New Delhi: The environment ministry has decided to make sewage collection and transport mandatory across India in a measure aimed at stopping the discharge of untreated sewage into water bodies and groundwater.

The notification from the ministry will be issued to all states, who agreed on the urgency of the issue at a recent meeting in the national capital.

“We are taking action so that no untreated sewage is released in water bodies or underground water. We are making collection, transportation, treatment and finally reuse of sewage mandatory. Reuse for all non-potable purposes like in industrial process, gardening, cleaning of railway tracks and irrigation. We are issuing notification for it. This is a major decision," said MoEF special secretary Shashi Shekhar.

In India, partially or untreated sewage is the biggest source of deterioration of surface- or groundwater quality and is responsible for 70% of the pollution in streams and water bodies.

As per official data, at present only 24,578 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage treatment capacity has been developed against a total sewage generation of 57,000 MLD.

As per estimates of the environment ministry, a sum of around 2.25 trillion will be needed for sewage collection, transportation and treatment of sewage across the country.

Over 60% of the sewage generated in the country goes untreated due to a lack of funds for developing sewage treatment systems.

However, the ministry is not impressed with the argument advanced by states that they don’t have enough funds for sewage treatment plants (STP).

Shekhar said that during two meetings earlier in April of all state environment ministers and of state pollution control boards, the environment ministry also suggested ways in which states could generate funds for setting up STPs.

States were encouraged to adopt the Tamil Nadu model or develop their own for setting up STPs. A resolution to make sewage treatment mandatory was passed in the meeting.

The Tamil Nadu model involves charging customers for sewage collection. The state government also has partly funded the setting up of STPs.

“Sewage is the main cause of water pollution. Sewage treatment can no longer be delayed for want of money. The time has come for it. The message was that if one state can do it, others can also do it. We have also prescribed standards for treated effluent of sewage—basically what should be the quality after treatment," Shekhar added.

Water from rivers, lakes or streams contaminated with untreated sewage has an impact on human health as well as aquatic life.

The environment ministry proposed that state pollution control boards and other authorities prohibit the use of freshwater or groundwater for all non-potable purposes such as cleaning or flushing, etc. at metro trains stations, railways, automobile workshops, bus depots and industries, and for horticulture and irrigation.

Instead, the ministry said, it should be made mandatory for them to use treated wastewater.

Use of treated wastewater for flushing in new housing groups was another suggestion.

Environmentalist Manoj Misra said it is a welcome step but hoped the notification would be properly implemented.

“I think it could make a huge difference and this is something which was long overdue. This is something which is part of the whole urbanisation challenge. In urbanisation, water management is usually the last priority as everyone wants fresh water but once it leaves their house no one is bothered. Now this (proposed notification) could mainstream making wastewater a useful resource," said Misra, who is convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, an organization that has been working to clean and revitalize the Yamuna river for nearly a decade.

Close