This article provides short notes on pollution of the Ganges.
According to latest data hundreds of millions of litres of polluted water enter the River Ganges every day. It is one of India’s dirtiest rivers. By its sheer size and volume of water, it still has a marked capacity of self-purification. Coliform bacteria that cause intestinal diseases are disposed off in a short time. But the river’s natural defence are breaking down and urgent steps are needed to halt the degradation.
There is now a plan — a US 250 million project to clean up the Ganges and bring its waters to at least 80% of its pristine purity by 1990. It’s dream that is being cherished by every warm-hearted Indian. But is it going to remain what it is just a dream?
Foreign Governments and companies, international agencies and voluntary organizations have expressed interest in assisting. The Thames Water Authority of England is advising the Indian Government on waste water treatment, monitoring, pollution control and the training of technical staff.
A Dutch company is recommending how the 400 km stretch downstream from Allahabad to Patna can be developed for inland navigation. The French signed a memorandum of understanding with India amid a lot of fanfare and submitting a proposal for the Rs. 21 crore Dinapur treatment plant at Varanasi.
Only 16 of the 98 cities and towns along the river banks have anything resembling a sewage system forcing most of the waste water to fall into the river directly. Almost 250 million a third of the country’s inhabitants live in the Ganges basin. Experts say if sewage discharge from the human settlements could be stopped, pollution levels would drop by 75%.
Project proposals call for the sewage to be diverted directly to treatment plants which will then transform the waste into energy and automatically send the effluent for irrigation. Along the banks will arise public latrines, electric crematoriums, cattle sheds and ghats. In 1988 Project Director K. C. Sivaramakrishan said, “Our progress has been satisfactory”.
The Project Director disclosed in January 1987 that the Ganga Action Plan was yielding some unexpectedly good results. The sewage recovery was becoming a benediction as the solid waste was providing energy from biomass.
“In some places we can generate as much as 2.5 MW powers, sufficient to operate pumps in the treatment plant”, he said. The methane recovery, the source of energy, was possible because of the tropical conditions.
Meanwhile the French proposals for the treatment plant in Varanasi has been put into cold storage and a global tender was called instead, on which a decision still has to be reached.
After untreated sewage, the worst offenders are industrial plants, tanneries, DDT, rubber and textile factories, petrochemical and fertilizer complexes, jute and paper mills and distilleries.
The Ganges is constantly fed by surface run-off water from cultivated lands which have been treated with excessive amounts of pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and manure. The Board for control of Water Pollution revealed that 1.5 million tons of chemical fertilizers were applied to the Ganga Basin.
Soil erosion caused by deforestation, particularly in the foothills of the Himalayas leads to siltation of the river and subsequent flooding. During the monsoon season flooding has been more than doubled in the last 15 years.
A raging torrent when the monsoon rains fall, the river is often reduced to a trickle in the dry months. Sometimes the river possesses too little water to dilute urban and industrial wastes.
Considered of minor importance as far as pollution is concerned is the disposal of cremated bodies in the Ganges. In Varanasi alone, 35,000 human bodies are cremated on funeral pyres every year. As the holiest city in India (pop. 600,000). Hindus believe that anyone who dies within the boundary of the 2,500 year old city is transported straight to heaven. This leads many people to end their days in Varanasi.
Traditionally Sadhus or Hindu holy men and babies are never buried. Of the 35,000 about 10,000 are only half burnt when they are pushed into the Ganges? They belong to families too poor to buy enough of scarce firewood to burn the bodies completely. Thousands of animal carcases are also dumped into the river.
The volume of filth that devotees pour into the Ganges has not daunted them from bathing in its water. People who talk about the holiness of the Ganga have not the slightest guilt about her sullied state. The blindness which can defile a river and then drink its dirty water with faith that the defiler will become pure is as audacious as it is mystifying.
The quality of water —which is a crucial test for the success or failure of the project has shown no improvement. If anything it has become worse. The Biological Oxygen Demand which is a measure of the organic matter present in the water and which ideally should not exceed 3 mg. Per litre for healthy water was 9.8 in May 1981-1982 in Varanasi.
After the Ganges project was taken up, it increased to 12 mg. to 14 mg. per litre. The BOD of Ganga water at Kannauj is between 20-30 mg/1 as reported by V. P. Kudesia and Co-workers.
Of some concern now is that no one known where the money is going to come from once the Ganga Action Plan stops pumping into it. “We are looking into the matter” said Director.
“Something like a national or state level company for maintaining the infrastructures is being envisaged.” And Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi, in charge of the Ganga city task force said, “All these infrastructures can be maintained only when funds are available from the state or the centre”.
Meanwhile scientists associated with the different schemes of the project are beginning to lose their patience because of the delays with more and more bureaucrats moving in to do all the decision-making. Alternative pollution control measure is not being considered at all.
The Central Ganges Authority is to set up a group of non-governmental organizations, like. Academy of Environmental Sciences, Meerut and Varanasi’s watch Ganga, to secure public involvement in the various stages of the clean-up drive stretching over the next 10 years.
Prof. Mishra, a strong campaigner for the cleanup of the Ganges said the problem is essentially a scientific one: how to manage the water resources of entire Ganges basin.
“What is missing is comprehensive thinking”, he said. “Suppose you clean the waste water of the five cities of Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna and Calcutta, will the Gangs be clean? There are 100 towns and they will grow and start polluting the river over the next five years”.
Everyone is agreed that the problem of depolluting Ganges is too great in terms of finance. But does this mean it cannot be done if a sincere effort is made to understand how for example, the tribals who were the original, inhabitants of India, have lived for millennia in good relations with the forces of the river Gods.
At those periods of time, the Ganges was clean, pure and benign. Only three years are left to transform it from its disgusting condition. Plainly there will be no wonderful miracle to clean up the Ganges by 1990 unless we make treatment plants.