India is the land of rivers. There are more than 20 river basins spread across the entire subcontinent spanning different geographical regions. This feature has led to India being tagged as a megadiversity and land with rich water resources. All the river basins provide irrigational facilities to all regions, thus adding support to the rich agricultural heritage of the country. Apart from this, the rivers of India together suffice the water consumption requirements of over 1.3 billion people.

However, the harsh reality is that almost all the Indian rivers you can name have become polluted beyond permissible and acceptable limits and most of them now rank among the most polluted rivers in the world. Several reports by the CPCB and other state and local departments state that industries cause around 10% of the total pollution to the waters in India. Several industrial zones across the country are located on the banks of the rivers and constantly let untreated and contaminated effluents into the rivers. The rivers and lakes have become so polluted that the waters are unfit for use and consumption.

So here is a quick case study of the some of the most polluted rivers of India and the efforts undertaken by the government and various authorities to revive and rejuvenate these rivers.

Ganges (Ganga)

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Considered to be the holiest river in Hinduism, the Ganges or Ganga originates at the Gangotri glacier in the western Himalayas and flows through the Gangetic plain of North India, and then enters Bangladesh, where it meets the Bay of Bengal. In 2007, Ganges was ranked as one of the five most polluted river in the world. Owing to its religious association, the contaminants polluting this river are numerous and varied. The pollutants range from toxic industrial waste to sewage to plastics and innumerable religious offerings made to the river each day.

Added to this, people bathe in the ‘holy’ waters, wash their clothes, cook on its banks, and dispatch dead bodies. According to a recent study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Ganges is so full of toxic pollutants that people staying close to its banks are more susceptible to cancer than anywhere else in India.

Revival efforts

The most prominent effort made till date for mitigating the pollution level of river Ganga was the Ganga Action Plan also known as the Clean Ganga MissionThe act was previously administered by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) but now has been shifter under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) administered by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation. The Ganga Action Plan was, launched in 1986 by then Prime Minister of India, Shri Rajeev Gandhi.

The primary objective of the Ganga Action plan was pollution abatement, to improve the water quality of the river by Interception, diversion and treatment of domestic sewage and present toxic and industrial chemical wastes from identified grossly polluting units entering into the river. besides aiming at improving the water quality of river Ganga is to serve as a model to demonstrate the methodology for improving the water quality of other polluted rivers.

The project was divided into two major phases:

  • Phase 1

Budget allocated for this phase was ₹350 crore. The primary objective of phase 1 was restoring the river water quality to the ‘Bathing Class’ standard which is as follows:

  • Phase 2

The second phase of Ganga Action Plan was started in stages between 1993 & 1996. Budget allocated for this phase was ₹1,498.66 crore. The primary objective of phase 2 was to employ pollution abatement programmes on the important tributaries of river Ganga like, the Yamuna, Gomati, and Damodar which directly discharge into the river Ganga and are heavily polluted.

Though the plan looks promising on paper, the river water quality of Ganga has actually shown discernible improvement. While phase 1 of the Ganga Action Plan was moderately successful, but phase 2 showed better results as more stringent laws and protocols were incorporated into the Indian constitution over time. The basic results of phase 1 of the plan showed that

  • 35% of the sewage generated was tackled.
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) came down from 12 mg/l to 4mg/l
  • More than 100 mld at Kanpur and Varanasi has been taken up for interception and diversion.
  • Only 35 Sewage treatment plants (STPs) were set up.

The basic results of phase 2 of the plan showed that

  • 65% of the sewage generated was tackled.
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) remained static
  • 63 Sewage treatment plants (STPs) were set up.

The updated Clean Ganga Mission envisages a five-tier structure at national, state and district level to take measures for prevention, control, and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga and to ensure the continuous adequate flow of water so as to rejuvenate the Ganga. As per the guidelines, 5 major states are to be involved in the implementation of this plan.

  • Uttarakhand
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Bihar
  • Jharkhand
  • West Bengal

This mission was allocated a total budget of ₹2,037 crores which was embarked for Ganga cleaning in the 2014 budget. As per inside reports, ₹4,000 crores were already spent Ganga cleaning by the central government between 1985-2015. Due to improper management of funds and unsatisfactory results of the mission so far, the mission in 2015 has been given a ₹20,000 crore boost by the central government. This new budget is to be spent on the following major pollution interventions and parameters like

  • Interception, diversion, and treatment of wastewater flowing through open drains using bio-remediation and other innovative technologies.
  • Setting up new Sewage treatment plants (STPs) and Effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and upgradation/augmentation of existing STPs/ETPs.
  • Other intermediate short-term measures to arrest pollution at exit points on the riverfront to prevent the inflow of sewage.


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Originating from the Yamunotri glacier in the Lower Himalayas, Yamuna is the largest tributary of the Ganges. It flows through several states of North India and creates a very fertile and alluvial region at its confluence with the Ganges. By far, it is the second most polluted river in India, after the Ganges. Millions of tons of household garbage are discharged into the river each day, and every attempt to curb this has failed to date. Traces of poisonous insecticides have also been found in the Yamuna, recently. Extreme urbanization and soil erosion are also serious causes of concern.

Rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth have all contributed to the increased level of pollution in the Yamuna river in Delhi, the Capital of India, which dumps around 58% of its waste into the river. Various reports suggest that in order to support aquatic life and day-to-day activities of the people living on the banks of the river Yamuna, it needs almost 3.46 billion liters per day (BLD) of the fresh flow of water. This amount is equal to the amount of drinking water that Delhi needs on a daily basis.

There are 40 STP units sanctioned in the city, out which only 32 are operational, 7 are non-operational and 1 is under construction. Wastewater generation in Delhi is 3800 mld while the wastewater treatment capacity developed so far is of only 3060 mld. The river downstream from Wazirabad is ecologically dead as it has no aquatic life. Low levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) and a very high degree of pollution. Today the 22-km stretch along the national capital has virtually no aquatic life due to over 20 drains that pour untreated sewage and other waste into the river.

Revival efforts

The biggest effort that has been employed by the central government to revive the Yamuna is the Yamuna Action Plan (YAP), one of the largest river restoration projects in the country, is a bilateral project between the Government of India and Japan formally launched in 1993. The Japanese Government has provided a financial grant of 17.7 billion yen to carry out the project.

The plan was divided into three major phases, YAP-I, YAP-II, and YAP-III. The YAP-I covered Delhi, eight towns in Uttar Pradesh and six towns in Haryana. Under YAP-II, the emphasis was on the 22-km stretch of Yamuna in Delhi. Under the first two phases, the cleaning of polluted Yamuna was carried out in line with the level of the biological oxygen demand of Yamuna and promote biological cleaning of the Yamuna’s sewage. Under these two phases, 286 schemes, which also included 39 sewage treatment plants (STPs), were completed in 21 towns of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana at a cost of Rs 1,453.17 crore and sewage treatment capacity of 767.25 million liters per day has been created.

While under the phase III, the Delhi stretch is being given prime emphasis as it is the most critical stretches of Yamuna, where most of the city’s sewage is dumped. The YAP-III, at an estimated cost of Rs 1,656 crore which was initiated in 2013 and WAS SUPPOSED TO BE COMPLETED by 2015. But the lack of management and improper use of funds has choked the plan to death and the condition of the Yamuna has only become worse.

Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has created a Sewerage Master Plan 2031, according to which, there are plans of laying sewerage systems in those locations which do not have sewer lines. It will set up a 59-km-long interceptor sewer along the three major drains of Delhi: supplementary, Shahdara and Najafgarh, which will treat sewage from around 190 subsidiary small drains and take it to the nearest sewage treatment plant (STP).

As a substantial side project, the central government is trying to develop traditional water harvesting methods, reviving the Yamuna and its ancient channels, and percolation of monsoon waters to the underground aquifers. This is because Delhi’s aquifers are almost empty and the water table has fallen more than 7.5 meters in less than 20 years.


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Sabarmati works as a lifeline to numerous cities and towns in both Rajasthan and Gujarat, including Gujarat’s commercial capital Ahmedabad. 48 km of the river length is in Rajasthan, while 323 km is in Gujarat. Sabarmati has become dry over time and now the perennial status of the river depends on the Narmada canal for water.

As per the CPCB report, Sabarmati River in Gujarat is the third most polluted river. Fecal coliform (F.Coli) bacteria were found to be the highest in this river. Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), two crucial parameters to measure pollution, which indicates the concentration of biological microorganisms and organic pollutants in water have been recorded to be 13 times and 6 times the desired levels.

According to a 2011 audit report of the river by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that

  1. Biological oxygen demand (BOD) had increased by 290%
  2. Fecal coliform (F.Coli) had increased by 860%
  3. Total coliform (T.Coli) had increased by 480%

Furthermore, millions of liters of “treated” effluent water from 3,365 units of Vatva, Odhav, and Naroda pumped into the river by the GIDC Megapipeline at the Vasna-Narol Bridge. The river that flows downstream from the Ahmedabad-Vasana barrage has been noted to be highly polluted due to perennial waste discharges mainly from municipal drainage and industries. The river gets further polluted due to the immersion of Ganpati idols and worship materials by people post the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, a popular festival among the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Revival efforts

The most significant effort for the revival of the condition of the river has been done in the form of the Sabarmati Riverfront Project. It is one of the few most developed waterfront areas in India. The project spans across a 203 hectares area along the course of the river in Ahmedabad. The project was proposed in the1960s and has been designed to enhance the environmental improvement, social infrastructure, and sustainable development.

However, contrasting from the aesthetic value of the project, the project hasn’t really been successful in keeping a control on the pollution activities and levels across the stretch. Improper management and a callous attitude of the local public has deteriorated the condition of the river over time. Many local and national news channels have reported maintenance and sweeping staff at Sabarmati riverfront dumping the waste into the river. Dust collected after road sweeping was put into the river through the rainwater screens put on bridge road instead of collecting and disposing of properly.

The local public often disposes of garbage and waste from over the bridges into the river, as a result, the water is full of waste and plastic material which has led to pollution, stink and hygiene issues. The sad part is that all this has occurred even after the nationwide big talks of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Another astonishing fact is that the river flows just adjacent to the massive Torrent thermal power plant in the Sabarmati region, whose ill-treated effluents are often disposed into it. The current condition of the river is that there are algae, froth and wild plants growing on the surface and covering major sections of the river along with multiple garbage heaps here and there along the banks. This is gradually degrading the water’s quality by causing an alarming rise in BOD, COD and pH levels and also diminishing the Dissolved Oxygen level, causing damage to the aquatic flora and fauna in the river.


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The lifeline of Madhya Pradesh, Narmada is polluting fast. A huge quantity of waste from cities and villages situated along the river and effluents discharged from industries have already pushed the quality of water down. The pollution level increases further alarmingly as it flows down the hills to the tribal-dominated districts and as the river flows through its course, municipal waste of 19 cities including Amarkantak and Dindori, Mandla, Bargi, Jabalpur, Gotegaon, Gadarwara, Pipariya, Narsinghpur, Babai, Hoshangabad, Kareli- Barmanghat, Harda, Badwaha, Badwani, Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, and Mandeleshwar is impacting the health of the river.

Revival efforts

The Madhya Pradesh government has taken up the task of purification of river Narmada considered to be the lifeline of the state. The Urban Administration Department has prepared a survey to purify the river within a period of ten years. The urban bodies inhabited on the banks of the river Narmada will be entrusted with the task of preventing the river’s pollution.

However, Madhya Pradesh High Court (HC) has recently rapped the state administration and Pollution Control Board for their futile efforts to check the pollution in the river. The court also directed them to submit an affidavit within four weeks, giving details about the steps taken so far to check pollution in the river. According to the CPCB officials, neither any action has been taken against the factories discharging hazardous effluents in river nor any other measure has been taken to resolve the problem. Sample report of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, according to which the current Narmada water has been ruled out as ‘drinkable’ and can be used only for washing and cleaning clothes.


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The Gomti river is one of the major sources of water for Lucknow. The River is polluted at several points of its course through the 940-kilometer (580 mi) stretch of alluvial plains in Uttar Pradesh. The major sources of pollution are industrial waste and effluent from sugar factories and distilleries and residential wastewater and sewage. The Gomti has 40 natural drains, of which 23 are major. The drains, which carried surplus water into the river during the monsoon and recharged the underground water table, were reduced to carry residential and industrial sewage into the river.

The river has been deteriorated by the industrial effluents in the past few years and several monitoring reports by the state pollution control board reveal the water is unfit for consumption. A previous CAG report revealed that the Gomti is even more polluted than the Ganga in Varanasi. The river has overtime collected large amounts of human and industrial pollutants as they flow through an area of about 18 million people. The high pollution levels threaten the Gomti’s aquatic life. Recently, several locals and municipality officials have been struggling to scoop up thousands of dead fish from the ‘sewage-enriched’ waters of the Gomti.

Shockingly, two organisms Solariella (Molluscs) and Hemicypris arorai, that survive only in polluted rivers were found in the Gomti river. These organisms are known to survive in highly alkaline water (ph values of 8.2 to 9.1).

Revival efforts

Crores of rupees may have been spent on the cleaning and beautification of the Gomti river but its downstream has been completely ignored. On 25 July 2008, the foundation stone of a 345-million-liter (91,000,000 US gal) capacity Bharwara Sewage Treatment Plant was laid. The plant, promoted as Asia’s largest, failed. The Government agencies planned many major projects, such as the Bharwara STP and mechanical dredging, most were unsuccessful.

In 2012, government and the Lucknow Development Authority began a feasibility study with the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee to build a river-front similar to Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. However various environmental experts and agencies warned the government about the consequences of reducing the Gomti to less than 250 meters wide. At 250 meters wide (with walls on both sides), the river’s velocity would increase by 20 percent and its bed-shear stress by 30 percent. The high flood level (HFL) would increase by 1.25 meters and as a result, the current embankments would have to be raised by 1.5 meters. Two bridges would be threatened with collapse under flood conditions.


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Apart from Ganga and Yamuna, Godavari also holds the special religious importance in India. The Godavari is one of the sacred rivers in India. Sometimes also referred to as the ‘Ganga of the South’, the river is under the serious threat as a result of the growing Urbanization and industrialization. The river has been dying at an alarming rate due to the pollution created by the factories. The river has been dying at an alarming rate due to the pollution created by the factories. The main reason behind the pollution of Godavari river is the tiny Nakavaggu rivulet, which joins the Manjira, tributary of the Godavari. Nakavaggu rivulet supports no life at all. Rivulet is surrounded by the highly productive agricultural land, which is polluted by a large number of industries lying near the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad.

However, the 72 industries in the Patancheru Industrial area dumping the chemicals and waste into the water are most responsible for the pollution of the river. The river water is heavily used for agriculture, as it is the only available water source. However, the river’s water has turned the fertile soil toxic with heavy metals. The soil contains heavy metals like iron, nickel, zinc, copper, cobalt, and cadmium. Even the crop yield has suffered terribly.

The municipal sewage discharge overflows across the Nalla Channel during the monsoons, while a small amount of leak in sewage is observed across the channel during other seasons. The Godavari upstream of Rajahmundhry receive high concentrations of Pb and Cu from agricultural fields that use fertilizers and pesticides. Slowly, the water is turning poisonous for human consumption and also threatens human health. It has also given rise to some of the major diseases such as lung cancer, leukemia, and liver cancer.

Revival efforts

The government of India has been continuously taking steps to save the river water from further pollution. In 2014, Rajahmundry Municipal Corporation in Madhya Pradesh undertook a Swachh Godavari Mission under the leadership of Mayor Pantam Rajani Sesha Sai. The corporation pooled about 1,000 sanitary workers from different wards and engaged them in cleaning the river from Nalla Channel to Pushkar Ghat area.

The mayor and the municipal corporation lais stress on the need for change in the behavior of people in helping the corporation clean the estimated 200-tonne garbage that was piling up in the town on a daily basis.