To counter Narendra Modi’s ‘Clean Ganga’ campaign, former Chief Minister of UP, Akhilesh Yadav, made a promise in 2015 to clean and rejuvenate the river Gomti, touted as the backbone of Lucknow and rightly so, before the Assembly elections of 2017.
The elections came and went, but the river Gomti flows, uncared for along the state capital. In the name of river rejuvenation, a waterfront was inaugurated a few weeks back. Sadly, it was nothing but concrete ghats with decorative fences, installations and fancy lights. It seemed more like a hurried attempt by the government to cover up its inefficiency and failure to clean the river, which was once known as the “purest” rivers in the country.
Just after Yadav was done cutting rivers and publicising the botched-up job done on the river, Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Water Resources, alleged corruption in the project, and that it was done to benefit the land mafia. She also promised that if BJP came to power in the state, an inquiry would be ordered to investigate corruption in the ₹3,000 crore project. Now, it is to be seen what action the newly appointed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, will take.
Gomti, one of Ganga’s tributaries, offers sustainability to the people of Lucknow. However, the river, gradually destroyed by pollution over the years is now quite sick, with its riverbed and ecology damaged beyond repair due to industrial waste. Today, it is a carrier of various diseases. It has lost two-third of its water and is shrinking at alarming levels; what is left is a dried up and polluted version of the previously flowing river, where people once bathed.
Lucknow’s drains pour untreated sewage directly into the river while the industries alongside the river – mainly sugar – dump industrial effluents directly in the river. The quantity of domestic sewage and industrial waste produced in Lucknow is about 325 million litres per day (MLD) according to the UPPCB (UP Pollution Control Board).
According to Central Pollution Control Board, the Lucknow-Jaunpur stretch of Gomti is the most polluted river stretch in the country. Actions like these led the State Pollution Board to render the waters in Gomti unfit for consumption. The river’s dissolved oxygen level is dangerously low, even dipping too low at one point, which, resulted in the mass killings of fishes.
The UP Government took an initiative to increase the water level in Gomti by releasing water into it, linking it through an aquaduct from Indira Canal. ₹24 crores were sanctioned to the Irrigation Department for cleaning of the river. Under phase two of the Ganga Action Plan, Asia’s biggest sewage treatment plant was constructed at Bharwara to clean up wastewater. The plant proved to be inefficient later and was labelled a failure.
In 2013, students of various Lucknow colleges organised a drive to clean the river and garbage accumulated alongside its bank, urging people not to throw garbage in the river. Ministers were notably absent from the event.
Yadav unveiled a ₹3,000 crore project under “Gomti Riverfront” project. IIT Roorkee joined hands with the UP Government by signing a MoU for the project. The institute will study the environmental impact by conducting surveys and an environmental assessment regarding any problems that may arise due to the project. However, the project has always been surrounded by controversy and is seen more as a political showdown between the central government and the ruling Samajwadi Party and is opposed by several environmentalists for ecologically damaging the already distressed river.
Fueled by the recent state elections, the centre and the state have been engaged in a fight over the river, with the Samajwadi Party looking to earn points with the public by boasting about the riverfront project and the BJP debunking those statements.
When I personally visited the riverside, where construction is ongoing for the Gomti riverfront project, it was a sorry sight, to say the least. The already constructed part of the riverfront which is open to the public, is pleasing to the eye but as you move further the river’s actual condition is visible, along with a foul smell emanating from all the garbage in and around it.
There seemed to be no one residing beside the river, presumably uprooted because of the project, save for a few workers who were present on the site. They revealed that the construction has been ongoing for years. Upon asking them how they live with the smell, they said they are used to it now.
Despite various attempts by the government as well as the citizens to cleanse the river, the fact is that the river Gomti is still in peril. Only a dedicated effort by the people and effective projects by the government will help make the river as unpolluted as it once was.
Saumya Anand is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.