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Water Pollution in India

Water is probably one of the most important life supporting commodities. Seah (2015) notes that water gives rise to life. In addition, it is very useful to people owing to its many uses that include: drinking, cooking, recreation, agriculture, transport, and fishing among others. Indeed, the United Nations is committed to clean water and sanitation as outlined under Sustainable Development Goal 6. It believes that sustainable water resources management and access to safe water as well as sanitation are crucial in unlocking economic growth and development (United Nations Environment Programme, 2018). It adds that water deficiencies reduce food security and incomes of farmers. Therefore, water-related ecosystems and biodiversity must be managed to make agriculture and foods sectors, and national economies more resilient to variability in rainfall and meet citizens’ needs. However, water is under serious threat in various countries across the world because of pollution. This paper analyses the water pollution situation in India. Murty and Kumar (2011) note that the situation in India is dreadful as 70% of its surface and groundwater is contaminated by toxic, biological, organic and nonorganic pollutants. It also highlights the steps taken by the national government to address this menace.


Owa (2014) notes that water pollution majorly arises from human activities such as agricultural, industrial, and commercial practices. In India, these activities are also responsible for the serious water pollution conditions. Farmers always use chemicals such as pesticides in their farms to hinder bug infestations as well as other diseases from attacking their crops (Rajshree, 2011). They also use farm chemicals to boost their produce. When these substances seep into the ground or washed away to rivers and other water bodies, they contaminate it leading to pollution. Also, the chemicals applied by homeowners to their lawns infiltrate into groundwater or run-off into the rivers and local streams. Industrial processes that emit hazardous wastes containing heavy metals are also discharged into rivers. Gopal (2003) notes that river Ganga’s main pollutants come from city sewerage, textile, distillery, sugar, industrial, and rubber factory wastes.

Construction industries have also been polluting water by disposing plastics, lubricants, cement, and metals into rivers. Additionally, transport activities have been linked to oil spills that may then end up in water bodies. The drips of fuel, oil, gasoline or fluids from vehicles and industrial machinery are carried by rainwater runoff into rivers. In addition, shipping activities and transport have had continual spills and drips that contaminate the water. In India, around 80% of untreated sewerage also flows directly into water bodies (Presse, 2017). Other causes of water pollution in India include religious practices like the incineration of dead in river Ganges, overpopulation, and loose enforcement of laws (Seah, 2015).

Water pollution has made this commodity to become scarce in supply because there are areas that it has been declared unsafe for consumption or use in other activities (Murty & Kumar, 2011). When pollutants such as heavy metals enter water bodies, they become dangerous to marine life. The negative and domino effect is felt when people consume fish that has ingested heavy metals. As Rajshree (2011) notes, humans develop serious health problems such as infertility, cancer, typhoid, malaria, and developmental issues in infants, and even deaths. Water bodies have also been damaged by debris and sediment run offs. Water pollution has also been associated with flooding when severe rains fall causing deaths and devastating destructions (Chandrashekhar, 2018). Untreated sewer also contains hazardous chemicals that pollute water and make it poisonous for aquatic life.

Prime Minister Modi’s government is pursuing some flagship projects to clean up India’s rivers as witnessed from the already restored Sabarmati River and the $3 billion initiative to clean Ganges (Chandrashekhar, 2018). If these initiatives are taken seriously and accorded political goodwill, the government will be successful. However, in case of leniency, its plans will fail. First, the local individuals, corporations and other stakeholders should be engaged in the cleanup exercise. Second, an agency should be constituted to develop measures that will support pollution prevention at the source. Third, the government should set aside a fund for pollution prevention and redress.

Janak Daftary, an environmental activist working with an NGO, Jal Biradari, which is involved in water conservation, was shocked when he saw how Mithi River had been polluted and exclaimed, “This is how a river is killed!” The river flows through Mumbai City. He observed that on one side, there were garages with car parts, oils, paints and metals flowing into the river. On the other side, there were scrap metal dealers; small shelters made of plastics, tins, and bricks; and a middle-house whose wall plunged into the river. In the river, he saw a dark sludge-like flowing matter with floating rubbers, plastics and clothes (Chandrashekhar, 2018). Also, Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer working with an Asian firm noted that 500 liters of industrial waste and 1.5 billion liters of raw sewer were entering Yamuna river daily (Chalasani, 2018). In her opinion, Seah (2015) noted that the problem could not be solved by one person, but rather, by a collaboration of many actors.

In conclusion, water pollution problem in India requires a multi-agency approach to be resolved. In other words, it calls for the involvement of locals, NGOs, community, states, national government, and international parties. Presse (2017) reports that laboratory tests revealed that almost the whole nation’s water had nitrate levels above the prescribed limits Therefore, in the event that this problem is unresolved, India may have less than 5% of its surface and groundwater uncontaminated in 20 years’ time. Someone wishing to pursue a career in water pollution prevention and management may get education in various disciplines such as environmental engineering, environmental law, and biology. As advised by Gopal (2003), an individual willing to pursue this profession must acquire knowledge on heavy metals distribution in water, sediments, fauna and flora.


Visual Aids

Figure 1. Satellite map of India showing the polluted rivers

Source: Google Maps (2018)

Table 1. Sector-wise Generation of Industrial Wastewater and Discharge into Ganga River

Type of IndustryWastewater Generation (MLD)
Food, dairy and beverage6.5
Textile, Bleaching & Dyeing11.4
Pulp & Paper201.4

Source: Ministry of Water Services, Government of India (2018)

Figure 2. Graphical presentation of effluent Discharged into Ganga River

Figure 3. An environmental awareness picture showing the state of polluted rivers in India

Obtained from: Chandrashekhar (2018)

Table 2. A timeline indicating efforts mad to save the ailing Indian rivers

4/1/2017Committee resolves to save 5 Prune rivers
6/2/2017Sangrun village clean up Mutha and Mula Rivers
5/3/2017Thousands join to save Mumbai’s rivers
29/05/2017Farmers and conservationists join to save Cauvery River
28/10/2017Residents and activists ask government to save Ennore Creek
3/1/2018Need to protect Kosasthalai River echoed


Ministry of Water Services, Government of India. (2018, May 28). Discharge of sewage into Ganga River. Retrieved from Ministry of Water Services, Government of India: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/Discharge%20of%20Sewage%20into%20Ganga%20River.pdf

Chalasani, R. (2018, September 26). Toxic foam pollutes India’s sacred Yamuna River. Retrieved from ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/International/toxic-foam-pollutes-indias-sacred-yamuna-river/story?id=57995346

Chandrashekhar, V. (2018, February 15). Dying waters: India struggles to clean up its polluted urban rivers. Retrieved from Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies: https://e360.yale.edu/features/dying-waters-india-struggles-to-clean-up-its-polluted-urban-rivers

Google Maps. (2018). Satellite map of India’s most polluted rivers. Retrieved from Google, Inc.:





Gopal, K. (2003). River pollution in india and its management. New Delhi: APH Publishing.

Murty, M., & Kumar, S. (2011). India Infrsatructure Report 2011-Water: Policy and performance for Sustainable Development. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Owa, F. (2014). Water pollution: sources, effects, control and management. International Letters of Natural Sciences, Vol. 1-6, 1-4.

Presse, A. F. (2017, December 6). India river pollution: 80 percent of Indian sewage flows untreated into country’s rivers. Retrieved from Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/05/india-river-pollution-sewage_n_2810213.html

Rajshree. (2011). Causes of water pollution. Shikshamitra, Vol. 3 (4), 1-3.

Seah, Y. (2015, April 9). Water pollution in India. Retrieved from National University of Singapore: https://blog.nus.edu.sg/h2oindia/

United Nations Environment Programme. (2018). GOAL 6: Clean water and sanitation. Retrieved from United Nations Environment Programme: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/sustainable-development-goals/why-do-sustainable-development-goals-matter/goal-6

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