Good governance and simple living is key to clean environment
Ram Dutt Tripathi
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 government has taken a pledge to clean the mother Ganga.
Ganga has been the life line of the Indian civilisation for ages. Respected like mother and worshiped like a Goddess .
It has served the Indian people economically and spiritually both. During life time and even after death. Thousands of old or terminally ill people go to live near the mother Ganga for peaceful end to their lives.
Thus rejuvenating the Ganga is linked with the physical as well as psychological well being of the Indian people. Even people living abroad some kind of spiritual benefits by worshiping and taking a drop of Gangajal.
One wonders then 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 not be different. Once again the large amount of money allocated in the budget will go down the drains benefiting corrupt officials , contractors and industry supplying treatment plants.
Actually , 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 increased population and wrong development policies.
Capacity of treatment plants has not been sufficient according to the actual pollution load. More over 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. One such classic example is famous Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi.
The Ganga Action Plan did not involve local people or rural and urban bodies in planning and implementation. Projects were prepared and implemented by government agencies like Jal Nigam , which are known for inefficiency and corruption.
The Ganga Action Plan was aimed at cleaning only a small fraction of polluted effluents coming through drains in big cities. It almost ignored taking steps to improve the health of the river itself.
The most important factor for a healthy river is it’s free flow. But the governments have interrupted flow of the Ganga and its other major tributaries at many places including Tehri , Haridwar , Narora and Kanpur. Thus the river looses its velocity and energy to clean itself.
The second most important point is availability of fresh water in the river. Almost entire water is taken away from the Ganga for irrigation and drinking before the Narora dam in western Uttar Pradesh. The river has very nominal quantity of pure and pious Gangajal after the Narora dam in Bulandshahar district.
What flows after the Narora dam is some ground water recharge, urban civic waste water and highly polluted discharge from Ram Ganga and Kali rivers .These two rivers merge in the Ganga near Kannauj. The two rivers bring highly polluted industrial and civic effluent from Kumaon , Rohelkhand and western Uttar Pradesh towns and industries.
These industries include sugar , chemical , distillery , textiles pulp and paper . These are also source of illegal money for politicians, officers and engineers engaged in controlling the pollution.
After a short journey from Kannauj the Ganga reaches metropolitan city Kanpur. A large quantity of water is taken from the river near the upstream barrage for drinking. Much more civic sewage and industrial waste is thrown into the Ganga in Kanpur city. There are nearly 450 tanneries in Kanpur. Tannery waste water is highly injurious to public health.
Ironically, the IIT Kanpur has been involved in the the Ganga Action Plan . But its advice has not been effective in curbing the pollution in the city.
Villages around Jajmau area in Kanpur and downstream are the worst victims. Vegetables and fruits have become poisonous. People are suffering from various diseases and dying.
Actually the Kannauj to Kanpur stretch of the Ganga is worst affected from pollution. It is only dirty and toxic water flows to Allahabad and Varanasi from Kanpur.
Scientists say that the unique bacteria killing capacity of the Gangajal has been reduced due to pollution and reduced flow of water.
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. Fresh water taken out and more sewage added.
Water quantity in Ganga increases after Balia when Saryu and other rivers bring water from Nepal.
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 of irrigation.
Thirsty Delhi takes all remaining water from Yamuna. Now Delhi also consumes a portion of Ganga water supplied through a canal from Haridwar.
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.
The governments since British period have promoted highly water intensive sugarcane and other cash crops in western Uttar Pradesh which consume major portion of the Gangajal. These crops add chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the river flow further degrading the water quality.
Government needs lots of political courage and administrative efforts to change the crop pattern.
The Himalayas the source of the Ganga and other major rivers itself is in danger because of deforestation and other human activities like hydro power projects.
The Gangotri and other Glaciers are receding fast.
Forget destruction of Himalaya hills . Just see how we have grown concrete jungles in Rishikesh and Haridwar.
Large area of forest have been cut all along the Ganga river basin. Ponds and lakes have been taken over by urban settlements. This has reduced the water retaining capacity of the area. Underground water is going deep and deep.
Actually the river Ganga is 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 free flow ?
What is the use of pakka ghats and river front development if there is no fresh and pure Gangajal in the river?
These are big questions which need to be answered. Without this Ganga , Yamuna, or for that matter any river , can not be cleaned , whatever amount of money is spent.
At this point, I would like to inject some ancient wisdom on this issue. Indian civilisation faced a major ecological crisis in the past which is recorded in 2500 years old Ayurvedic text book Charak Samhita.
The great Ayurvedic scholar -Lord Punarvasu Atreya had his ashram or Gurukul on the banks of the Ganga near Kampliya near Kannauj . One day , Punarvasu was teaching his students the principles of Ayurveda dealing with depopulation through epidemics.
Pointing towards the night sky, Punarvasu 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.” The disciple Agnivesh posed an intelligent question: why do such epidemics cause mass destruction of communities. The reply from Punarvasu was very simple: “because 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 the fundamental question: what causes such disastrous pollution? Punarvasu explained that the root cause of pollution is corruption, maladministration and intellectual dishonesty.
He explained that when ruling authorities of a country, city and trade guild etc., govern the people irresponsibly, transgressing the law, then their officers and subordinates, businessmen, industrialists and ordinary people also become dishonest. As a result, there is considerable ecological disorder. The great scholar’s prescription does not call for installation of machinery or treatment plants.
Instead, he suggests “truthfulness, benevolence, charity and compassion for creatures, sacrifices, worship of the gods, the observance of right, or noble conduct, tranquillity, residing in healthy places, observance of celibacy and the company of those who are observing celibacy, discourse of religious scriptures and constant company of religious, pure and those approved by elders.” These alone are effective measures to curb reckless urbanisation and careless industrialisation that give rise to pollution. It is not only pollution in the Ganga river which is causing concern. The existence of the whole planet earth is in danger due to wrong policies and development model. All fundamental elements of life are in danger. Climate change is cumulative effect of those policies.
I am not a historian . But I presume that the ancient India adopted to the decentralised , self sufficient village system and simple living after this environmental crisis. Worshiping nature and taking only minimum required from it is also integral part of this life style.
We are only increasing urbanisation and industrialisation by destroying the natural habitat and environment. Profit and greed is motivating factor behind this and not justified needs of the society.
We could benefit from the traditional wisdom and experiences of our forefathers. However, we are not ready to learn lessons from our own history and experiences of our forefathers.
Unless we focus on the basics such as good governance, honesty and simple life style, the Ganga and our environment can never be protected. No matter how much money, manpower or technology is deployed.
Ram Dutt Tripathi
Former correspondent , BBC World Service
55 Gulistan Colony, Lucknow