Thursday, January 23, 2020

A River and its Froth

The Yamuna river presents a surreal sight these days.

From a distance it looks like a scene from one of the frozen continents where the arrival of spring has broken the grip of winter. Pure white blocks of snow and ice gently float down a river which meanders and disappears into a mist. 

There has, however, never been a snowfall in Delhi and the last bits of ice in Yamuna would have melted more than a thousand kilometres upstream, long before the river broke out of the Himalayas, on to the plains of North India. What we pretend not to see in Delhi is the effects of reckless industrial and household pollution.

It seems all that froth floating down the river comes from "excess phosphate in household and factory -use detergents and bars". Why are these pollutants not being removed at source? The answer lies in a mix of apathy and convoluted policies and rules.

The Central Pollution Control Board has set standards on the quality of effluent discharge but is unable to enforce them because there are simply not enough treatment plants. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS 4955, 4956, 8080 and 9458) specifies the minimum levels of phosphates to be included in detergents but leaves it to the industry to decide the upper limit!

While this reasoning sounds plausible it does not really add up. India is not self-sufficient in phosphates so it imports it in large quantities - especially for the fertiliser industry. According to PIB we imports nearly 5 million tonnes of rock phosphate, 2.5 million tonnes of phosphoric acid and 3 million tonnes of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) annually.

Why would industries want to use excess phosphate when it is an expensive imported commodity? Or is the phosphate used by fertiliser manufactures different from the one used by detergent manufacturers?


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