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Is it time for Bhopal to deliver on water front?

Manoj Misra

Any city, big or small is in many ways an organic entity. It consumes (energy, water and food) and it discards (air, solid and liquid wastes). A ‘smart’ (popular euphemism) city would endeavour to consume smartly (no more than needed) and discard smartly (no pollution of atmosphere, land and surface or ground water).

Magnificent Upper Lake of Bhopal


It took me all 20 years to return in 2017 to Bhopal. Having spent all those years in Delhi and seen the national capital degenerate into an almost unmanageable human habitation I was glad to be back to a place where early morning air still smelt fresh and municipal supply water was potable without resort to an RO machine. So when Bhopal in 2018 was declared the second (after Indore) most clean (swatch) city in a national survey I started to look around and assess for myself if the designation was well placed.
Having spent more than a decade grappling with the issues of river Yamuna and water in Delhi, my attention in Bhopal obviously got attracted to the state of water and its management in Bhopal.

Upper lake and Bhopal skyline

Any city, big or small is in many ways an organic entity. It consumes (energy, water and food) and it discards (air, solid and liquid wastes). A ‘smart’ (popular euphemism) city would endeavour to consume smartly (no more than needed) and discard smartly (no pollution of atmosphere, land and surface or ground water). Let us see how Bhopal performs on just its water front?

A city while consuming fresh water produces broadly three kinds of waste (grey) water all with a definite end destination. Sources and scales of these are at households (including institutional spaces), city and industries level. Households produce sewage (bathroom and kitchen reject); City produces water rejected from its various components (market place, transportation, beautification works, water works and sanitation lines etc) and storm period run off; while Industries produce some sewage and lots of industrial effluents.

The end destination of each of these are individual septic tanks/soak pits in case of unsewered households; Storm water drains for storm period surface runoff and in case of a city with sanitation lines (in sewered areas) closed pipes, often underground leading to a sewage treatment facility. Industries would of course treat its effluent at an effluent treatment plant and recycle most of its treated water. An industry would ideally be a zero discharge unit.

Bhopal is not only waste water delinquent but visibly polluting too.

Against the above, what I found and it didn’t surprise me coming from Delhi that Bhopal is not only waste water delinquent but visibly polluting too. That the problem is still under the carpet is to my understanding because of the scale. City is still small enough for a full blown crisis situation to unfold itself. But this is also an opportunity to set things right while there still is time at hand.

Narmada pipeline

Narmada water appears to have provided a sense of plenty (except when pumping against gravity falters at times) to the city and its managers. A sense of plenty can make anyone including a city notoriously wasteful. A recipe for disaster is then not far off.

Reportedly Bhopal treats at its 7 sewage treatments plants only 17 percent (50 MLD) of all (300 MLD) the sewage that it produces. Most of the storm water drains in the city are today doubling up also as receiver of its solid waste (of all possible kinds) and liquid waste including untreated sewage and industrial effluents. Narmada water appears to have provided a sense of plenty (except when pumping against gravity falters at times) to the city and its managers. A sense of plenty can make anyone including a city notoriously wasteful. A recipe for disaster is then not far off.

True mark of a swatch and smart city would be its adequate and functional waste water (sewage and industrial) capabilities when its storm water drains carry nothing but only storm period runoff in nalas (drains) that are no longer termed ‘ganda’ (dirty) but are as they should be the welcome greenways of the city? Ready to take the challenge Bhopal!
Words: 590


The author, Manoj Misra, is a former forest officer. He convenes the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a civil society consortium. Manoj Misra was the Executive Director of the PEACE Institute Charitable Trust and Convenor. He can be contacted at yamunajiye@gmail.com.

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