UPSC Exam   »   Growing Heavy Metal Pollution in Rivers

Growing Heavy Metal Pollution in Rivers


Water pollution UPSC: Relevance

  • GS 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Heavy water pollution: Context

  • Recently, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has released a new report titled ‘State of Environment Report 2022’ where it has alarmed about the rising heavy metal pollution in Indian rivers.


River pollution in India: Key points

River monitoring station

  • Three out of every four river monitoring stations in India posted alarming levels of heavy toxic metals such as lead, iron, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, chromium and copper.
  • In about a fourth of the monitoring stations, high levels of two or more toxic metals were reported.
  • Of the 33 monitoring stations in Ganga, 10 had high levels of contaminants.
  • India has 764 river quality monitoring stations, which are spread across 117 rivers and tributaries.
  • Central Water Commission tested water samples from 688 stations for heavy metals between August 2018 and December 2020.


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Waste water treatment

  • Of the 588 water quality stations monitored for pollution, total coliform and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) were high in 239 and 88 stations across 21 States.
    • BOD is an indicator of poor wastewater treatment from industry, agriculture and domestic households.
  • Central Pollution Control Board also reported that India dumps 72% of its sewage waste without treatment. Moreover, ten States do not treat their sewage at all.


Coastline erosion

  • Over a third of India’s coastline saw some degree of erosion between 1990 and 2018.
  • Among all the states, West Bengal is the worst hit with over 60% of its shoreline under erosion due to reasons like increase in frequency of cyclones, sea level rise and anthropogenic activities such as construction of harbours, beach mining and building of dams.
  • The global average of the Ocean Health Index, which measures how sustainably humans are exploiting ocean resources has improved between 2012 and 2021. However, India’s score in the index has declined over the same period.


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Forest cover

  • India’s total forest cover has registered an increase of 0.5% between 2017 and 2021. The increase, however, was more in the open forest category, which includes commercial plantations.
  • This has happened at the cost of moderately dense forest, which is normally the area closest to human habitations.
  • At the same time, very dense forests, which absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, occupy just 3% of total forest cover.
  • India has a forest cover of 77.53 million hectares. But recorded forests—the area under the forest department— with forest cover are only 51.66 million. This gap of 25.87 million hectares —a size bigger than Uttar Pradesh— remains unaccounted.


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