Among the many contributors to the river, the tanneries around Kanpur alone add 50 million litres per day of waste to the river. Of this, only 9 million litres per day waste is treated before being discharged into the river. The rest is disposed of directly without treatment.

If entire Kanpur area is taken into account, the district generates 400 million litres per day of waste. The three UK-funded sewage treatment plants (STPs), the first to be set up on the Ganga, can however treat only 170 million litres per day waste per day. If those treatment plants were upgraded the Ganga could have been a lot cleaner reports the Times of India. “If the level of chromium in the tannery waste was 2 mg per litre as it was earlier, it is 180 to 190mg per litre now. The design parameters of the plant are not such that they can treat the toxic tannery waste of the present day,” said sources in Kanpur Jal Nigam.

Out of the three STPs, two with an installed capacity of 5 million litres per day and 130 million litres per day which were set up in 1986 and 1996 respectively, treat domestic waste. The third one, a 36 million litres per day capacity plant, set up in 1999 to treat industrial waste can only treat only 9 million litres per day tannery discharge.

While Kanpur’s generation of domestic and industrial waste has increased many times over the years, the treatment plants are functioning at a 20-year old installed capacity.

Around 400 tanneries located at Jajmau in Kanpur are one of the major centres for processing of raw hides.

With no efforts made to upgrade the STPs in keeping with the city’s requirements, the wastewater is disposed back into the Ganga and Pandu river and used for irrigation. But since only a small amount of it is treated, a study by the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) in 2006 shows high toxicity in vegetables grown in Jajmau area.

“A 50 million litres per day treatment plant is proposed to be set up in the same premises where 36 million litres per day plant is functional in Jajmau,” said sources in Ganga PCU, Kanpur.

General manager, Ganga Pollution Control Unit, Kanpur, Sharad Kumar Semvel, said, “STPs of 210 million litres per day, 43 million litres per day and two of 42 million litres per day are under-construction and will start functioning by end of this year if the funds are sanctioned.”