The gross pollution of Indian rivers has been staring us in the face for years. This, despite vast amounts of funds allocated for their clean-up. A study by The Energy and Resources Institute with Unicef reveals that one-fourth of children living along Delhi's Yamuna river have over 10 micrograms of lead in their blood, a high level causing health problems like hypertension and slow cognitive development. There's powerful evidence that pollution is the cause. Lead levels found in the blood of children exposed to the polluted north Delhi riverbank were eight times higher than found on cleaner stretches in upstream Haryana. Worse, the danger spreads. Toxins in the river seep into the soil, entering the food chain through vegetables grown on site and sold widely.

There can be no sharper warning about health risks from river pollution, caused by industrial effluent disposal and untreated sewage released into rivers. The practice of dumping chemicals from industries into rivers must be countered with stringent penalties for violation of norms. The Supreme Court had directed checks on polluting industries like dyeing units while advocating restrictions on plastic bags choking the environment. But a recent Comptroller and Auditor General report states that more is needed. It notes that from 428 grossly polluting industries in Delhi alone, only 80 had set up effluent treatment plants. Nor have Delhi authorities completed adequate sewage treatment lines. So, untreated sewage - growing with urban populations - is being discharged in alarming quantities into rivers like the Yamuna. Quick completion of treatment facilities with strict checks on polluting industries will bring relief to rivers and those sewn into their ecosystems. Politicians, media and civil society must help affected communities by building pressure on the urgent need for environmental governance. The route ahead is clear - why can't rivers be so?

Tags: River

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