to time. The high powered committee meets every fortnight in which 10 principal secretaries of various departments, Commissioners of various Divisions, District Magistrates of various towns and other top officials of UP Pollution Control Board, UP Jal Nigam, and representatives of Central Govt. participate. Eco-friends studies the report to verify the claims of the compliance report.

We are also requesting the court to declare 200 metre of area on both sides of the banks as a No Development Zone and the same be transferred to the forest department for afforestation and the involvement of the affected communities for carrying out the afforestation. In fact. We are proposing that in the entire Ganga cleaning programme, wherever manual labour is required, the affected communities and displaced people should be accorded priority in providing employment.

We are also requesting the court to direct the Govt to evolve some policy regarding urbanisation and industrialisation of Ganga.

We want that no more virgin land of Ganga (Flood plain/ River bed) should be colonised for further urban sprawl or industrial use. We also want the court to issue the direction to the Govt. to form a Ganga Vahini (Task Force) involving those communities which are directly related with Ganga and are dependent on Ganga for their livelihood.

C.6. Results obtained so far

The intake point until a couple of months ago received five huge drains of waste water including one from a TB hospital. Following the court orders, the Govt. claims that all drains have now been tapped and diverted, yet it is felt that the tapping is not absolutely affected. However, there is a discernible reduction of effluent discharge over the past two months. The BOD has fallen to 4 mg/l from 9 mg/l (UP Pollution Control Board ).

Eco-friends constant vigil and policing has ensured that no dead bodies are thrown into the river and people do not defecate on the banks and also throw the trash into the river. From the 100 dead bodies in the Ganga river of Kanpur stretch on any given day last year, the number has drastically fallen down to less than 10. This is a visible indicator of the success of Eco-friends.

All industries of Kanpur, Banaras, Mirzapur and other towns that discharge polluting effluents and do not have PETP have been closed and are being reopened only after installation of PETP. Installation of PETP had been made mandatory by the Supreme Court in 1985 but the order was not complied with even after 13 years. However, as a result of this PIL, the defaulters have been brought to task.

The UP State Electricity Board has been ordered to provide uninterrupted power supply to GAP assets. Efforts are being made to ensure uninterrupted power supply to all the assets of GAP. On an average, Kanpur city faces power cuts of 8 hours per day. With that almost one third of the sewage and effluents were being discharged untreated everyday in the river. Efforts are also being made to ensure safe disposal of toxic tannery sludge which was lying in the open, thus posing health hazard and also contaminating the ground water.

The Thousand year old practice of body dumping into the river is being changed. Those bodies which were being dumped into the river earlier are now being given burial either in the river bed or along the river. It's a revolutionary change since Hindu bodies are either cremated or consigned to the water bodies. Burial has never been a practice amongst the Hindus. So far, thousands of Hindus bodies have been buried along the river Ganga in Kanpur.

 For more information please write to:
Rakesh K. Jaiswal
Eco Friends
Post Box 287
Kanpur 208001
India

Email:
rakjai@lw1.vsnl.net.in