Will Ganga become another Saraswati River?

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) says the Ganga river water is absolutely unfit for “direct drinking” and only seven spots from where it passes can be consumed and that too only after disinfection. According to the latest data with the CPCB, most of the Ganga river water in the Uttar Pradesh-West Bengal stretch is unfit for drinking and bathing.

The 78 monitoring stations where the river water was found unfit for drinking and bathing include Gomati river in Bhusaula-Bihar, Kanpur, Gola Ghat in Varanasi, Dalmau in Raebareli, Sangam in Allahabad, Ghazipur, Buxar, Patna, Bhagalpur, Howrah-Shivpur in West Bengal among others.

The six spots which were found fit for consumption i.e., fit for drinking after disinfection- are Bhagirathi at Gangotri, Rudraprayag, Devprayag, Raiwala- Uttarakhand, Rishikesh, Bijnor and Diamond Harbour in West Bengal.

The areas found fit for bathing in river Ganga include Bhagirathi at Gangotri, Rudraprayag, Devprayag, Raiwala- Uttarakhand, Gharmukhteshwar, Rishikesh, Bijnor, Aligarh and others, including four locations in West Bengal.

On the banks of River Ganga, there are over 1100 industrial units which discharge their waste into the river. The ministry of environment, which is also involved with the cleaning of the river along with the erstwhile ministry of water resources (now part of the newly formed Jal Shakti Ministry), claims industrial pollution has been checked and industrial units are now not discharging in the river.

Management of sewage and agricultural waste generated after using pesticides are two other major challenges as they enter the Ganga river contaminating its waters. Adding to the woes, the garbage that was dumped during the recently concluded Kumbh festival in January 2019 is so far not fully treated and disposed, complicating the matters further.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) came down heavily on the U.P. state government, saying that the Kumbh has brought Allahabad on the verge of an epidemic. According to the report submitted by the monitoring committee headed by Justice Arun Tandon formed by NGT, 60,000 metric tonnes (MT) of solid waste had been collected at the Baswar solid waste treatment plant out of which 18,000 mt was generated during the Kumbh.  The U.P. state government has assured that all the solid waste at the plant will be treated before June 15, and the manure created will be sold in the name of the Kumbh.

The NDA 2.0 government at the centre has launched a new unified ‘Jal Shakti’ ministry that is aimed at providing clean drinking water as well as fight Bharat’s water woes. This new ministry has been formed by merging the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. This new ministry will cover issues ranging from providing clean drinking water, international and inter-states water disputes, and the Namami Gange project aimed at cleaning Ganges and its tributaries, and sub tributaries.

Namami Gange was launched under the Ministry of Water Resources in June, 2014 with a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore to clean Ganga River by 2020, during the first tenure of the Narendra Modi government. RTI queries reveal the Namami Gange programme has received only around Rs.6,211.27 Crores till June, 2018 amounting to just 30% of the total outlay of funds whereas the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) project authority has spent only Rs.4,322.37 Crores out of these funds so received.

Though clean Ganga mission is unlikely to be completed by 2020, the unified Jal Shakti ministry gives hopes for completion of this mission by 2024.  

Other challenges

According to a new study (Mukherjee, A., Bhanja, S. N., & Wada, Y. (2018)), groundwater depletion causing reduction of baseflow triggering Ganga river summer drying. According to the Scientific reports article on Nature.com,

In the last three decades, the groundwater input to the Ganga River in Bharat has declined by 50 percent during the summer, leading to the river losing water during those dry months.

    • The dwindling of the river’s water flow could severely affect the availability of water for surface water irrigation, posing a threat of decline in food production leading to food shortage in the future.
    • The low river flows could also prevent effective dilution of pollutants in the Ganges, which is already one of the most contaminated transboundary rivers in the world.

The situation could be worse than what is currently predicted if the impact of climate change is also duly factored. The river’s 2,525-kilometer (1,569-mile) course is mainly sustained by rainfall in the hinterlands of the Ganges basin and Himalayan glacial melt. With lower in flows in the Ganga River due to climate change and the Himalayan glacial retreat, the water pollution is likely to become a much bigger issue since the pollutants get more concentrated due to lesser water inflows. Shrinkage of river water inflows coupled with dwindling groundwater resources will pose a serious threat to the Ganga River in the next couple of decades.

Therefore, all the 11 states of the Ganga basin have to brainstorm together and evolve an integrated approach to address the following:

  1. All industrial waste, untreated effluents entering the river must be stopped.
  2. Sewage waters entering the river must be blocked.
  3. Pilgrims should take bath in bathrooms where Ganges’ water is made available in taps and pipelines. Under the name of rituals throwing plastic and materials with chemicals must be stopped.

While the government can certainly take measures to address the things mentioned in points no. 1 and 2, with regard to point no. 3 it is possible only through collective efforts. If the government persists in taking certain stringent measures it will only become unpopular as the people will resist it under the name of religious practices.

Our religious practices are never against the ecosystem. It is the lack of civic responsibility of the people while following the religious practices that leads to polluting the river. Unless and until we develop collectively a sense of civic responsibility and an awareness of the importance of preservation of the ecosystem, government alone can do very little in this regard. No wonder the government’s efforts are not yielding tangible results on Clean Ganga mission. While we can blame the government with regard to points no. 1 and 2, we the people have to take our share of blame for point no. 3.

A study commissioned by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMD) says if global climate efforts fail, current emissions would lead to five degrees in warming and a loss of two-thirds of the glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalaya region by 2100, which will seriously impact the inflows into the rivers including the Ganga, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy covering the countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Bharat, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. Therefore, all these countries have to collectively evolve a common strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to save the rivers in Hindu Kush Himalaya region.

Unless we address this problem with a long term view, we will be robbing our future generations of their legitimate right to live in this world peacefully. We all have to introspect on this and take collective action to address this problem. Otherwise like the ancient Saraswati River, Ganga River too will disappear one day and we all will be left high and dry in a desert.

May wisdom dawn in every citizen of this country to preserve the River Ganga that is the backbone of our culture and civilization.

(Featured Image Source)


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About the Author

Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 14 years of teaching, research and consulting. 100 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 20 short stories and 27 articles published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]