Jojari River: Black Water Floods
By Sonia Bhaskar, December 8, 2011 at 5.30pm on the Jodhpur-Barmer Highway, Rajasthan.

Our bus makes an abrupt stop in the middle of the road. Cause of the stoppage - an unexpected sight of a waterlogged state highway, in a region that doesn’t get enough rain even in the monsoons. That is not all; there is the welcome sight of lush green fields of wheat and mustard along this water body. What should have been a happy story of resilience for the dry and arid region of the Thar in reality hides a gloomy tale of the perils of unplanned urbanization symptomatic of most rivers in the country.

This river is the sole outlet for all of Jodhpur city’s waste -- sewage and industrial, whether treated or untreated. The state of Jojari today is the result of Jodhpur deciding to develop its sewage system and formalize domestic waste collection and disposal system at the turn of this century.

New sewage network
Jodhpur is Rajasthan’s second-largest city with a population of over 12 lakhs (1.2 million). The historic city didn’t have a sewage system till 2002, or until the city administration used a government scheme -- the Urban Infrastructure Development of Small and Medium cities – to connect city residents to a piped sewage system.

"December 8, 2011 at 5.30pm on the Jodhpur-Barmer Highway, Rajasthan."
The project was executed in two phases. Phase one, between 2002 and 2007, was executed by the Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project, in which 430 km of sewer lines were built together with a mechanized 20 million litre per day (mld) sewage treatment plant (STP) in Nagri to treat domestic sewage. The city added another 125 km of sewer lines and another 50 mld STP in phase two in Salawas district, between 2008 and 2011. The second phase was executed by Jodhpur Development Authority and partly funded by Asian Development Bank at a cost Rs. 61 crores (Rs. 610 million).

Despite these sewer lines, 40 per cent of Jodhpur’s population still lies outside the sewage network. According to the JDA’s Master Plan, an additional Rs. 553 crores (Rs. 5.53 billion) investment is needed to bring this excluded population into the sewerage network. The plan also calls for the need to ramp up an additional 75 MLD of treatment capacity to deal with the expected sewage deluge.

At present, the STPs cannot cope with the quantum of waste being collected by the sewage network, with only about 50 per cent of the sewage is treated; the rest makes its way into Jojari, untreated. In fact, the second of the sewage plants at Salawas is still in testing stages, so almost 80 per cent of the untreated wastewater has been making its way into the river untreated.

TABLE 1: Jodhpur’s Sewage Network Status

Water Supply 230 MLD
Total Sewage Generated 160-180 MLD
Capacity of Sewage Lines 135 MLD
Total Sewage Treatment Capacity
Plant 1: 20 MLD (Cost: Rs. 4.25 crores)
Plant 2: 50 MLD (Cost: Rs. 35 crores)
70 MLD
Total Untreated Sewage 65 MLD

The Jodhpur Nagar Nigam has been given the responsibility of managing the STPs. Off-record, nagar nigam sources point blame to the Jodhpur Development Authority for the under-utilisation of STPs, as this is the body empowered with the project execution and the maintenance of STPs. The Nigam’s job is only to manage the STP facilities once it is built. On their part, JDA members say that only two STP plants could have been commissioned with available funds. They say all efforts are now being made to implement the Rs. 500 crore (Rs. 5 billion) Master Plan for Jodhpur. Till then the Jojari River will continue to pollute downstream.

“What is happening in Jojari is an inundation of waste water from Jodhpur,” says B R Pawar, regional manager at Rajasthan state pollution control board. Pawar underplayed the role of industrial effluents in the Jojari inundation in comparison to the sewage issue.

From Blue to Black: How the water is affected by the chemicals from industries

Jodhpur is known for its numerous textile dyeing, steel polishing and re-rolling industry. According to the State Pollution Board, some amounts of untreated effluents finds its way into the river, as the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) set up in Sangaria district is receiving more waste than its 20 mld capacity. The board claims that the extra amount of waste that is reaching the CETP is actually untreated waste from some residential areas in the roughly 5-7 km stretch between the CETP and Jojari river. This excess waste water bypasses the CETP and reaches the river directly.

Jojari’s problem has intensified in the last one year. Given that the river has traditionally been a seasonal river with very little to no water in the dry months, the real impact of the sewage dumping was felt downstream only about a year ago. Two Public Interest Litigations have already been filed this year in the Rajasthan High Court to seek explanation and action from different government agencies for the Jojari crisis. Summons have been issued to the government departments and the matter is pending in the court.

This issue got aggravated due to good rains during the monsoons. Jojari river carrying Jodhpur’s waste got excess water from the rains and flooded the farm lands five kilometers on both banks of the river in roughly a 20 kilometer stretch, completely destroying the Kharif crop sown around the monsoons this year.

As Kupa Ram, a farmer in this region explains, “Farming is the prime occupation and is largely rain fed. So, the two to three months of monsoons are critical. Needless to say the unexpected flooding was a huge setback for the families dependent on agriculture.”

Rough calculations by local NGOs estimate that about 600 families are badly affected. These same families are now using this unexpected bonus, contaminated water, to make up for the losses suffered during the traditional agriculture cycle around monsoons. As per the samples of the river water tested by State Pollution Control Board, the water of the river has been declared fit for irrigation. (Table 2). They have now planted a second crop in the year, a feat unheard of in this rainfed region. So wheat and mustard, which require more water than the traditional Bajra and Moth are being planted to make up for the failed first round of crops, using the polluted waters.

TABLE 2: Jojari River Water Sample Test

Parameters Result Standard for Irrigation on Land
pH 7.52 5.5-9.0
Total Suspended Solids mg/l 81 200
Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)mg/l 51 -
Bio-Chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) mg/l 23 (3days at 27 degree Celsius) 200 (5days at 20 degree celsius)
Oil & Grease mg/l NT 10
Chloride as CL mg/l 687 600
Floride as F mg/l 1.1 -

Source: Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board, Regional Office, Jodhpur (Report filed on 5/9/2011)

“One of the other reasons aggravating Jojari’s problem seems to be the fact that the river’s natural flow has gotten blocked out in Barmer district,” says Siddharth Mahajan, district collector in Jodhpur.

Being a seasonal river, Jojari remains dry for most part of the year, sometimes longer in poor rainfall years. When there is enough water, like in the last two years, Jojari traditionally would have flowed from northeast in Nagaur district, entered Barmer district and flowed into the Luni river in the southwest. But at the moment it is getting abruptly blocked in Barmer district and is cut off from the Luni river. This is because farms and other developments have come up in the river’s course during its dry spell. This blockage is what is causing the river to overflow and explains the water logging even in the dry season.

Ambitious plans
Efforts are now being made as an afterthought to add additional STP to bridge the gap between sewage being collected and treated. Tenders have been invited for adding an additional 50 mld capacity to the existing Salawas plant.

Regarding industrial effluent, the Pollution Control Board is also investing Rs. 9.63 crore (Rs. 96 million) to lay pipelines to segregate industrial and domestic waste, which is presently getting mixed up and reaching the common effluent treatment plant set up the treat industrial effluents. The Board is hoping to complete this pipeline work in the next three to four months.

While there is little city authorities can do to prevent the dumping of Jodhpur’s wastewater into the Jojari, the solution seems to be in ensuring that most of the wastewater gets treated before reaching the river.

Foe now however, there’s little chance that the quantum of wastewater being discharged into the river will reduce. State and district authorities have plans to build channels to reconnect the Jojari with Luni river, a challenging task since the Luni lies in Barmer district, with its own administration and funding mechanisms. Conservative estimates suggest that more than Rs. 650 crores (Rs. 6.5 billion) are required and this does not include major expenses such as land acquisition.

There is also talk in administrative circles to make the treatment plants commercially viable by selling the treated waters from the STP for irrigation purposes.

A meeting in November convened by Jodhpur Development Authority, Nagar Nigam officials were asked to explore how to develop the Jojari River front on the lines of Kankaria Lake in Ahmedabad in order to promote tourism. Unofficially figures of Rs. 1200 crores (Rs. 12 billion) are being quoted, but some sceptics within the administration feel such plans may never see light of the day as the river may never have enough water in the dry season to support waterfront tourism. This is perhaps symptomatic of skewed planning – think up even more capital-intensive and ambitious plans even as the Jojari’s black waters flow unabated.