Black Burden Turned into Green Gold : Ganga Action Plan at Rishikesh

Rishikesh, surrounded by virgin forests at the toe of the Himalayas, is the first town on river Ganga taken up under the Ganga Action Plan Phase-I for pollution abatement of the river. Hundreds of ashrams, temples, residences, hotels and other commercial estab-lishments dot the banks. This immense human activity, in a narrow band along the length of the town on both the banks, generates nearly 6 million litres of sewage per day into the pristine Ganga before it emerges into the plains.

The Ganga Action Plan works in Rishikesh comprise, inter alia, sewerage works to tap the sewage outfalls and through appropriate pumping station, diversion of the sewage to a pond type STP at Lakkarghat between Hardwar and Rishikesh. Under the GAP, existing ponds were renovated and expanded by additional pondage to treat a flow of 6 mld sewage per day from the town of Rishikesh.

At the site of STP, a major industry viz. Indian Drugs & Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (IDPL s Antibio-tics plant) was discharging its effluent. The partially treated mycelium waste caused severe damage not only to the Ganga water but also to the crops of farmers nearby. To take care of this problem, along with strict industrial pollution control enforcement measures, a research project was initiated in 1988 with the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Pusa, New Delhi in collaboration with the Sheep and Wool Research Station (SWRS) of Pashu Lok, a fodder production wing of UP Animal Husbandry Department, located at Hardwar.

SWRS has a 1,000 acre fodder farm adjacent to the Oxidation Pond (OP) site where different fodder crops are grown using ground water. The above research project experimented and determined the ideal ratio of IDPL effluent, tubewell water and OP effluent for maximising the fodder crop yield and at the same time stopping the entire pollution flow from reaching the river.

Based on their findings, algae-rich oxidation ponds with the IDPL effluent and tube well water in desired ratio were used by Pashu Lok for raising fodder crops. The IDPL unit closed down subsequently. Now Green Water from the oxidation ponds alone is used by Pashu Lok for raising fodder crops. This project is probably the first of its kind where fodder farming with treated sewage and a study of its impact on soil, crops and productivity was integrated into the plan.

The series of five ponds, occupying 6.5 hectares in the STP campus area of 13 hectares, is fully utilised after reducing BOD from 210 to 24 mg per litre, SS from 255 to 55 mg per litre, and coliform levels from 350,000 MPN to 110,000 MPN per 100 ml, although less strigent quality is acceptable for irrigation use.

55 acres of fodder farm is getting the benefit of 6 mld of pond effluent, raising fodder crops of Rs 10 lakh per year. Pisciculture is practiced in the algae rich ponds and fruit and vegetable are grown in 3 hectares of the STP campus site, yielding a revenue of Rs 55,000 per annum.

This STP is a shining example of utilising a piece of land for sewage treatment, leading to prevention of pollution of the river and at the same time drawing the full opportunity to recover the cost of this land by way of resource recovery from fodder, vegetable and fruit crops as well as pisciculture.

Eco-friendly Research

For the first time in Ganga Action Plan, a research project was carried out simultaneously with the construction of Oxidation Ponds at Lakkarghat in Rishikesh to study the optimal ratio of treated pond effluent, tubewell water and IDPL s antibiotics plant effluent for maximising the fodder growth on experimental plots of animal husbandry fodder farm. The user agencies viz. Animal Husbandry Officer of Pashulok were involved along with IARI, Pusa, New Delhi for research in proving the edibility and health aspects of the fodder, while maximising the fodder farm productivity with no negative impacts on crop, soil and groundwater. Also, pisciculture has been integrated in the facultative type ponds to enhance resource recovery from the algae rich pond effluent, before using it as an irrigant on a 1000 acre fodder farm. This is a classic case of pollution control, and making profit in an eco-friendly manner through sewage treatment and use.