Maharashtra · Rivers

My visits to Pune’s Sewage Treatment Plants: Citizens Not Allowed!

Like almost all urban areas, Pune’s seage management has been dismal. In a recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to control water pollution in Mula Mutha Rivers it was revealed that several crucial details regarding sewage generation and disposal in Pune city remain unknown even to PMC. PMC failed to furnish even the basic details like present and future generation of domestic sewage (from 2022- 2025), present handling capacity and performance of STPs for six months.[i]

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has recently agreed to extend a loan of 1000 Cr. to PMC under project ‘pollution abatement of River Mula-Mutha’.[ii] Utilizing this funding PMC has proposed to build 11 new sewage treatment plants (STPs) with treatment capacity of 396 MLD (Million Litres per Day). It is hard to imagine that PMC who celebrated the signing of the loan agreement in January 2016 was not in position to furnish even the basic details about sewage generation and treatment in May 2016.

Currently in Pune there are total ten STPs with installed capacity of 567 MLD. Five of them have been funded by PMC while the other five have been funded by JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) Phase I. Operation & Maintenance (O&M) of these plants has been outsourced by PMC to various contractors. Treated effluent is being discharged in the rivers Mula, Mutha Rivers. 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.[iii] The balance – almost 50% of the sewage – is going into the river untreated. Pune’s Rivers are some of the most polluted in the country.

Sewage Treatment Plants in Pune (Source: PMC)
Sr. No. Name of the STP Installed Capacity (MLD) Treatment Process
1 Bhairoba 130 Activated Sludge Process
2 Erandwane 50 Modified Activated Sludge Process
3 Tanajiwadi 17 Biotech with Extended Aeration
4 Bopodi 18 Extended Aeration Process
5 Naidu (old) 90 Activated Sludge Process
6 Naidu (new) 115 Activated Sludge Process
7 Mundhwa 45 Sequential Batch Reactor Process
8 Vitthalwadi 32 Activated Sludge Process
9 Baner 30 Sequential Batch Reactor Process
10 Kharadi 40 Activated Sludge Process

If Centralized Sewage Treatment Plants are the only answers that the Municipal Corporations or even mega Plans like Ganga Rejuvenation have for the country, it is important to see how the existing STPs are functioning. It is important to understand why despite pouring hundreds of Crores in setting up news STPs each year, the quality of rivers is going from bad to worse.

MY VISIT TO STPs IN MY CITY PUNE So I decided to visit some of the  STPs of my city, Pune, first hand, to see how they function, how they are govern and understand the problems they face. I visited five of the ten STPs of Pune listed above. However, my experience of these visits threw so many unexpected problems.

When I visited five of the 10 existing STPs, two were non-operational on the day of visit.

Before going into the performance of the plants, a note about the inclusiveness of the STPs towards common citizens will not be out of place here.

When I went to visit STPs, looking forward to discussions, I was not even allowed to enter 4 STPS. I was shooed away from the gate itself, saying that permission letter from PMC was needed to visit the plants . From there I went to PMC to request for a permission letter, I was told to get this from the Electrical Department of PMC. Here I was asked to write a letter stating my precise intentions in wanting to visit the STP in my city and also my credentials, on the letterhead of an organization.

This goes to the Chief Engineer (CE) of the department. I was then called personally by the CE to explain why I want to visit the STP. The Chief Engineer then “recommends” whether permission should be granted or not. My letter carried a written recommendation: “No photography allowed”.

Then the copy with the PMC is sent to the STP. This takes about 10 days. I’m supposed to take my copy and only then will I be allowed to enter the plant.

Seems like a visit to a high profile criminal jail than a Sewage Treatment Plan of a city! Compare this with the fact that there is no monitoring of the sewage actually falling in the rivers, or any third party audit of the STP itself!

STPS have to be places of public awareness and education, not closed and secret places where a citizen needs permission even to enter and look around.

STP Locations in Pune City (Source: PMC)

Walled governance of Pune’s STPs

Bhairoba Nala Plant is the oldest STP in Pune constructed in 1928 to treat 32 MLD effluent with primary sewage treatment. The plant was refurbished in 2003 spending Rs 37.5 Cr[iv] for enhanced installed capacity of 130 MLD by conventional activated sludge process. When enquired about the present status of O&M (in July 2016), I was told that the plant is under repair and closed for one week.

Access was denied and no information was shared saying that permission letter from Pune Municipal Corporation was needed to visit the plant. I was told that it might take a month to make the plant operational again. Apparently old motors of plant break down frequently. CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) in its report of 2007 which evaluated operation and maintenance of sewage treatment plants in India[v] highlighted several issues regarding Bhairoba STP. According to the report the plant is underutilized because of frequent power cuts. Two duel fuel generators (170 KVA) installed at the plant are not generally used, due to excess amount of diesel consumption (40%).

Bhairoba Nala
Bhairoba Nullah STP (Photo: PMC)

When Vitthalvadi STP with 32 MLD treatment capacity was visited on a working day no administrative staff including the in-charge of the plant were in office.

This Plant, which uses activated sludge process for treatment seemed to be in operation. The chemist who works for the lab testing of effluent informed me that the plant was under maintenance.

The same plant when visited the next day was non-operational due to power cut. According to the operator staff this is a usual scene.No generator back up has been provided. On such occasions untreated sewage flows to Mutha River directly from the plant.

Testing of effluent is done in house lab and reports are submitted to MPCB (Maharashtra Pollution Control Board) once a month.

Vitthalwadi 3
Vitthalwadi STP (Photo: SANDRP, photo taken from outside as photography was not allowed in the campus)

Access and information was denied at both STPs at Naidu hospital. Old STP has installed capacity of 90 MLD while the new one has 115 MLD. I was told that the plants become non-operational once or twice a month due to power cut. No generator back up has been provided for the plant.

Earandwane STP
Erandwane STP (Photo: PMC)

All these plants use activated sludge process which requires uninterrupted power supply for aeration and sludge recirculation.[vi] Guidelines issued by MoEF for ‘Sewage Treatment in Class I Towns’ list this as one of the demerits of activated sludge process[vii] where performance is adversely affected due to interruption in power supply even for a short period. Experts say that frequent interruptions in the functioning due to power cut can take a serious toll on the treatment process and can completely defeat the purpose of installing the treatment plant.

No performance evaluation by third party

Routine testing for parameters like BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand), COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand), DO (Dissolved Oxygen), pH etc. is done by in house lab. Reports are submitted to PMC & MPCB.

Performance evaluation of the STPs is done by PMC, MPCB & CPCB. Reports of which are not available in public domain. In 2007 CPCB conducted performance evaluation of 175 no. of STPs located in metropolitan, Class I cities and Class II towns (96 nos.) Four STPs from Pune city were evaluated during this study and several shortcomings in the functioning surface in the report..

No credible third party independent assessment is conducted for these STPs. In such case, whether the STPs are performing adequately remains undisclosed. From the glimpses that SANDRP caught during the visits there seem to be several lacunae in the functioning. Degree of seriousness of the problems however remains concealed behind the non-transparent, secretive governance.

Rs 100 Crore STP: malfunctioning

In 2001 when Irrigation Department increased water allocation to Pune from 7.2 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) to 11.5 TMC it was against a condition that PMC should treat and recycle 6.5 TMC water for irrigation purpose.

Accordingly the allocation was increased to 11.5 TMC in 2001 which continues till date. The promise of treating 6.5 TMC however remains unfulfilled till date. Even though with present installed capacity (at 100% efficiency) the 10 STPs in the city can treat about 7.3 TMC water annually it proves to be not of any use as the treated water is mixed with untreated sewage. It is as good as no treatment.

Well aware of this fact PMC decided to pour Rs 100 Cr in a new sewage treatment plant at Mundhwa. The plant was to lift 6.5 TMC water from a jackwell built on Mula-Mutha River as it prepares to exit the city and discharge the treated water back in the river.

The Plant inaugurated in October 2015 however remains dysfunctional for a number of issues. Claiming that releasing ‘improperly treated water’ for irrigation purposes, thereby polluting the groundwater in the region due to which they are facing health issues[viii] farmers in nearby villages filed a case with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Pune bench, in this regard in March 2016.[ix] NGT has served a show cause notice to PMC asking why it hasn’t been providing treated water to the downstream villages from the Mundhwa Jackwell Project.[x]

When enquired about this, the plant official told that transformer of the plant was malfunctioning and hence the plant was closed but now it is operational. However this claim cannot be verified.

Private STPs: Performance goes unchecked

Since December 2002 PMC has made it mandatory for all new housing schemes with more than 150 tenements to have STPs & reuse the treated sewage for flushing, gardening, etc. Necessary modifications were made in building control rules[xi] which state “Any Layout or Housing Complex designed to accommodate 150 tenements or more shall compulsorily have a sewage treatment plant to treat the effluents to the desired levels of purity and shall thereby provide for recycling of water consumed by the said complex.” Engineers from the drainage department after inspecting the plant send a report to ward office stating that work of STP is complete and ready to commission. Ward office then issues NOC for drainage against which completion certificate is issued.

An engineer from water supply department on condition of anonymity told SANDRP that when PMC approached MPCB to set a procedure of issuing ‘consent to operate’ for the STPs, MPCB dismissed the request saying that it does not come under their purview.

Consequently, once the completion certificate is issued there is no mechanism to monitor the performance of these STPs and quality of effluent or even to check if the STPs are operational at all.

MPCB issues consent to operate only for the housing projects with built up area of >20,000 Sq.Mt. Even for these projects once the consent is issued MPCB does not bother about monitoring unless approached by the residents with a complaint.

The process of issuing consent seems to be laden with malpractices. An expert from Energy Tech Solutions – a leading firm in non-conventional treatment plants shares “We were appalled to find that after receiving its ‘share’ from client, MPCB does not even bother to open the file. Forget the inspection visit.”

He further stresses that making the users or citizens aware is the only solution to ensure proper treatment. “With their kind of attitude Government bodies will never achieve 100% treatment. They don’t want to. Creating awareness in users goes long way. When users demand that they want sound treatment then operators have no choice but to abide.”

In Conclusion

It is clear from this review of Pune STPs that local Residents and citizens of Pune have no role to play, are in fact pushed away from even visiting Sewage Treatment Plants, which is the first and the only line of action to tackle water pollution. At the same time, governance of almost all existing STPs is dismal, to say the least. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board on its part is not bothered to be involved in monitoring and is only interested in “packets”. Unless the governance surrounding centralized sewage treatment does not improve, unless it become transparent, accountable and democratic, assuming that Rs 1000 Crores worth of additional STPs will make Pune’s Rivers, or India’ Rivers clean is like living in a fool’s paradise.

Prior to spending more public funds on setting up newer and bigger STPs, the existing infrastructure needs to be put to use, participatory audit of the exisiting STPs need to be conducted, citizens need to be encouraged to visit STPs, they need to be a part of the monitoring board, downstream population needs to have a say in STP management in Pune and PMC and Pollution Control Boards has be held accountable for the increasing pollution of rivers, aquifers and other water bodies. Until governance is made transparent, participatory and accountable, more of infrastructure, funds or technology is not going to help, it will all go down the polluted drains and rivers.

Amruta Pradhan,, SANDRP

(With inputs from Parineeta Dandekar)

Part I of this blog can be seen here:


[i] 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

[ii] 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

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

[iv] PMC (Undated): “Pune Municipal Corporation Sewerage Project”, Development Engineer, Sewerage Project, Pune Municipal Corporation, p.3

[v] CPCB (2007): “Evaluation Of Operation And Maintenance Of Sewage Treatment Plants In India-2007” conducted by Central Pollution Control Board in 2007

[vi] Anuradha Majumdar (Undated): “STP Technologies & Their Cost Effectiveness”, Prof. Anuradha Majumdar, Ex‐Director Professor All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health Govt. of India

[vii] IIT Kanpur (2010): “Sewage Treatment in Class I Towns: Recommendations and Guidelines” prepared by consortium of seven IITs is one of the many reports prepared by IITs to describe the strategy,information, methodology, analysis and suggestions and recommendations in developing Ganga River Basin: Environment Management Plan (GRB EMP).

[viii] Indian Express (2016): “Villagers see red over Pune Municipal Corporation’s sewage water project”, Ajay Khape, January 22, 2016

[ix] Pune Mirror (2016): “Farmers cry foul over untreated water being released through canal”, Siddharth Gadkari, Pune Mirror, March 27, 2016

[x] Pune Mirror (2016): “NGT showcauses PMC on Mundhwa Jackwell Project”, Siddharth Gadkari, Pune Mirror, April 05, 2016

[xi] PMC (undated): ANNEXURE D, Draft Supplementary Development Control Regulations For The Area Newly Merged In Pune Municipal Corporation, p.8

7 thoughts on “My visits to Pune’s Sewage Treatment Plants: Citizens Not Allowed!

  1. I’m grateful for what you have gone through in order to report on the serious problems, which have affected the quality of life. Everyday of the past 18 months, I face the black water full of garbages and breath the stinky air and feel so sick about the bad pollution of water and air. It is the right time for MPC to take actions to manage, control and improve the performance of STPs in order that we can live a good life in Pune.


  2. A very very interesting account of state of affairs of an important issue. It is disgusting, frustrating and very badly reflects on PMC Administration.


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