The Ganga cleaning project has been a pet project for successive governments in India. But despite several court reminders, crores of rupees in investment, the involvement of several government and civil society experts, previous governments failed to deliver. So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted for Varanasi over Vadodara as his parliamentary seat, many thought that this was the one big push that was required to clean up the river. Though one understands and appreciates that the NDA government doesn't have a magic wand to clean up the mess and it's going to be a long haul, it's alarming to hear water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation minister Uma Bharti's views on the issue. At a seminar on Tuesday, the sanyasin said that electric crematoriums must not be used on river banks. Instead, bodies should be burnt with the minimum use of wood. And who gave the minister such a brilliant input that goes against all scientific wisdom? According to Ms Bharti, religious leaders do not approve the use of electric/CNG crematoriums because such cremations are against our scriptures.
It is well known that half-burnt bodies are often thrown into the river, causing bacterial pollution in them. Electric crematoriums are recommended in all river cleaning policy measures since this is the best available option. The minister has no business to change the norms. One could still agree with Ms Bharti if she had talked about implementing energy-efficient and environment-friendly cremation systems like the ones being made by an NGO called Mokshda in many parts of India. Along with pollution, using wood means deforestation. According to the UNDP, which supports the Mokshda project, over four million tonnes of wood are consumed every year for cremations in India. This huge requirement for wood is met by felling 50-60 million trees. This ritual also leads to the emission of over eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
The Ganga needs to be cleaned up - and without further delay. And when time is of the essence, does the minister need to come up with such suggestions and delay the process further?