Dams · Maharashtra

Pune plans more STPs while existing plants under perform and there is no attempt to fix them

Above: Children trying to understand why their River Mutha is so polluted Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Treating even 50% of its sewage is a dream that has been eluding Pune for decades. Mula, Mutha, Pavna and Indrayani Rivers crisscrossing Pune have routinely made headlines for pouring Pune’s sewage into Ujani Dam in the downstream, which supplies drinking water to several towns and villages, including the city of Solapur. All these rivers are classified as one of the 35 most polluted river stretches of India by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).[1]

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has recently agreed to extend a loan of 1000 Cr. under project ‘pollution abatement of River Mula-Mutha’.[2] Utilizing this funding PMC has proposed to build 11 new sewage treatment plants (STPs) with treatment capacity of 396 MLD. It is one of the star projects under Smart City programme and engineers of water supply department are gearing up for the construction of new STPs. As stated in the PMC newsletter of Feb 2016, the 11 new STPs will increase treatment capacity of Pune from current 477 MLD (Million Liters a Day) to 873 MLD which, it is claimed, will be sufficient to cater to sewage generation till year 2027.[3]

However, Confusion about sewage and its treatment starts right here as PMC has stated its installed sewage treatment capacity is 567 MLD and not 477 MLD in an affidavit submitted to the National Green Tribunal.

Does Pune know how much sewage it generates? Are the existing STPs functioning as designed and intended quantitatively and qualitatively? Do we know why they are not functioning as expected? Do we know who are responsible for huge gaps between promises and reality? Is anyone held accountable for these gaps? Is the governance of STPs accountable and transparent? Is there any study that shows that existing model of large centralized STPs are delivering treated sewage and clean rivers? If not is there any attempt to learn lessons from past failure and go for changes in future? Is there any participatory process before decisions are taken for future projects?

In the frenzy of building new STPs these vital questions seem to go unaddressed. Which means that we are pushing a hugely expensive model, without knowing whether the model is working or not. Looking at the falling quality of Pune’s river, it is evident that solely STP based model for cleaning rivers is failing abjectly.

The agreement with JICA

The loan agreement signed between India & JICA forms a part of National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Former Union Minister Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar, termed it a ‘historic agreement’.[4]

The loan assistance for the project has been approved by the Union Finance Ministry at an estimated cost of Rs. 990.26 Cr. The share of Central Government in project cost will be Rs. 841.72 Cr and share of PMC would be Rs. 148.54 Cr. The loan has to be repaid by Government of India in a period of 40 years, including a 10-year grace period. The project is scheduled to be completed by January, 2022.

The major components proposed under the project include:

  • Construction of 11 new Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), with treatment capacity of 396 MLD,
  • laying of 113.6 KMs of sewer lines and
  • rehabilitation of 4 existing intermediate pumping stations.

The claim is once the project is completed, the total STP capacity available in Pune will be 873 MLD, sufficient to cater to sewage generation for the year 2027. It is also said that “The project will have a significant, direct beneficial impact in terms of reduction of pollution load in the river and improvement of the quality of its water” among other collateral benefits.

Actual quantity of treated sewage remains a black box

One would expect PMC would have exact information about its sewage generation, existing STPs, their performance, sewerage network etc. However during the proceedings of a Public Interest Litigation case filed against PMC in National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to control water pollution in Mula Mutha River(s) it was revealed that PMC stands clueless about the actual quantity of sewage treated and the treatment capacity of existing plants.

PMC failed to furnish even the basic details like present and future generation of level of domestic sewage (from 2022- 2025) in the city and even  present handling capacity and performance of STPs for last six months.[5]

Court reacted strongly to this “PMC is totally at blank and seems to be totally lost for the reason it is confused about its own stand on STPs and capacity of 567 MLD” it said “PMC, who had made such categorical statement about functionality of STPs of 567 MLD put a volta face and round about to say that it was not in a position to achieve quantity of waste management in the STPs.”

According to NGT, PMC tried to give vague excuses for non-functionality of the STPs and collection of sewage and its disposal. Considering it as a serious fault on PMC & MPCB’s part, the court has imposed both departments with a fine of Rs.2 lacs each.

A comparatively better part of the river at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

It is indeed hard to imagine that PMC who celebrated the signing of 1000 Cr agreement in January 2016 was not in position to furnish even the basic details about sewage generation, sewage treatment capacity and its functioning to country’s premier environmental court.

PMC recently admitted in the print media that though the installed capacity of its existing STPs was to treat 567 MLD, only 290 MLD was being treated at present.[6] The PMC plan says that Pune generates about 744 MLD sewage. So the balance 454 MLD – over 60% of the sewage – is going into the river untreated.

That is provided its claim about 290 MLD sewage is correct, which is not, as we will shortly see.


Figure 1: Ambil Odha (Photo: Jeevit Nadi Abhhiyan)

2.jpgFigure 2: Ambil Odha (Photo: Jeevit Nadi Abhiyan)

Discrepancies in quantity of sewage generated

One stumbles across different figures while finding out Pune’s sewage generation. City Sanitation Plan prepared by PMC in 2011 states that the total sewage generation is 744 MLD. of this, 567 MLD i.e. (71% of sewage generated) was treated and 177 MLD (29%) was discharged untreated.

However the City Development Plan (2012) estimates sewage generation in Pune at 575.2 MLD and the present installed treatment capacity of 527 MLD.[7]

“Reimagining Pune: Mission Smart City” an undated report submitted by PMC to Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has chosen not to state the total sewage generation at all. The report which ideally should have elaborated on the sewage aspect merely states that 355 MLD of sewage is discharged untreated.[8]

The report by JICA[9] which is lending money to PMC for achieving 100% sewage treatment states that Pune generates 728 MLD of sewage of which 477 MLD (66%) is treated while 252 MLD (34%) is discharged untreated into Mula-Mutha.

The latest figure could be found in an affidavit submitted by PMC in NGT in which PMC again used 2011 figures to say that it generates 744 MLD sewage.[10] The figure is not updated in last five years after City Sanitation Plan of 2011!

Pune’s municipal water supply has gone up by nearly 80 MLD since 2011 (if we include groundwater use, it will be even higher!). If we include 80% of this (as is the norm, it is generally assumed that 80% of fresh water use in city ends up as sewage), current sewage generation will be (at least) 808 MLD. Table 1 below summarizes few of these figures.

Table 1: Different sewage generation figures found in different documents

(All figures in MLD)



Revised City Development Plan






Smart City


PMC affidavit submitted to NGT


PMC in print media


Sewage generation 744 575.2 728 728 744
Treatment 527 527 567 476 290
Untreated 217 48.2 161 252 355

When the PMC does not have a clue even about the quantity of sewage generated, on what basis are the 11 new STPs proposed? On what basis their installed capacity has been calculated? And more importantly on what basis is the claim that that “The project will have a significant, direct beneficial impact in terms of reduction of pollution load in the river and improvement of the quality of its water”?   

Sewage generation ‘estimated’ not ‘measured’

But the fallacy does not end at updating the sewage generation figure to 808 MLD because the figure will merely indicate the ‘estimated’ quantity and not the actual quantity of sewage generated.

As a report by Centre for Science & Environment (CSE)[11] highlights, sewage should be measured, ideally at the household level or at colony level. Failing which, it should be measured at the outfalls- at the point where every drain discharges into water body. This method is of course not followed, not by any Indian cities and not by Pune. It is calculated based on ‘rule of thumb’ technique. City Development Plan (CDP) of Pune prepared for Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) states that sewage generation has been calculated at 80% of the total water supplied by PMC.[12]

However, people do not depend solely on the municipal water supply they also use groundwater and tanker water. As highlighted by SANDRP in its study[13] Pune city has been more and more dependent on groundwater for last five years with more than 5000 borewells drilled every year within the city. Despite the unregulated increase in borewells Pune has no system to measure the actual groundwater use. Sewage generated due to groundwater use also remains a black box which has direct implications on required treatment capacity. As Dr Himanshu Kulkarni of ACWADAM points out, “If you do not account for GW you can never fill the gap between wastewater generation and treatment. Untreated sewage will further contaminate the groundwater. This loop needs to be addressed at the earliest.”[14]

Inadequate treatment capacity and untreated sewage

Basic figures like sewage generation date back to 2011 and not been updated for increasing municipal water consumption and groundwater use. Without investing much time & efforts to understand finer details of sewage generation and disposal like main discharge points (nallah or trunk line) of untreated domestic sewage in rivers (direct/indirect) with average sewerage flow, their locations on map PMC seems to have invested in centralized sewage treatment plants. NGT specifically points out “Had PMC and MPCB taken this issue seriously to conduct spot inspection or examine fact situation the things would have been different.”

Currently Pune has 10 STPs with a total installed capacity of 567 MLD. Even if we assume that all the 10 STPs function at their full capacity still 177 MLD of sewage (assuming total generation of 744 MLD of sewage) is disposed off untreated in rivers Mula and Mutha along with treated water, thus rendering the treatment ineffective. “You have a sewage treatment plant which discharges the treated water in river and 50 m downstream there is a nallah carrying nothing but sewage falls into river. Then is the treated water of any use?” asks Vivek Velankar, an activist from Pune.

3.jpgFigure 3: STP Location in Pune City (Source: PMC)

As admitted by PMC present STPs treat only 290 MLD sewage as against the installed capacity of 567 MLD.

STPs like Naidu hospital, Bhairoba lala, Vitthalwadi do not have basic provision like generator back up when the type of treatment they provide needs uninterrupted power supply. STPs like Bhairoba nallah, Vitthalwadi, Naidu Hospital shut down frequently during power cut jeopardizing treatment. Operation & maintenance of municipal STPs is carried out in utmost non-transparent manner.

Performance of these STPs is not evaluated by any credible independent agency other than PMC & Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. Reports of evaluation are not available in public domain. Experts in the field of sewage treatment have time and again highlighted limitations of centralized sewage treatment. The energy required and cost of O&M makes them not only uneconomical but also susceptible to poor maintenance.

Private STPs: Even though PMC has made it mandatory for housing societies with more than 150 tenements to install private STPs, adequate mechanism to monitor the quality of treated effluent is not in place. MPCB has refused to issue consent to operate to these STPs and is also not involved in monitoring. MPCB issues consent to operate only for housing societies with more than 20,000 SqM of built up area that need Environmental Clearance. It however does not conduct frequent monitoring and intervenes only if it receives complaints regarding quality of treated effluent.

Pune Rivers critically polluted

At the end of the day Mula-Mutha Rivers take the brunt of the casual way in which the problem of sewage of Pune is being handled by PMC & MPCB at multiple levels. Carrying Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad’s sewage these rivers meet Bhima and finally empty in Ujni Dam on which about 30 lakh people in Solapur city and district are dependent for drinking and agriculture water needs.[15] “People of Solapur are actually drinking the sewage of these cities,” said Shri Rajendra Singh of Jal Biradari.[16]

4.jpgFigure 4: Polluted stretches of Mula-Mutha empty in Ujani Dam

CPCB includes Mula-Mutha among 35 most polluted river stretches of the country.[17] According to the CPCB report, at all the monitoring locations along the entire length of the three rivers viz. Mula, Mutha & Mula-Mutha, Biological Oxygen Demand exceeds the level of 30 mg/l. Pune Rivers’ BOD figures exceed even the discharge standards of treated effluent which is 10 mg/l.

It however might be a long time before the picture changes for better.

Even when PMC states that it will consider locally suited, community need based, integrated sustainable and eco-friendly technological option[18] it will be investing massive public resources into 11 centralized STPs.

In the next part we will see how the existing STPs are functioning and how responsive and inclusive the administration is when it comes to a common citizen like me, who would like to know more about the STPs in her city. It will also give a glimpse of whether centralized STPs, with their entrenched governance hold any hope for Pune’s Rivers or not.

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP, amrutapradhan@gmail.com

Part 2 of this  blog can be seen here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/punes-dismally-functioning-stps-citizens-not-allowed/


[1] CPCB (Undated): “Polluted River Stretches in India, Criteria & Status”, Central Pollution Control Board, (pdf)


[2] PIB (2016): “Loan Agreement signed between Government of India and JICA for Cleaning of Mula-Mutha River in Pune” press release by Press Information Bureau
Government of India Ministry of Environment and Forests


[3] PMC (2016): “Pune Pulse”, E-News Letter February 2016, Pune Municipal Corporation


[4] PIB (2016): “Loan Agreement signed between Government of India and JICA for Cleaning of Mula-Mutha River in Pune” Op.Cit.

[5] NGT (2016): National Green Tribunal Order No. 18 dated May 31, 2016 for Application No. Application No.55/2015, Mr. Subhash Ram Krishna Patil Vs MPCB & Ors


[6] TOI (2016): “PMC gets 10 days to boost STPs’ capacity”, Op. Cit.

[7] PMC (2012): “Revising/ Updating the City Development Plan (CDP) Of Pune City – 2041 Under JNNURM” prepared by PMC in 2012


[8] PMC (Undated): “Reimagining Pune: Mission Smart City, Detailed plan to transform Pune into a world-class Smart City” submitted Pune Municipal Corporation to Ministry of Urban Development Government of Maharashtra p.98


[9] PIB (2016): “Loan Agreement signed between Government of India and JICA for Cleaning of Mula-Mutha River in Pune” Op. Cit.

[10] TOI (2016): “PMC gets 10 days to boost STPs’ capacity”, Vishwas Kothari, Times of India, April 27, 2016


[11] CSE (2012): “Excreta Matters” State of India’s Environment Seventh Citizens’ Report (SOE-7) Published by Centre for Science and Environment p.84

[12] PMC (Undated): Revised City Development Plan For Pune – 2041, Maharashtra, Under JNNURM prepared by PMC p.112

[13] SANDRP (20016): “Groundwater of Pune: An Over-exploited and ungoverned lifeline”, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP


[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] TOI (2016): “Pune’s sewage in water of Solapur”, Times of India, April 17, 2016


[17] CPCB (Undated): “Polluted River Stretches in India, Criteria & Status”, O.Cit., (pdf) p.7

[18] PMC (2011): City Sanitation Plan Op. Cit. p.3


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.