Nearly a month after the Punjab Cabinet approved Rs 650 crore for the cleaning and rejuvenation of the polluted stream Buddha Nullah, which dumps Ludhiana city’s domestic and sewage waste into the Sutlej river, a group of local residents and experts have pointed out “major flaws” and “loopholes” in the proposed tender floated by the Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board for the project initially estimated at Rs 595 crore.
The project tender has been floated under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), titled, ‘Construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), pumping stations, ETPs for dairy complexes, rehabilitation of existing STPs & main pumping stations for abatement of pollution in Buddha Nullah, Ludhiana including operation & maintenance (O&M) for a period of 10 years on DBOT basis’.
DPR not in public domain
A group of residents and engineers — including members of the Council of Engineers as well as the Special Task Force (STF) led by Namdhari sect head Thakur Uday Singh, constituted by Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh to oversee cleanliness of the nullah — have written to the chief minister’s office, the additional chief secretary (local bodies), highlighting two major issues.
Firstly, they have alleged that the entire process of making a Detailed Project Report (DPR) and then a standard bidding document has been kept ‘secret’ and not put in the public domain for residents, NGOs etc to put forth their objections and suggestions. Even the CM constituted STF wasn’t consulted before finalising the project.
Mixing of industrial, domestic sewage waste
Secondly, they have objected to the fresh project proposing mixing of industrial and domestic sewage waste at the new STP proposed at Jamalpur, where an existing STP has developed problems in functioning due to the same issue.
Jaskirat Singh, Ludhiana CEO, Webrosoft Solutions, said, “It is the most awaited project for Ludhiana because residents here have been waiting for a solution to the Buddha Nullah pollution for decades. However, the current tender floated by the government needs to be corrected and reissued. It has some major design flaws. The document wasn’t even put in the public domain for experts and residents to comment or give feedback. The previous STPs installed in Ludhiana have also become defunct because domestic and industrial waste were being allowed to mix in it. Now again they have proposed a new STP at Jamalpur with a clause that 20 per cent of industrial waste including that from dyeing units can be allowed to flow in it. This is the root cause of the entire problem and we cannot allow repetition of earlier mistakes. The Ludhiana Municipal Corporation (LMC) and Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) will again blame each other if domestic and sewage waste are not segregated.”
An excerpt from the tender document with sub-title ‘Construction of 225 MLD capacity STP at Jamalpur’, which proposes to set up a new STP with a capacity of 225 million litres a day (MLD), reads, ‘Taking in account commissioning of CETPs, a new STP upto tertiary level of 225 MLD (average flow capacity) to be constructed at Jamalpur site to handle domestic flow mixed with upto 20 per cent industrial flow from textile and dyeing industries. The tertiary treated water shall be utilised for industrial/agriculture purpose.”
“Whereas in the ‘Action Plan Clean River Sutlej-2019’ document prepared by the government and submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2019, they have taken a completely opposite stand and said that industrial waste has not only overloaded but also damaged the equipment at existing STPs at Jamalpur, Balloke and Bhattian,” said Jaskirat Singh.
The Council of Engineers has also quoted a previous judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which reads, “…that the STPs being installed are basically for domestic sewage. It apprehended that in case a substantial industrial trade effluent is allowed to flow into the STPs, their biological system may not work properly…”
“Our main concern that if Rs 650 crore is being spent now to clean the stream, the government should clarify everything beforehand instead of wasting crores again like earlier unsuccessful projects. We weren’t kept in loop before finalising this project,” said a member of the STF.
What is polluting the nullah
There are three major sources polluting Buddha Nullah — untreated sewage waste from Ludhiana city STPs, untreated industrial effluents from 228 dyeing units, and 16 ‘outlets’ which are directly releasing sewage and industrial waste into the stream.
Of these 16 outlets, 11 are ‘MC disposal points’ through which the civic body is releasing untreated sewage waste into the stream.
The untreated sewage waste from Ludhiana’s existing Jamalpur and Balloke STPs also goes into Buddha Nullah. Against the capacity to treat 48 MLD, Jamalpur STP gets 205 MLD on an average daily. The Balloke STP gets 268 MLD against a 257 MLD capacity. Both STPs mostly remain dysfunctional.
‘Residents’ concern more of a misunderstanding’
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ajoy Sharma, CEO, Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board, said the concerns raised by the residents are more of a “misunderstanding”.
“The successful bidder will be setting up and maintaining two new STPs at Ludhiana — Jamalpur (225 MLD) and Balloke (50 MLD). Already, Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) to treat industrial waste with capacity of 150 MLDs are in the pipeline. But we have gone a step ahead and to see that the company selected for the new project doesn’t run away from its responsibilities. It will also have to manage any industrial waste if by chance it enters STP at Jamalpur, due to which this 20 per cent clause has been included. The company cannot run away saying that STP stopped working because industrial waste entered. They have to make such a robust system that STP should be able to handle industrial waste too.”
Sharma said that currently, 80-90 MLD untreated waste in Buddha Nullah is coming from industries while from domestic sewage it is 625 MLD. “Another 15 MLD comes from dairies for which we are setting two separate ETPs,” he said, adding, “This DPR has been prepared by our consultants. Tata Group has nothing to do with it.”
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