The Centre and governments of Himalayan states should focus on sanitation systems in the Himalayas as well besides taking stock of wanton illegal construction and heavy tourist inflow, an analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based thinktank, has urged.

An analysis of a few destinations with high influx of tourists in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim by CSE shows that most Himalayan towns do not have sewerage systems.

For instance, only 31.7 per cent of households in Uttarakhand are connected to the sewerage system; the rest depend on on-site sanitation systems.

A washroom in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. Photo: iStockA washroom in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. Photo: iStock

Most households in the towns analysed also have faulty toilets, from which black water seeps into the ground and also affects springs—the prevalent water source in the region.

Similarly, most households and small hotels are adopting soak pits to manage grey water—wastewater from bathrooms and kitchen.

In some towns, grey water is allowed to flow in unlined open drains, which in turn seeps into the ground.

Each hill town receives 150 litres per capita of water supply and 65-70 per cent of this is converted into wastewater, according to guidelines of Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin.

Millions of litres of grey water are thus forced into the ground, which is feared to further weaken the topsoil.

“In most towns analysed by CSE, the soil is clayey, loamy or metamorphosed schists, phyllites and gneiss. All these are either loose soil or weak rocks. As the huge amounts of water and wastewater seep through the ground, it would make the clayey and loamy soil softer and prone to landslides,” said Sushmita Sengupta from CSE.

She added that in the fragile Himalayas it is important to understand the soil and rock below to decide on the type of structures required for managing grey water.

Areas analysed
Type of on-site sanitation systemQuantum of sewage/ wastewater generationActual populationFloating PopulationStatus of grey water management in rural areasType of soil
Bhimtal nagar panchayat in Nainital town36% households linked to sewer system; 64% depend on on-site sanitation system (2% have septic tank with soak pit, 4% lined tank with no outlet, 40% open bottom tank and 18% damaged* containment)Faecal sludge and Septage from on-site sanitation system: 5 kiloliters a day Waste water flowing through sewer system (which consists of grey water, faecal sludge, urine, etc.): 1.3 million litres a day14,882200,000 per year, with 1,639 per day tourists during peak season that lasts from mid-April to mid-AugustGrey water in non-sewered areas is discharged into open drains, which ends up in natural waterbodies of the cityLoamy clay, rocky
Bageshwar municipalityHouseholds depend only on on-site sanitation system (6% on septic tanks connected to soak pits, 14% on fully lined tank without any overflow outlet, 40% connected to open bottom tank, and 40% damaged* containment)Faecal sludge and Septage from on-site sanitation system: 12 kilolitres a day Waste water (Grey Water as the town is non-sewered) 3 million litres a day25,0452,500 tourists visit per day for 30 days during the peak season of January to participate in Uttrayani MelaNo storm water drains in the city. Grey water is disposed of through open drains or soak pits connected with bathroom, kitchensSilt loam, loam, rocky
Doiwala municipal council in DehradunHouseholds depend only on on-site sanitation system (9% households – septic tanks connected to soak pits, 1% have fully lined tank without any overflow outlet, 2% connected to open bottom tank, and 88% damaged containment).Fecal sludge and septage from on-site sanitation system: 26.6 kilolitres a day Waste water (Grey water as the town is non-sewered): 6.6 million litres a day61,370Upto 2,000 per dayGrey water disposed of through soak pits connected with bathroom and kitchens or open drains, leading to agricultural fields and the Saung riverClay, loamy clay, sandy clay
Srinagar nagar palika in Pauri Garhwal district36% households linked to sewerage system. Of those depending on on-site sanitation system, 30% have containment with septic tank connected to soak pit or drains, 24% have open bottom tank and 10% have fully lined tanksFaecal sludge and septage generated from on-site sanitation system: 11.3 kilolitres a day Wastewater flowing through sewer system: 4.7 million litres a day44,00010,000 per day during peak season of Chota Char Dham Yatra that lasts from April to JuneIn non-sewered areas, grey water is discharged into nallahs connected to sewage treatment plants. Those not connected end up in water streams. Some households have connected their septage overflow into drains.Rocky, loamy sand
Devprayag nagar palika in Tehri Garhwal district56% households linked to sewerage system. Of those depending on on-site sanitation system, 26% depend on lined tank with open bottom, 12% on septic tanks, 6% on fully lined tanks. Of Eight public toilets, 4 are functional (2 connected to sewer network, other 2 to septic tanks) and the rest being considered for renovation. All the 13 hotels, resorts and most houses that cater to the pilgrimage tourists are connected to septic tanksFaecal sludge and septage generated: 1 kilolitres a day Wastewater generated: 3.3 million litres a day3,059Peak season is May to October, when 2,000 tourists visit per dayAlmost 55% conveyed to sewage treatment plants; rest through open drains that ends up in riverRocky, loamy
Bhowali nagar palika parishad in Nainital16% HHs depend on septic tanks connected to soak pits. 30% have open bottom tanks with no outlet or overflow, 54% households have damaged containment systems with no outflow.Faecal sludge and septage generated: 3.3 kilolitres a day Wastewater generated: 0.8 million litres a day8,457Up to 1,600 on any peak day during April to AugustFaecal sludge emptied directly into the sewer manhole in Haldwini city, which further enters into Gaula river without treatment. Grey water is disposed-off through open drains leading to the natural water bodies of the cityLoamy clay, rocky
New Tehri in Tehri nagar palika89% households have sewerage connections. 8% connected to community septic tanks and 3% have damaged fully lined tanksFaecal sludge and septage: 8 kilolitres a day Wastewater generated-2.2 million litres a day20,696902 tourists per day throughout the yearAlmost 90% households  conveyed to STP through sewer lines and no open drains in the townLoamy, silt loamy, rocky
Haldwani nagar nigam in Nainital districtAround 20% households have sewerage network. 50% depend on septic tanks connected to soak pits. 8 % fully sealed tanks and 12% open bottom circular tanks and 10 percent damaged containment systemsFaecal sludge generated: 110 kilolitres a day Wastewater generated: 31 million litres a day 2,80,60410,000 per day throughout the year.Grey water carrying through open drains and waste water from sewer lines is disposed at Gaula river without treatment.Clay, loamy clay and rocky
Dehradun34% households connected to sewer network. 12% depend on septic tanks connected to soak pits. 11% depend on septic tanks connected with open drains. 10% depend on open bottom tanks. 33% depend on damaged containment systemsFecal sludge and septage generated: 320 kilolitres a day Wastewater generated: 92 million litres a day804,3794,500 per dayGray water in most households directed to soak pits directly and few areas are served with nine nullahs and two storm water drains. Gray water is directed to these through small drains following natural gravityClay, loamy clay, sandy clay
Rural areas of Hamirpur district3Majorly twin pit and septic tanks in rural areas12.75MLD in Hamirpur4423,338 (census 2011)Data not availableSoak pits and open drainsRocky
Kasauli Cantonment5Sewer systems connected to sewage holding tanks at 1.5-2 km distance. No information available on treatmentNot available3,500No floating populationSoak pitClay, loamy clay, rocky
Shimla district29% households depend on faulty septic tank that overflow into open drains. 65-70 %- sewer network59.19MLD6 This is as per the latest estimates given to NGT. However as per the city sanitation plan very less of the collected reaches the treatment plant and is flowing in open polluting the water bodies.7224,00076,000 person throughout the yearGrey Water flows in open drains to riverClay, loamy clay, rocky.
Rural areas of SikkimMore 90% households have septic tanks without soak pits (holding tanks). 2-3% depend on twin-pit; The settlement in rural areas are scattered.No faecal sludge treatment plant; deep burial of emptied fecal sludge.455,962 Majorly soak pits and kitchen gardenLoamy and clayey sand and lateritic
Urban areas of SikkimHouseholds in Mangan, Geyzing and Namchi are connected with septic tanks and now shall be connected to sewer lines. Most households in the remaining 3 districts are connected to sewer linesNot available150,000About 0.3 million per month with peak months ranging from March to May and October to DecemberFlows through natural open drains to rivers

*Damaged toilets: Containments (fully lined tanks, partially lined tanks and pits, and unlined pits) failed, damaged, collapsed or flooded, with no outlet or overflow


  3. Interaction with SBM-G officials
  5. Interaction with SBM-G officials
  8. Sikkim data as interacted with state SBMG and PHED officials)

CSE’s analysis comes even as a parliamentary panel stated in its report on August 10, 2023, that the Himalayas are under a lot of strain due to tourism and illegal construction.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment Forest and Climate Change, in its 135th report tabled in the Rajya Sabha, said:

The committee also highlights the tremendous increase of tourist activities in these areas which has put the natural resources under pressure. This has led to over-exploitation of natural resources and illegal construction of home stays, guest houses, resorts, hotels, restaurants and other encroachments.

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It recommended that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change “should prepare a practical and implementable action plan with clear timelines to put a check on ecologically destructive activities,” news agency Press Trust of India reported.

This article is written by Swati Bhatia and republished from DownToEarth. Read the original article here.

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