Ritu Singh/Shruti Saxena
For centuries, Ganga is considered as the holiest of the holy rivers, serving as a gateway for souls to escape the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation.
Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked, “The Ganges, above all, is the river of India which has held India`s heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India`s civilisation and culture…”
But, today, the grim reality is that the sacred river is more like a flowing mess. The river is being ignored. Despite efforts and huge investments, pollution levels in the Ganga and Yamuna continue to increase unabated. It is one of the most contaminated rivers in the country, and one of the ten most threatened river basins in the world.
The major reasons touted are as follows:
Untreated industrial effluent and municipal sewage have taken a toll on the river. Every day, 1.7 billion litres of effluents run into the river - most of it untreated. The major reasons for this are the point sources of pollution- the sewer outfalls, open drains discharging domestic sewerage and industrial pollution along the entire length of the Ganga.
According to studies by Uttarakhand Environment Conservation and Pollution Control Board, the level of Coliform bacteria in Ganga at Haridwar has reached 5500, which is over 100 times the permissible level. This is caused by the disposal of human feces, urine and sewage directly into the river right from its origin in Gaumukh, till it reaches Haridwar via Rishikesh.
Man made constructions:
Another threat that the river is facing is excessive water extraction, dams and embankments that have rendered the river dry in several areas. Further on, due to the accumulation of silt, the water carrying capacity of the river has reduced and it has adversely affected the floodplains which have been either eliminated or greatly cut down.
Hindu faith upholds the belief that the holy water of River Ganga will cause forgiveness of sins will help to attain salvation. That`s why people dispose religious offerings, idols and dead bodies in the river which further increases pollution.
During the pilgrimage season around 15 lakh pilgrims pay a visit to the holy river in Haridwar, Varanasi and Allahabad, during which community bathing and social and religious practices disrupt its life. The community bathing adversely degrades the water quality and the temporary camps built around the river produce large quantity of human excreta (about 250 tons/day on normal days and about 10,800 tons/day on main bathing days) which is dumped into the sand to be washed away during rainy season.
Ganga clean up-action plans:
Various steps have been taken to protect and restore the Ganga. In 1986, The Ganga Action Plan was launched by the Government of India which proved to be a failure despite a heavy expenditure. On November 1, 2010, the 135 km long stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi was declared an eco-sensitive zone. Three hydro projects proposed on the river were also discontinued.
Finally, on June 28, 2011, an agreement with the World Bank was signed for a $1 billion loan that would finance the first major effort after 20 years to clean the river. This loan is part of the project started in 2009 that replaced the 1986 Ganga Action Plan.
And now that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to rejuvenate the Ganges on priority basis, let us hope that the river revered as the source of life, is finally cleaned up of its mess.