C0-Written by Ashish Kumar Singh, Vidya Bhooshan Singh & Siddhartha Negi
‘It’s my destiny to serve Maa Ganga’ said the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi after being elected in May 2014 to Parliament from Varanasi.
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote, “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 civilization and culture…”
From Nehru to Modi, India has seen many governments, so has the Ganges. Although not much has changed for the holy river. Ganga is not just a river for India and Indians but is a symbol of religious and spiritual faith for the country. Despite its importance in the society-from socio-cultural perspective as well as the environmental aspect-, Ganga still seeks attention from its worshippers to remain clean and pure.
Ganga River: Origin and background
The Ganga along the Indus and the Brahmaputra are the major rivers originated from the Himalayas drains a basin of extraordinary variation in altitude, climate, land use, flora and fauna, social and cultural life. Ganga has been a cradle of human civilization since time immemorial. Millions depend on this great river for physical and spiritual sustenance. People have immense faith in the powers of healing and regeneration of the Ganga. It is arguably the most sacred river in the world and is deeply revered by the people of this country. It flows down from its glacial source in the high Himalayas to course through five states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal) in the northern plains before draining into the swirling waters of the Bay of Bengal through the Sunderbans delta, the largest mangrove system in the world. Along with its 2,500-km journey, the river enriches huge swathes of agricultural land and sustains a long procession of towns and cities.
Ganga basin is the largest river basin in India in terms of the catchment area, constituting 26% of the country’s land mass (8,61,404 Sq. km) and supports livelihoods and well-being of around 43% of the country’s population (448.3 million as per 2001 census). Average population density in the Ganga basin is 520 persons per square km as against 312 for the entire country (2001 census). However, high pollution levels in the Ganga are a cause of concern to humans and to the diverse biodiversity supported by the river. The basin provides more than one-third of India’s surface water, 90 percent of which is used for irrigation.
On November 4, 2008, the Ganga was officially declared India’s ‘national river’. But there is a flip side to the story, which needs our attention. The Ganga is also one of the most polluted rivers in the country, and one of the 10 most threatened river basins in the world. The water quality of the Ganga is steadily worsening. Now, not only is the water unfit for drinking, but it would also be harmful to use for agricultural purposes.
Causes of pollution in Ganga
Despite this religious heritage and iconic status, the Ganga today is facing threatening pollution pressures, along with the attendant threats to its biodiversity and environmental sustainability. There are many factors that are responsible for Ganga pollution, rapidly increasing population, rising standards of living and exponential growth of industrialization and urbanization have exposed water resources, in general, and rivers, in particular, to various forms of degradation. The deterioration in the water quality impacts the people immediately. Ganga, in some stretches, particularly during lean seasons has become unfit even for bathing. The threat of global climate change, the effect of glacial melt on Ganga flow and the impacts of infrastructure projects in the upper reaches of the river, raise issues that need a comprehensive response.
The River Ganga is the only important source of water for industries so countless industries lie on the bank of the Ganga river from Uttarakhand to West Bengal like chemical plants, textile mills, paper mills, fertilizer plants and hospitals waste. These industries are 20 % responsible for water pollution and runoff solid waste and liquid waste in the Ganga river. It is very dangers to water quality, their chemical properties, and riverine life.
Sewage and Human waste
The river flows through 52 districts comprises of 5238 villages and 29 cities in which cities population living above ten lakh. A large proportion damps the solid and liquid wastes in Ganga river like domestic usage (bathing, laundry, and public defecation), Sewage wastes, unburnt dead bodies through in Ganga river. Instead of urban sewage, lots of affluents floating through rural sewage as 1707 gram panchayats lie directly on the banks of the Ganga. Patna and Varanasi cities are more responsible for water pollution in Ganga and 80 % sewage wastes are responsible for water pollution of Ganga. In the Ganga basin, approximately 12,000 million liters per day (MLD) sewage is generated, for which presently there is a treatment capacity of only around 4,000 MLD.
As data shows that 4233 villages of 5238 of Ganga Basin declared open defecation free (ODF) but the ground reality is for away from the data. Stopping the open defecation is long-term process and subject matter of behavior change but somehow government constructed toilets and deleted entries of websites and updated the status of ODF on the website.
Resistant Flow of River
Deforestation and soil erosion have created many sediments in the mainstream of the Ganga river when the time passes with continuous water flow sand and garbage create a heap of garbage which creates the obstacle in the flow of the river. This also causes the reduction in depth of river causes less water conservation and during heavy rainy seasons, it causes flooding outside its banks.
Agricultural runoff is one of several nonpoint or diffuse sources of water pollution receiving increased attention. Due to the high demand of the agriculture produce, several agricultural activities are occurring in our country, people are using dangerous chemicals and fertilizers, which contaminates soil, kill all its microbes and also pollute the water. Pesticides -like atrazine, Benomyl, Linuron etc. causes pollution on water. DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) which is common use fertilizer is the biggest threat to Ganga river in cities use of plastic, polythene made items are vigorously manufactured and tones of plastic with other trash are thrown into Ganga river.
Ganga is a sacred river of India as festivals are very important and heartiest to every person in India (Ganga has an important place in Hindu mythology). During the seasons, many peoples come to Ganga Snans to cleanse their sins. Asthi Visharjan (dumping bones) after the death of the people in Ganga river is a tradition of India because they think that Ganga gives mukti from the human world. Khumbha Mela is a very big festival of the world and billion peoples come to Ganga Snans at Allahabad, Hardwar in India. They through some materials like food, waste or leaves in the Ganges for spiritualistic reasons.
Creation of Infrastructures
Continuous Development over and around Ganga is the main threat to the ecological biodiversity. Ganga is known for its rich biodiversity but the various development programmes are affecting and exploiting the natural resources and important species of the river ecosystem as waterways are going to be a big threat for the Ganga river ecosystem.
Efforts towards the Rejuvenation of Ganga
Addressing the Indian community at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2014, the Prime Minister had said, “If we are able to clean it, it will be a huge help for the 40 percent population of the country. So, cleaning the Ganges is also an economic agenda.”
To translate this vision, the Government launched an integrated Ganga conservation mission called ‘Namami Gange’ in June 2014 to arrest the pollution of Ganga River and rejuvenate the river. The Union Cabinet approved the action plan proposed by Centre to spend Rs 20,000 Crores till 2019-2020 on cleaning the river, increasing the budget by four-fold and with 100% central share – a central sector scheme.
As per the Namami Gange mission documents, recognizing the multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder nature of the Ganga Rejuvenation challenge, efforts have been made to improve the inter-ministerial, and center-state coordination with increased involvement in preparation of action plan and increased monitoring at central and state levels.
The implementation of the program has been divided into entry-level activities (for immediate visible impact), medium-term activities (to be implemented within 5 years of time-frame), and, long-term activities (to be implemented within 10 years).
Entry-level activities include river surface cleaning to address the floating solid wastes; rural sanitation to arrest the pollution (solid & liquid) entering through rural sewage drains and construction of toilets; renovation, modernization, & construction of crematoria that prevents the disposal of un-burnt/ partially burnt bodies in the river; repair, modernization & construction of ghats to improvise the human-river connect.
Medium-term activities will focus on arresting the municipal and industrial pollution entering into the river. To address the pollution through municipal sewage, 2500 MLD additional treatment capacity is to be created in the given 5 years. Major financial reforms are underway to make the program efficient, accountable, and sustainable in the long term. Hybrid Annuity based Public Private Partnership model for the Cabinet is currently considering project implementation. If approved, Special Purpose Vehicle will manage concessionaires in all major cities, the market will be developed for treated water, and long-term sustainability of assets will be assured
Apart from these activities, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, and water quality monitoring are also being taken up under the program. Programmes for the conservation of key iconic species such as Golden Mahaseer, Dolphins, Ghariyals, Turtles, Otters, etc. have been already initiated. Similarly, under ‘Namami Gange’ 30,000 hectares of land will be afforested for increased recharge of the aquifers, reduced erosion, and improved health of river ecosystem. In addition, comprehensive water quality monitoring will be done with installation of 113 real-time water quality-monitoring stations.
Under the long-term, providing adequate flow to the river is envisioned through determination of e-flow, increased water-use efficiency, and improved efficiency of surface irrigation.
Reality shows us another image, like any other similar project in India; the Namami Gange is yet to show visible progress. Until May 2017, out of a ₹20,000-crore clean-up programme, only ₹2,000 crore has been sanctioned to the NMCG, the executive authority tasked with commissioning treatment plants, cleaning and beautifying the ghats and setting up improved crematoria.
The National Green Tribunal has been very cynical about the project Namami Gange as a lot of money had been spent on its name without cleaning a single drop of water (Feb, 2017). It is obvious that such criticisms are not baseless and need immediate attention from policy makers and general population alike.
Ganga cleaning remains one of the most important agendas of the current government where they have gone through the learnings of the failures of Ganga Action Plans and drafted the integrated policy while considering all aspects of Ganga rejuvenation, community participation in promotion of organic-based agriculture at river bank, ensuring open defecation free river bank, increasing the afforestation, creating awareness about the importance of river Ganga and building and maintaining the emotional connect with the people. In this phase, the government has approached to all stakeholders including corporates to priest to communicate a clear and simple message “clean Ganga”. Cleaning Ganga may need a mass-movement, yet to surface. However, given the challenges and the pace of work, river Ganga flows quietly, still carrying the remains of everyone.
(Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. He can be reached at- [email protected];
Vidya Bhooshan Singh is a Professional Social worker with expertise in Biodiversity conservation, Water and sanitation and community development, environmental education along with project implementation and management. He is currently working with Centre for Micro Finance-CmF, Sirohi Rajasthan, as Team Leader, implementing Water, sanitation and Hygiene-WASH project in tribal community of Rajasthan. He can be reached at- [email protected] &
Siddartha Negi is the Director of Uttaranchal Youth And Rural Development Centre, Chamoli, Uttarakhand. He can be reached at [email protected])