Broken Promises: Despite Election Commitments, Narmada River Continues to Suffer from Pollution in Madhya Pradesh

Despite various governmental schemes such as the Namami Gange Mission, National River Conservation, and River Front Development, the pollution levels in the Narmada River continue to rise instead of abating.
Broken Promises: Despite Election Commitments, Narmada River Continues to Suffer from Pollution in Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal- "I am the Narmada River, flowing through the ancient forests of Amarkantak for centuries, bearing witness to the remnants of ancient civilizations that grace my banks. The Narmada Valley Civilization stands as a testament to one of the oldest river civilizations in the world. From the East, I once flowed clean and pristine, a symbol of vitality and life. But now, I find myself suffocating, besieged by the onslaught of contaminated waters that seep into my being. The contamination I bear not only threatens my ecosystem but also poses a direct threat to the well-being of the environment and the people who depend on me' - This heartfelt plea from the Narmada River serves as an ardent appeal to her people.

The Narmada River, revered as the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh and a sacred symbol of faith for millions, is facing an alarming deterioration in its condition with each passing day. As it winds its way through urban areas, including the vast expanse of Malwa-Nimar and the cities of Jabalpur division, it becomes increasingly tainted by pollution. The contamination stems not only from the urban centers it traverses but also from the Mahakaushal, contributing to the influx of polluted water into its once pristine flow.

Despite the gravity of this situation, efforts by urban authorities to stem the tide of contamination have fallen short. The inability to effectively curb the entry of polluted water into the Narmada River poses a grave threat to its ecological balance and the well-being of the communities reliant on its waters. Urgent action is imperative to safeguard the purity and vitality of this cherished river, ensuring its continued role as a life-giving force for generations to come.

The cleanliness of the Narmada River has remained a pressing issue in elections spanning over the last 15 years, from Lok Sabha to Assembly and urban bodies. Promises abound from political figures ranging from the Chief Minister to Mayors, Members of Parliament, and Members of Legislative Assemblies, pledging to prevent the influx of dirty water from cities into the Narmada. However, once the elections conclude, little substantive action follows suit. While some sewerage treatment plants have been installed, they fall short in preventing the flow of contaminated water into the river.

Despite various governmental schemes such as the Namami Gange Mission, National River Conservation, and River Front Development, the pollution levels in the Narmada River continue to rise instead of abating. In Jabalpur, situated in the Mahakaushal area, the entire city's contaminated water flows directly into the Narmada River through two main outlets. A large drain disgorges the city's wastewater directly into the river at Gaurighat, while the chemical-laden effluent from the gelatin factory at Bhedaghat further compounds the pollution of the Narmada's waters.

During a conversation with The Mooknayak, Jabalpur-based journalist Neil Tiwari expressed his disappointment, stating that all government efforts to address the pollution issue have failed. He described how the city's drains have essentially transformed into a single large drain, funnelling contaminated water directly into the Narmada River beyond Gauri Ghat. Tiwari highlighted that not a single sewage treatment plant is operational at present, although construction is underway for three new treatment plants. However, he expressed uncertainty regarding the timeline for their completion.

In the pilgrimage city of Omkareshwar, located in Khandwa district, untreated wastewater from drains continues to flow directly into the Narmada River. Despite the establishment of sewage treatment plants aimed at cleansing a 45-kilometer stretch of the river, technical issues and operational negligence have rendered them ineffective.

In response to the escalating pollution crisis in the Narmada River, the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board has taken legal action, filing a complaint in the local court seeking environmental compensation of Rs 42.50 crore against Omkareshwar and six city councils situated along the riverbanks.

These councils include Sanawad, Barwah, Mandleshwar, Maheshwar, and Barwani. Despite assurances made during the last Lok Sabha elections by Khandwa MP Gyaneshwar Patil to combat Narmada's pollution, concrete actions have fallen short of promises. Efforts to prevent contaminated water from entering the Narmada River are underway, with the construction of four sewage treatment plants in Omkareshwar, one of which has already commenced operations at JP Chowk.

Speaking with The Mooknayak, student leader Akshat Aggarwal, a resident of Khandwa, highlighted the multifaceted pollution plaguing the Narmada River. Not only is the river contaminated by wastewater from surrounding urban areas, but it also suffers from the influx of chemical-laden water discharged by nearby factories. Aggarwal emphasized that despite the recurring issue of Narmada's cleanliness being raised during elections, little action is taken afterward to address the river's plight.

In Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, sewerage water from Maheshwar and Mandleshwar further contributes to Narmada's pollution. Areas such as Narmada Temple, Badghat, Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and Narsingh Temple in the Maheshwar region witness direct entry of dirty water into the river. Although sewage treatment efforts have been ongoing for six years, only 40 percent of the work has been completed thus far. Similarly, Mandleshwar grapples with the discharge of contaminated water into the Narmada from three different locations.

Contaminated water from industrial, urban, and rural areas of Dhar district flows into the Narmada River, with cities like Kukshi, Manawar, Nisarpur, and Dhamnod contributing directly through tributaries such as Maan, Uri, and Baghni.

Despite the evident pollution, no substantial efforts have been undertaken to mitigate the contamination, leading to waterborne filth along the entire stretch of the Narmada river passing through Barwani district. Areas like Brahmangaon, Chhota Barda, Chhota Kasrawad, Rajghat, Bhavati Bijasan, and other ghats suffer from severe pollution, with Rajghat's backwater exhibiting the highest levels of contamination. Recent research confirms the water's unsuitability for consumption.

In an interview with The Mooknayak, SN Dwivedi, Regional Officer of the Pollution Control Board, assured swift action upon detecting pollution in the Narmada River. Monthly assessments are conducted to gauge water pollution levels, followed by targeted measures to address the underlying causes and mitigate pollution in affected areas.

The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board has taken decisive action against city councils responsible for polluting the Narmada River. Through regular investigations and sampling of water from various locations along the river, the Board has identified instances of pollution and filed complaints in court against six councils, including Omkareshwar, Sanavad, Barwah, Mandleshwar, Maheshwar, and Barwani. These councils have been penalized with a hefty sum of Rs 42 crore as environmental compensation for their role in releasing sewage and contaminated water into the Narmada River.

History of Narmada River

Narmada River, which is also locally known as Rewa River, is the 5th and longest west-flowing river of India. It is also the largest river of Madhya Pradesh state. Narmada flows in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. It is also called the “Lifeline of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat” for its life-giving importance.

The Narmada River originates in the Amarkantak Plateau in Anuppur district of Madhya Pradesh. It then flows 1,312 km (815.2 mi) westwards into the Gulf of Khambhat, a gulf of the Arabian Sea, 30 km (18.6 mi) west of Bharuch. Narmada has a total of 41 tributaries. 19 from the north coast and 22 from the south coast.

The catchment area of ​​the Narmada basin is one lakh square kilometres. This is three percent of the geographical area of ​​the country and 28 percent of the area of ​​Madhya Pradesh. Eight tributaries of Narmada are longer than 125 kilometers. For example- Hiran 188, Banjar 183 and Budhner 177 kilometers.

The plight extends beyond the Narmada River itself; many medium-sized rivers such as Lambi, Deb, Goi, Karam, Choral, and Beda are also facing severe degradation.

Rampant deforestation in the catchment areas of these tributary rivers has accelerated their decline, causing them to lose their flow even before merging with the Narmada.

This alarming trend not only threatens the health of these individual rivers but also exacerbates the overall environmental challenges faced by the Narmada basin. Urgent action is needed to address deforestation and safeguard the integrity of these vital waterways to ensure the sustainability of the entire river ecosystem.

-Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai

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