Excreta Matters Newsletters5

Editorial: Anil Agarwal Dialogue: Excreta Does Matter

Underlining the importance of improving our urban water supply and sewage management, we are holding the Second Anil Agarwal Dialogue: Excreta Does Matters in New Delhi on the 4th and 5th of March. This meeting will bring together people working on water and sewage from across India and from different sectors, including NGOs, the private sector, government and donors. It will bring out issues on urban water and sewage along the following themes:

The Big Stink: How urban India has fouled its water
Urban waterscapes: Urban water catchments and commands
Groundwater and lakes: What lies beneath?
Fouled: Urban sewage mis-management
• Small towns, big opportunity or opportunity lost?
• Is it dead yet? Killing rivers and lakes
Shit screen of clean up: Decentralising sewage treatment as an alternative to pipes and plants
RRR: The how, what and where of treating sewage for reuse
Reduce, the Third R: Demand management
• The future does not have to be dry – a way ahead

The meeting is critical because of several reasons. The 2011 Census showed a rapid increase in urbanization on account of the growth of small town India. Our experience with urban water supply and sewage management has been dismal. Urbanites get a few hours a day of water if they are lucky. Just a fifth of the sewage that urban India generates get treated at all, while the rest pollutes our water, both surface and ground. In addition to short changing us, there are official inequities in the quantity of water supplied that varies from tens to hundreds litres per person per day. Cities get around half of their water from underground, but this is not officially acknowledged so groundwater in all cities is a rapidly depleting resource. Lakes and wetlands are valued for the land underneath and not water; planners and the real estate lobby have ensured their systematic decimation.

We have advocated for change and have met with some success. The 12th Five Year Plan has taken our suggestions for better water and sewage management on board. But much remains to be done in terms of execution.

We hope this meeting will build a network of people who can influence the execution of programmes to improve water and sewage management. We also want to create a network of lake and river warriors who have worked to save these water bodies from encroachment, pollution and eventual destruction. We want the government to be in on this process as it has the mandate to create policies and execute programmes, but we have to influence this process to improve its results both in terms of service delivery and management of water as a resource.

Given its importance, we invite you to participate in the Dialogue. Please let us know if you are coming on


Nitya Jacob, CSE
Reality Bites
Government dithers on establishing the requisite protocol to promote safe reuse of treated sewage for agriculture.
Text: Bharat Lal Seth
Art: Karno Guhathakurta
Guest Blog:
Safe and adequate sewage for irrigation
The urban populace is often cautioned about the vegetables they eat, especially green leafy vegetables, as they are increasingly grown with untreated sewage water. With mounting water scarcity, farmers in the peripheries of urban areas are known to increasingly use sewage or wastewater to grow vegetables, food crops and fodder. The concern raised with this kind of irrigation is that it constitutes a large part of the untreated sewage discharged from the urban centres. Such usage triggers contamination risks of health and environment.

While doing an exploration of wastewater use in irrigation in Gujarat, we came across several local bodies (urban local bodies and panchayats) selling wastewater for irrigation. Amongst them villages of Kutch are noteworthy as they not only treat the water but also sell it to farmers. The charges for these waters are much higher than the charges of canal irrigation water in water abundant areas of the state. This indicates that the wastewater collection, treatment and reuse from the resource recovery perspective are well understood by the communities as well as the authorities in water-scarce Kutch. The urban local bodies (municipal corporations and municipalities) are responsible for treating the sewage and increasingly are not able to comply with discharge standards. A number of reasons are cited for this, like lack of qualified staff, poor maintenance, overloading of facilities, irregular power supply, and apathy. However, lack of funding for O&M appears to be a significant impediment. In such a scenario these villages may be potential replicable models that may work in cities too.

We also came across several cities in whose peripheries wastewater was being used for irrigation extensively. However most often it was untreated with the risks of negative environment and health impacts. Untreated sewage is mentioned as the single most important contributor to surface and groundwater pollution in the state. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for Gujarat (year ending March 2011) mentions, "out of 167 ULBs, 158 (93 per cent) ULBs have no facility for treatment of sewage. These ULBs discharge untreated sewage in the lakes (9 ULBs), ground water (18 ULBs), open land (46 ULBs), rivers (40 ULBs), natural drains (26 ULBs) and sea creek (9 ULBs). Just 8 ULBs diverted sewage water for irrigation, while for the rest 5 ULBs, the position is un-ascertainable."

We found that the municipal corporations of Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar have generated revenues out of wastewater at different points in time with varied costs. They have recognized use of wastewater for irrigation by authorizing the lift irrigation societies lifting the wastewater. Specifically, we have learnt that the class 'A' municipalities of Nadiad and Patan; class 'B' municipalities of Palitana and Visnagar; class 'C' municipality of Balasinor and class 'D' municipality Oad are selling their wastewater for irrigation. However, it was found that the wastewater being used is not of the desired quality required for irrigation. This is based on the observation that the sewage treatment plants (STPs) are most often aggregators of sewage, parts of which are treated, passed through the treatment plant and parts are bypassed into the disposal area. The sewage collection networks also are inadequate so only a small portion goes for treatment. The rest flows into nallahs and drains eventually reaching the designated disposal areas.

Municipal authorities have the responsibility of public health and environment of the cities they represent. In the current scenario of the use of untreated wastewater for irrigation with the municipal authorities' recognition poses questions for their accountability towards safety of the citizens towards environment and health risks. The answer may not lie in banning the use of wastewater for irrigation but by monitoring the minimum standards required for its use for irrigation and ensuring it. The villages of Kutch offer a way where it is highly valued by the farmers and safe for the consumers of the produce too.
Alka Palrecha, Peopleincentre

Forthcoming events
Water Events in India:
Everything About Water Expo, 28 February - 2 March 2013, Chennai, India
Everything About Water EXPO is South Asia's largest exhibition and conference covering the Water & Wastewater industry
Resource India Expo Bangalore, 6-8 March 2013 at the Trade Centre, KTPO, Bangalore (India)
A Trade Fair for waste management, wastewater treatment and environmental protection.
OR http://www.itei.in/Our-Portfolio.aspx
International Research Conference on Environmental Issues and Waste Management (IRCEIWM), 5th to 6th March 2013, Bangkok, Thailand
The conference aims to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas on the latest business innovation developments in the field of economics, different areas of social sciences and environment among researchers and practitioners.
World Water Day, 22 March 2013, Geneva, Switzerland
Aims to guide legal, technological, and financial decisions considering water interdependencies.

Related Articles