Till last year, Fateh Ali, 40, a resident of the Gwaltoli locality of Kanpur, was selling vegetables. He has now switched to selling fish, like many other families in the Gwaltoli, Khalasline, Shoetarganj neighbourhoods. His income is now twice what it used to be.
A member of the river-cleaning crew drinks water from the sacred river.
What made them switch to fishing, which has become an alternative source of income? A clean Ganga for one, which made the fish return to the surface of the water and therefore easier to catch. And how did the river become clean? By tapping the Sisamau Nullah, the country’s largest open drain, built by the British in 1892. “Earlier,” says Ali, “waste from the Sisamau Nullah would flow into the Ganga, making the river very dirty. The fish would stay away.”
Passing through 40 mohallas inhabited by close to 1.5 million people, the 12 kilometres long and six metres wide Sisamau Nullah would discharge 140 MLD (million litres daily) of sewage and contaminated water into the Ganga behind the ‘River Side Power House’ in Kanpur. After the Yogi Adityanath government took over in March 2017, work on tapping the nullah began on July 27, 2017. Tapping essentially refers to intercepting the waste water by creating a weir wall, slip gates and a screening chamber. The wastewater is then sent to a sewage treatment plant before it is released into the river again.
To accomplish this, a two-level strategy was planned under the Namami Gange Programme (NGP). Brijendra Pushpakar, a junior engineer of the Jal Nigam associated with the project, detailed the project thus: “After making a tapping point at Bakarmandi in Kanpur, 80 MLD water of the Sisamau Nullah was sent to the Bingwan sewage treatment plant (STP),” he says. “From here, the water was cleaned and directed to the Pandu river. Another 60 MLD was sent to the newly-built pumping station near the riverside powerhouse by making a tapping point downstream of Sisamau Nullah. From here, the water was pumped and sent to the Jajmau STP. The water thus purified was directed to the Jajmau canal.” On December 2018, the Sisamau drain was finally closed at a total cost of Rs 28 crore.
Eight other smaller drains, the Parmia, Guptarghat, Shitalabazar, Wajidpur, Budhiaghat, Nawabganj, Myormil and Dubka Nullahs, passing through Kanpur city and flowing into the Ganga have likewise been tapped under the NGP. Together, they would carry about 50 MLD of wastewater into the Ganga. All these drains had been tapped by December 2020, and their water sent to the nearest STP for treatment.
To test its water quality, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has now installed real-time sensors at the Ganga Barrage and Bithoor in Kanpur. According to the CPCB’s data report in December 2020, the level of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Ganga in Kanpur is now 8.51 mg/ litre, from the below five levels four years ago. The standard norm for DO, otherwise, is above five. Kanpur commissioner Rajasekhar says, “Ganga water has become quite pure due to the closure of the drain. Now not only are people bathing in the river but they can also be seen drinking its water.”