The Ganga: Symbol of Purity or Pollution?


“Ganga tu le chaltimrut prêt, dene unhe moksha,

Parantu aaj teri dasha hi us mrut prêt bhanti bani hai,

Sab ko moksha dilanewali, aaj khud hi narak mai!”

You don’t need to be a poet to pen this line. You don’t even need to be an environmentalist to pen this line. I am neither, and still managed to pen this down. We read the pathetic and rued condition of the great Ganga, which is apparently sacred now, for many!!

Ganga has an emphatic presence in the Indian history. A dip in this river is sacred and it un-mounts all the bad and unwarranted deals you have committed in your life time. Every Hindu whose ashes are released in the Ganga; they are assured of moksha. Even though 80 percent of India’s population is Hindus, why is the state of the Ganga such? Why do such few people take part in save Ganga projects?

Let’s keep aside the religious beliefs for a moment and turn our attention to the fact that the excessive pollution in the river has had consequences. Not to mention that the government is keen to divert Ganga’s tributaries and build dams to quench their thirst of power supply. If the number of dams that were going to be built were within acceptable limits, no one would have any objections with government’s intentions; unfortunately the number is too far from acceptable units,It’s 300 dams!

The flora and fauna will die completely. The Ganga will be forced to choose her course through artificial reservoirs and a nexus of tunnels. The woes of the poor river continue as almost 300 crore litres of untreated waste is discharged in the Ganga. Most of this waste is leftover foods and plastics thrown by the same devotees who come to ‘purify’ themselves. Not to mention that a sizable proportion of the effluents in the Ganga are caused by this population through domestic usage like bathing, laundry and public defecation.

The Ganga tolerated this pollution for a long time and in the end, it was time for  pay back. She couldn’t hold the pain anymore and it was time for her to make others feel the same pain. How did the once-upon-a-time patient and tolerant Ganga turn ruthless? The answer lies in deep analysis.

The Ganga flows across 2,525 km (1,569 mi). It is the longest river in India and ranks among the world’s top 20 rivers because of the amount of water it carries. The Ganga basin is the most heavily populated river basin in the world, with over 400 million people directly coming in contact. So, when such a huge population depends on the river, it’s obvious that water borne diseases will follow. The use of the river for bathing, laundry, washing utensils, and brushing teeth only add to those diseases. Exposure factors such as washing clothes, bathing and lack of sewerage, toilets at residence, children defecating outdoors, poor sanitation, low income and low education levels also showed significant associations with enteric disease outcome. Water in the Ganga has been correlated to causing dysentery, cholera, hepatitis, as well as severe diarrhea, all diseases which continue to be one of the leading causes of death of children in India.

Every time I try to refrain from blaming the government for this fiasco but the statistics don’t allow me to do so.

In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government initiated GAP, the Ganga Action Plan to reduce the pollution in the Ganga. From then, till 2000, it has managed to do nothing despite spending 901,71 crore rupees. Fortunate or unfortunate, the GAP was aborted in 2000.

Agreed that the onus of keeping the Ganga clean and free from pollution lies in the hands of the huge masses who revere her, but the policy makers that have the power to create and enact laws could have done lots more to mollify the loss incurred to the environment.

Another step to uphold the sanctity of the Ganga was the National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA) which was established by the Central Government of India, on 20 February 2009 under Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. It also declared the Ganga as the “National River” of India. The chair includes the Prime Minister of India and the Chief Ministers of states through which the Ganga flows.

The fertile basin of the Ganga is the biggest natural resource in India. Let’s preserve it. Let’s not pollute it. I haven’t seen the beauty of the Ganga because I live in Mumbai, but know the value and sacredness of this river when someone visits Haridwar or Kashi and gets a small cup of water for my family. I regret not having seen it. But before I am able to see the beauty, it shouldn’t vanish. It’s my sincere request to all those living in the shadow of the Ganga to help me witness its lost beauty, by restoring it.

Aniruddh Naik