For years, the Ganga water was believed to have healing powers. Today, the mighty river is nothing more that a big drain carrying filth, toxins and dangerous diseases. So much so that the sadhus who travel miles for the Ardh Kumbh Mela have threatened to boycott ceremonies this year.
On Monday, thousands of them gathered at the fair grounds to demand that the state of the waters be improved by January 12, the date of the next great immersion.
The waters have become extremely polluted, both due to recent offerings of flowers and food by pilgrims and years of contamination as industries dump waste and cities pump sewage into the river. “Lakhs of people bathe in this river because Hindus consider the Ganga a pious river. But the fact is that they are taking a dip not in river water but in effluents discharged from factories,” said Hari Chaitanya Brahmachari of Teekarmafi ashram in Amethi. Brahmachari has been leading a campaign for cleaning the waters of the river.
“If things do not improve, sadhus will take jal samadhi (ritual suicide) before the first shahi snan on Makar Sankranti on January 14/15,” he said. Afraid of catching water-borne diseases, many sadhus can even be seen drinking mineral water.
The mela organisers were tight-lipped about the biological oxygen demand (BOD) level in the river, which has gone up to six. The normal BOD level in the Ganga is five but should ideally not exceed three if it is to be fit for bathing. A Pollution Control Board officer, on condition of anonymity, said a report has been sent to the state government while a Jal Sansthan official said the water was unfit for drinking.
The Ganga receives a daily dose of toxins. About 29 MLD (million litres daily) effluents were being poured into the river through the Salori drain till recently. This is now being tapped. The Mori dam contributes 20 MLD of effluents while nearly 150 small drains account for another 5 MLD. Besides, sources say, tanneries in Kanpur and some paper mills along the course of the river are the biggest polluters.
The government plans to construct two sewer treatment plants to deal with the problem. The plants are expected to be ready in two years. To tackle pollution during the Ardh Kumbh, the Allahabad High Court had ordered the release of 1,500 cusec water from the Narora dam daily but this has not been done, according to Brahmachari.
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