Although the proper treatments of sewage is an obvious requirement for any nation or civilisation, modern nations need a comprehensive policy to ensure that sewage is treated and disposed of in a responsible and environment-friendly process. Unfortunately, a focused and comprehensive approach towards sewage treatment solutions is still lacking in our national policy.

Why do we need sewage treatment?
Processing waste is part of nature’s cycle. It has an incredible ability to process naturally produced waste and sewage. Normal domestic waste can often be processed by the nature itself. But as our population expands, this ability is far short of adequate. Adding to this is the massive industrial waste that we must also account for. Industrial waste like toxic chemicals cannot be processed by nature alone.

Sewage treatment plants can be seen as an assistant to this natural cycle of waste disposal, one that is critical to ensure that harmful and toxic waste is removed from our environment without leaving any harmful traces. Untreated sewage can mix with the soil, causing land pollution. It also mixes with water sources, which can cause further contamination as it joins other bigger waterbodies.

Why do we need a nationally focused policy on sewage treatment?

— Rising population and industrialisation has
— Environmental reasons: To prevent toxic waste from contaminating land and water.
— Public health: To ensure that toxic waste does not reach our food through soil or drinking water through contaminated water.
— Saving plant and animal life.
— Creating a better quality of life by ensuring clean surroundings, a healthy life and removal of toxic effluents.

An urban problem?
The need for sewage treatment in India has been seen as a largely urban problem. Rural areas were usually self-sufficient in their waste management. Apart from some basic sewage management, most rural areas have not needed further intervention till now. One of the reasons is that rural India was largely engaged in primary occupations like agriculture, which rarely needs STPs (sewage treatment plants).

However, the reality of India’s hinterland is slowly changing. Industries are moving towards rural areas, exposing them to chemical and other harmful waste. Even the waste generated by rural communities is changing as bigger villages acquire more and more urban characteristics. Expansion of Tier II cities and smaller towns has blurred the lines between villages and urban centres.

Sewage treatment is simply no more just an urban concern. Many rural communities, exposed to urban runoff and industrial waste, are now taking a proactive stance in dealing with their own waste management. Many have contacted private sewage treatment solution providers, setting up autonomous community plants.

Why we are falling short?
The benefits of a proper sewage treatment are obvious. Yet, there is a lack of any focused national attention on this very critical problems we face today. In India less that half the STPs are running at their full capacity. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of wastewater and sewage goes untreated. This is a dangerously high number, given India’s massive population, its resultant waste and the equally massive industrial waste.

In short, we are sitting on a land-mine, one that is slowly seeping its toxic effect on everything around us, polluting land, water and with it the food we eat, the water we drink and eventually, the air we breathe. Many State governments still see investment in proper sewage treatment solutions as a poorly placed secondary interest. Hence, any proactive management has been sorely lacking.

The way ahead
The need for immediate action and an extensive solution is obvious. As a nation and as a community, we must work ahead to ensure that these shortages are addressed.

— A more committed and focused approach by the State and Central governments towards sewage treatment.
— Finding cost effective sewage treatment solutions that can be instituted at a community level.
— The STPs must be brought to full capacity. At present the plants are running at almost half their capacity. This is a criminal waste of resources considering the severe shortage of operational plants.

Localising sewage treatment solutions. For instance, larger cities may need STPs that can treat industrial waste without taking up too much space. Similarly, the waste and sewage characters in every region, state must be studied and solutions found accordingly.