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The Supreme Court has rightly pulled up the government for not doing enough to clean one of the world’s dirtiest river — the Ganga. Restoring the holy river to its past glory had remained on the government’s backburner as removing the dirt would have hurt the vote-bank of around 400 million Indians who live in the river basin.
Use of hazardous chemicals for agriculture along the river, thousands of polluting industries on its banks and blocking of the water flow through construction of dams in Uttarakhand has contributed to the deplorable condition of the river.
In 2013, Ganga was ranked as second-most polluted river in the world after Citarum river in Indonesia. The report published in international journal Nature said that pollution level in Ganga was about 3,000 times of the safe limit prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for human use. Another study quoted the Indian Council of Medical Research to say that the people living in the vicinity of the river were vulnerable to cancer.
All this happened despite the government spending thousands of crores under Ganga Action Plan since 1985. A comparison of data collected by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of river’s water quality in the last two decades shows that both bio-chemical demand (BOD) and dissolved oxygen — two indicators depicting water health — had risen.
DD Basu, a former scientist with the CPCB had said that Ganga water downstream of Haridwar was not fit for drinking, bathing or any other use.
A clean Ganga will not happen unless the government brings in a change in the mind-set of people living along the river. In addition, it would have to ban use of chemicals in agriculture, make throwing garbage into the river an offence, satellite based monitoring for polluting industries and not allowing any more dams on the river. Many environmentalists believe it is an impossible task as it would require huge public investment.