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That Mithi river has been reduced to a filthy nullah is well-known. However, now a report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that Maharashtra has the largest number of polluted river water stretches in the country.

The CPCB draws up a list of polluted river stretches in the country on the basis of what it calls "water quality monitoring.'' It has identified 26 such rivers in Maharashtra with 28 polluted stretches. Mula and Mutha in Pune, Kalu and Bhatsa in Thane and Mithi river in Mumbai are among these.

Environmental experts are worried that it is not only industrial pollution, which is responsible for degrading the quality of water in state rivers. The rapid urbanisation across the state is a major culprit as well. "Domestic sewage is a source of pollution besides industrial and other sources,'' said an official from the union ministry of environment and forests.

So even a river like Kundalika, which flows through the Sahyadris in Raigad district and is popular with river rafters, now houses a polluted stretch. Similarly, Nira__a small tributary of Bhima in Solapur, and Kanhan, a river flowing through Nagpur have been polluted because of industrial as well as domestic effluence.

The CPCB has marked 150 polluted river stretches in India, which includes almost all the major rivers flowing in the country. After Maharashtra, Gujarat has the most polluted rivers, showing that industrial activity remains a major source of pollution.

The National River Conservation Programme (NRCP) is the nodal central government plan to fight river water pollution. However, it covers only 38 rivers in 20 states. Of these, the clean-up of just four rivers in Maharashtra__ Panchganga, Tapi, Krishna and Godavari__is getting funds under NCRP. But CPCB data shows that even small rivers and tributaries in the state are now polluted. This means a lot of effort will have to be made by the state government and local authorities to clean them up.

Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh, who has revived several dying rivers in Rajasthan, has a word of advice for the state government. "I have seen Mula and Mutha rivers when they were absolutely clean. Today, they only carry industrial discharge. As long as the government allows factories and individuals to keep flouting environmental guidelines, nothing will change,'' Singh added.

"If rivers are to be saved, then pollution abetment schemes must be taken up urgently. These include interception, diversion and treatment of sewage, low cost sanitation works on river banks as well as electric or improved wood crematoria,'' said another environmental expert.


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