Indian administration has been spending huge sum of money for cleaning the river Ganga for the last 30 years. But the situation has gone worse. Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has taken a pledge to clean Mother Ganga.
Ganga has been the lifeline of the Indian civilisation for ages. It is respected like a mother and worshiped like a Goddess. It has served the Indian people economically and spiritually. Thousands of people go to live near the Ganga for a peaceful end to their lives. This is why rejuvenating the Ganga is linked to the physical as well as psychological wellbeing of the Indian people.
But why are we not able to free the river from pollution? Perhaps it is high time we ponder over mistakes committed in the past. If we repeat the same mistakes, the result will be no different. Once again, money allocated in the budget will go down the drain, benefiting corrupt officials, contractors and industry supplying treatment plants.
The governments have only been spending money on setting up treatment plants and building some drainage systems here and there. On the other hand, industrial as well as urban sewage pollution load has been increasing manifold due to population rise and wrong development policies.
The capacity of treatment plants has not been sufficient as per the actual pollution load. Moreover, these treatment plants have not been running properly either due to bad technology, lack of electricity or irresponsible staff. Pollution goes uninterrupted even at spots where these treatment plants have been set up like at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi.
The Ganga Action Plan did not involve local people or rural or urban bodies in planning and implementation. Projects were prepared and implemented by government agencies like Jal Nigam, which are known for their inefficiency and corruption. The Plan was aimed at cleaning only a small fraction of polluted effluents coming through drains in big cities and almost ignored steps to improve health of the river itself.
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The most important factor for a healthy river is its free flow. But the governments have interrupted the flow of the Ganga and its other major tributaries at places like Tehri, Hardwar, Narora and Kanpur depriving its velocity and energy to clean itself.
The second most important point is availability of fresh water in the river. Almost all the water is taken away from the Ganga for irrigation and drinking before the Narora dam in western Uttar Pradesh. What flows after this is some ground water recharge, urban civic waste water and highly polluted discharge from Ram Ganga and Kali rivers that merge near Kannauj bringing industrial and civic effluents from Kumaon, Rohelkhand and western UP.
After a short journey from Kannauj, the Ganga reaches Kanpur. where a large quantity of water is taken for drinking and much more civic sewage and industrial waste thrown in thanks to the 450-odd tanneries here. Ironically, IIT Kanpur has been involved in the Ganga Action Plan, but its advice has not been effective in curbing pollution in the city.
Villages around Jajmau in Kanpur and downstream are the worst victims. Vegetables and fruits here have become poisonous and people are suffering from various fatal diseases.
The Kannauj to Kanpur stretch of the Ganga is worst affected. Its dirty and toxic water flows to Allahabad and Varanasi from Kanpur. We see some fresh water in the Ganga at Prayag Sangam only because the Yamuna brings water from Chambal and other small rivers. The same story is repeated in Allahabad and Varanasi. More sewage is added to the river.
It is worth mentioning that there is no fresh Yamunotri water in Yamuna after Delhi. A major portion of Yamuna water is taken away by Haryana for irrigation. Thirsty Delhi takes all remaining water from Yamuna and it also consumes a portion of Ganga water supplied through a canal from Hardwar.
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It is pure sewage which flows in Yamuna till it meets the Chambal river in Etawa. Similarly, the river Ganga is converted into a drain after Narora except in rainy season.
Since British period, governments have promoted highly water intensive sugarcane and other cash crops in western Uttar Pradesh which consume major portion of the Ganga water. These crops add chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the river and flow further degrading the water quality. The government needs lots of political courage and administrative efforts to change the crop pattern.
The river Ganga is a victim of our faulty development model borrowed from the west. When there is no Gangotri , Yamunotri and other Himalayan glacier water left in these rivers, what will we be cleaning then? Can we rejuvenate the Ganga river without retaining a major portion of its fresh water and ensuring its free flow? These are big questions which need to be answered.
Indian civilisation faced a major ecological crisis in the past as recorded in the Ayurvedic textbook Charak Samhita. The great Ayurvedic scholar Lord Punarvasu Atreya had his ashram on the banks of the Ganga near Kampliya near Kannauj. Once Punarvasu pointing towards the night sky, observed, “the planets, the moon, the sun, the wind, the temperature and the place of living, all seem to present bad times ahead in the shape of abnormal seasonal fluctuations. As a result of this abnormality, the earth will fail to produce the herbs having the right qualities of taste, potency, post digestive effects and specific action and this may result in epidemics spreading out.”
His disciple Agnivesh posed an intelligent question: “why do such epidemics cause mass destruction of communities?”
The reply from Punarvasu was that “there are common factors which are adversely affected. These common factors are– air, water, land and seasons.” Punarvasu goes on describing in detail the specific symptoms of pollution of air, water, land, and time or seasons. He describes preventive steps to save society from pollution related diseases. One such step is to preserve herbs and seeds of useful plants for future use. But the disciple is not satisfied. He asks what causes such disastrous pollution?
Punarvasu explained that the root cause of pollution is corruption, bad administration and intellectual dishonesty.
The great scholar’s prescription does not call for installation of machinery or treatment plants. It is not only pollution in the Ganga river which is causing concern. The existence of the whole planet is in danger due to wrong policies and development model. All fundamental elements of life are in danger. Climate change is the cumulative effect of these policies.
We are only increasing urbanisation and industrialisation by destroying the natural habitat and environment. Profit and greed are motivating factors behind this. We could benefit from the traditional wisdom and experiences of our forefathers. However, we are not ready to learn lessons from our own history.
Unless we focus on the basics such as good governance, honesty and simple lifestyle, the Ganga and our environment can never be protected. No matter how much money, manpower or technology is deployed.
Publised here – https://indianexpress.com/article/blogs/rejuvenating-ganga/