Set up by Govt., Kutch Sewage Treatment Plant Running Without Due Clearances Since 2019

The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has served a show-cause notice to the Bhuj municipality and the Gujarat State Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) asking why their sewage treatment plant (STP) not be shut down for lack of due approvals and alleged noncompliance of rules in treating wastewater. Following the notice, the civic body has applied for due clearances even as the STP continues to operate at a fraction of its capacity with farmers pilfering untreated wastewater and a lot of untreated sewage draining into lakes of Bhuj, alleges an NGO. The notice, issued on January 24, came after its officers noted six discrepancies after an inspection of the 23.7-million litres per day (MLD) capacity STP at Nagor village, around eight km away from Bhuj — the district headquarters of Kutch, on December 8 as part of its routine monitoring activity.

“STP was operational without obtaining prior CTE (consent to establishment) & CCA (consolidated consent and authorisation),” the show-cause notice highlighted, adding, during inspection, chambers were found full of silt and scrappers were damaged and the screw conveyor was not functioning in the primary treatment segment of the plant. In the secondary treatment unit, the team observed that 30 percent of the diffusers in the sequential batch reactor (SBR) chamber were choked, and the return-activated sludge and surplus-activated sludge pumps were not working. The team also noted that algal growth was observed in chlorine contact tank, adequate chlorination was not done, and online analysers were not functioning in the tertiary treatment section of the STP.

The notice also underlined the underutilisation of capacity stating the plant was not able to treat even 250 kilolitres per day (KLD) or 0.25 MLD even as farmers pilfered untreated wastewater. “Currently, the 23.7-MLD capacity STP is not able to treat 250 KLD incoming sewage. Part of the sewage lift by farmers is for agriculture use and some of the sewage also overflows from the pumping station and goes to natural drain,” the notice stated. GPCB also flagged that the STP was not able to comply with specified standards of treating wastewater as suspended solids (SS) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) were higher than the National Green Tribunal (NGT)-prescribed limits of 20 milligrams per litre (mg/L) and 10 mg/L respectively.  The Nagor STP was constructed at Rs. 31.39 crores under the Central government-sponsored Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. It was commissioned in 2019-20 and a private contractor, which had set up the plant, still controls its operations and maintenance. It was also highlighted that GPCB had issued notices nine times between June, 2019 and October, 2023 flagging most of these issues. “However, looking (at) facts mentioned in latest inspection reports, it seems that till date, you have not complied with the same,” the notice said, adding, “Why not we direct the concerned authority for disconnection of power supply and water supply of your industrial plant?”

The notice sought response from the municipality and GWSSB within 15 days. According to a senior GPCB official, the STP is an illegal facility without CTE and CCA from GPCB. “In the eyes of law, the Bhuj STP is an illegal facility for lack of CTE and CCA. It becomes more serious as in this instance, the project proponents — Bhuj municipality and GWSSB — are government entities,” said the official.

However, Bhuj civic body officials and GWSSB are into blame-gaming. Bhuj municipality Chief Officer Jigar Patel said the civic body is doing its part of the job. “We have a good sewage collection network in Bhuj and are pumping an average 15 MLD of sewage water to the STP,” he said, adding, “The ownership of the STP is vested with GWSSB and therefore, complying with legal requirements and treatment parameters is their responsibility.” However, GWSSB Chief Engineer (CE) Nirav Solanki differs. “We had got the Bhuj STP constructed on behalf of the urban development department of the state government. We had done merely deposit work for the urban development department that wanted the STP constructed for Bhuj municipality. Thus, in a sense, we were just contractors of the urban development department. CTE is generally obtained before start of the construction work and obtaining it is the responsibility of the concerned urban local body. Legally, the STP becomes an asset of the concerned municipality once construction is over,” Solanki said.

The CE added that the lack of CTE and CCA does not render the Bhuj STP an underperforming plant. “The Bhuj STP complies with norms of NGT,” he said. Solanki said that the capacity of the plant remains idle as not sufficient sewage water reaches the plant. “Average 4-5 MLD sewage water reaches the STP as farmers are tapping into the line pumping sewage to the STP. That line belongs to Bhuj municipality,” said Solanki.

Meanwhile, an application was filed seeking CTE for Bhuj STP after the January notice. “We are acting as a facilitator for the Bhuj municipality to obtain CTE,” Solanki said. A GPCB officer confirmed the receipt of the application and said it was under consideration. However, Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, an NGO working for protection of environment, said the pilferage of sewage water by farmers is only one of the reasons for sewage water not reaching the STP. “Bhuj municipality is duty-bound to discharge domestic sewage only after treating it properly and therefore, it is not advisable to allow farmers to tap into untreated wastewater. That said, lifting by farmers can’t be in quantity that will reduce the amount from 15 MLD to 0.5 MLD,” Prajapati said, adding, “The fact is, Bhuj municipality is not able to manage domestic sewage properly and pump it to the STP. A lot of sewage water is being discharged or drains to lakes of Bhuj and this was proven during a joint inspection of 25 lakes in Bhuj by GPCB and ParyavaranSurakha Samiti. This is criminal negligence.” Citing the information shared by GPCB under the RTI Act, Prajapati said that during the joint inspection conducted on March 26, domestic sewage was noticed in Dosarai lake, Rato Talav, Panjrapol Talav and Jakh lake. “Not only this, the critical aspect is that the STP should be able to treat sewage as per NGT norms and the most important parameter is BOD. Against the prescribed limit of 20 mg/l, the treated wastewater at Bhuj STP had a BOD of 32 mg/l,” he said, adding, “During inspection on May 15, we observed pink serf on batches of sewage water that was being treated. That indicates industrial effluent mixing with domestic sewage.” However, Bhuj municipality CO Patel denies Prajapati’s charge. “Bhuj municipality area has nine notified lakes and we are not allowing discharge of sewage water in any of them. We have cut off drainage connections that were draining into Umasar lake,” he said.



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