Contemporary Study on River Pollution in India

This article titled “Contemporary Study on River Pollution in India” is written by Yashika Rathour.


Water is one of the most important resources on Earth for human survival. The importance of clean and good-quality water has been known since ancient times. Since ancient times, people have used water for a variety of purposes, including drinking, washing, raising animals, cleaning, and agriculture. The major rivers of antiquity, the Nile, the Indus, and the Tigris, all played an important role in the formation and development of all great ancient civilizations. Rivers have also played an essential role in the growth of modern society. In each and every country, the majority of the industries and trading areas are located near the water bodies mainly near the river, oceans, etc., for easy accessibility of water because a very large amount of water is needed for domestic and commercial purposes. There are various industries such as making plants, processing plants, nuclear power plants, food industries, mining sector, dairy industries, paper industries, chemical and fertilizer manufacturing plants, etc. that make use of extremely large amounts of water and release the most polluted and impure or contaminated water straight into the water bodies. The major source of water pollution is industrial activity, in the last few decades, industrial drain water is the main source of water pollutants in water resources. The impurity and pollution of water bodies result in various adverse effects on the marine environment and also on human health. It is estimated that more than one billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, mainly in advancing and poor countries.

In India, mainly Maharashtra is an industrial center comprised of several densely populated cities with different types of producing and manufacturing industries. Water comes from lakes, rivers, ponds, and groundwater sources. Commercial and Industrial activities make use of water and release wastewater straight into natural water bodies. Nearly all Indian rivers are used as open gutters through which citizens and businesses dump sewage, drainage, and sometimes plastics, trash, and more, directly into the river without proper or adequate treatment. Every organism uses water in different forms and thousands of organisms live in the water. Hence, the water quality standard directly harms the both marine and environmental health of the organisms and also the health of human society. In the past few centuries, the development of humans and industrialization for the development have directly affected the natural resources and natural environment. As a result, contaminated rivers and water bodies not only harm both aquatic and terrestrial environments but also harm the hygiene of people who depend on river water.

Keywords: Industrialization; Natural resources; Water pollution; Urbanization


Water, a priceless liquid upon which all life depends, is essential to all life on Earth. The organic and inorganic chemicals that give water its color, smell, and flavor are produced either naturally or as a result of human activity. Water is a colorless chemical molecule with no odour or taste, but with additional minerals and nutrients. In its pure natural state, water is devoid of energy and dissolved organic and inorganic materials. Each water particle has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water molecules are present in every ecosystem and have a role in several biological, biochemical, and chemical processes. Water is used for a variety of reasons by humans, animals, plants, and other species or microbes, including photosynthesis, food transportation, reproduction, drinking, cleaning, cooking, and numerous domestic and industrial processes.

The water cycle naturally creates water molecules, which can be found in a variety of states including liquid, gas, and solid. These molecules can be found in the earth’s natural resources, including groundwater, rivers, lakes, oceans, and seas. Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, 97% of it being ocean and sea, and the other 3% being freshwater, two-thirds of which are found in the solid state in glaciers and the remaining 3% as ground and surface water. The primary source of water used by humans for diverse reasons is fresh water, which is found in rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and groundwater. Water is a valuable and crucial liquid for each and every life form present on Earth. People have recognized the importance of having access to clean, high-quality water from the beginning of civilization. In pursuit of food and water, Stone Age nomads walked along riverbeds. Since the beginning of time, people have utilized water for a variety of activities, including washing, drinking, cleaning, caring for animals, and farming. The largest human civilizations developed around river basins and close to freshwater sources.

The development of all the major ancient civilizations was greatly influenced by the big ancient rivers like the Nile, Indus, Tigris, and others. Most ancient civilizations were established next to a river, such as the Egyptian civilization, which developed close to the Nile River in Africa, the Mohenjo-Daro civilization, which developed close to the Indus River in South Asia, etc. Rivers have contributed to the growth of contemporary society. For convenient access to water, the majority of industrial and trading areas in each nation are frequently situated across rivers, oceans, etc. It is close by because a lot of water is required for life and work. Factories, the food industry, nuclear power plants, the mining, paper, and dairy industries, as well as numerous other industries like plant fertilizers, etc. Use a lot of water and expose the human body to water pollution. Industrial operations are the primary cause of water contamination, and industrial wastewater has been the primary cause in recent years.

The aquatic environment and human health are negatively impacted in several ways by the pollution and poisoning of water bodies. There are several types of pollutants and pollutants from different businesses and human activities that are existed in different mixtures and forms. Pollutants and wastewater are produced differently by various industries. Heavy metals and dangerous compounds are among the numerous organic and inorganic contaminants found in industrial waste. Too much phosphate, sulfur, heavy metals, and other chemicals are used in fertilizer, pharmaceutical, and other sectors. Get rid of unwanted materials comprising High concentrations of arsenic, lead, mercury, toxins, and oil found in mining effluent, among other things. These sectors utilize significant groundwater resources. Waste products from the petrochemical sector that are rich in hydrocarbons and their byproducts are released.

Commercial agriculture and the production of edible plants generate a lot of trash, organic compounds, and chemicals like fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. Environmental harm is frequently caused by human activity. Housework, employment, and agriculture are the main human activities, although the corporate world is more exposed than others. The development of megacities and harm to the environment are the results of a region’s fast urbanization and economic growth.

The city’s natural environment was put in danger by this development. Mass emigration from rural areas to cities is a result of rapid industrialization. These migratory labourers are better equipped to enhance their living conditions when they move from rural areas or cities to megacities. Natural resources, especially fresh water, which is crucial for urban development, are used in this development. Municipal management and administration should stop and lessen pollution as well as any home or business activity that endangers the local environment in order to promote sustainable development.

According to estimates, more than 1 billion people globally, especially in developing countries, lack access to clean drinking water. The state of Maharashtra, which has densely populated cities with a variety of industries and trade, is India’s most industrialized region. They make a lot of water demands. This water comes from groundwater, lakes, ponds, and rivers. This water is used by businesses and industries, which then release their wastewater into nearby natural waters.

The majority of rivers in India are handled as open channels where people and companies dump sewage, waste, and occasionally rubbish, plastics, and other things directly into the river without any sort of treatment. Water is used by all living things in various ways, and thousands of creatures call it home. Therefore, the health of human life, as well as the health of the water and the environment, is directly impacted by the quality of the water. People have created urbanization and industrialization during the last few centuries, which has had a direct impact on natural resources and the environment.

Around 70% of India’s water is highly polluted, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The contaminated waters of the Indian Medical Research Council (ICMR) and numerous other rivers are dangerous to humans and animals as well as unfit for use in agriculture. Poor rivers and streams can therefore damage ecosystems and groundwater, as well as have an impact on the health of those who depend on and trust rivers.

Rivers have been considered to be an essential aspect of human livelihood for centuries. They provide a continuous source of clean water, food, and transportation, and create an ecosystem that supports a wide range of flora and fauna. However, with the increase in industrialization and urbanization across the world, rivers have come under severe pollution threats. It is also the same case in India. India is home to numerous rivers, which are under severe pollution threat due to a variety of anthropogenic stressors ranging from industrial waste, sewage disposal, agricultural runoff, and surface runoff. This paper focuses on contemporary research on river pollution in India.

Sources of River Pollution in India

The sources of river pollution in India are numerous and vary depending on the type of river and its location. Some of the significant sources of river pollution in India are as follows.

1. Industrial Waste Disposal

India is home to many small, medium, and large-scale industries producing a variety of products. However, the majority of these industries lack adequate and proper infrastructure for waste management. As a result, untreated industrial wastes carrying toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic are directly dumped into the rivers without any treatment (EPA, 2012).

2. Sewage Disposal

The sewage and human waste from urban areas are other significant sources of river pollution in India. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), more than 80% of the sewage generated in the country is disposed of in the rivers without any proper treatment, leading to the contamination of the water bodies.

3. Agricultural Runoff

The agricultural lands adjacent to the rivers use extensive amounts of chemicals fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which run off during the rain and end up in the rivers, polluting them.

4. Surface Runoff

Significant rainfall in urban areas causes flooding and leads to the accumulation of pollutants such as plastic and other garbage, which are often dumped into the rivers.

Contemporary Research on River Pollution in India

Numerous studies have been conducted to understand the magnitude of river pollution in India and its impact on human health and the ecosystem. Some of the recent research on river pollution in India is discussed below.

1. Mukherjee and others in (2017) conducted research on the Ganges river in India, known for its religious significance and support for agriculture and fishing. Their research reported that the river water was heavily contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria, which exceeded the permissible limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests. Their research also found that the river water PH level was highly acidic, which can cause severe skin and other health problems.

2. A recent study by Singh and others in (2020) examined the pollution levels of the Yamuna river in Delhi, one of the most polluted rivers in India. Their research reported that the contamination levels of the river grew significantly over the last few years due to the discharge of industrial waste, sewage, and agricultural runoff. The study found that the river’s metallic and microbial contamination levels were much higher than the permissible levels.

3. Another study by Rajwani et al. (2020) examined river pollution in Madhya Pradesh state in central India, known for its agriculture and mining industries. Their research reported that the river water’s physicochemical parameters such as dissolved oxygen and biological oxygen demand were highly skewed due to the discharge of industrial effluents and sewage. The study also found that the water from these rivers could not be used for irrigation or drinking purposes unless treated.


Given the poor state of river pollution in India and its devastating impact on human health and the ecosystem, it is essential for the government, industries, and civil society to work together to address the issue. The government should establish stricter regulations for both industrial and domestic waste disposal with severe penalties for non-compliance. Industries should invest in proper infrastructure to manage their waste efficiently. Individuals should be educated about the adverse impacts of their activities on the rivers and take necessary steps to reduce their pollution levels. River pollution in India needs immediate and concerted action to protect one of the country’s most valuable resources.

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