River Ganga may bear the brunt of the disaster that struck Uttarakhand on June 16.
The damage done to the revered river, one of most polluted in the world, is yet to be ascertained. But experts are unanimous about the need to closely monitor the water quality of the river, especially in the plains, although its high discharge is expected to carry much of the disaster-induced waste away.
The Lucknow office of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is planning to intensify surveillance fearing increase in the bacterial load owing to human bodies and animal carcasses in the river. Construction material, vehicles and other forms of debris have also gone into the river.
Officials at the police headquarters in Lucknow said 27 bodies have so far been recovered from the Ganga in Allahabad, Garh Mukteshwar and Muzaffarnagar besides the 48 at Hardwar.
Former CPCB chairman Paritosh Tyagi advised a drive to remove the debris that could be toxic. He also prescribed planting trees along the banks to give stability to the river.
Ravi Chopra of People’s Science Institute, an IITians’ initiative at Doon, said: “Tremendous amount of silt and debris can raise the riverbed at different places and change the course of the river slightly when it hits the plains, as in the upper reaches of the hills it will be trapped between gorges. How much it will affect life forms can be known only after the rains are over.”
According to Geological Survey of India geologist VK Joshi, the chances of metal pollution are less than bacterial pollution as the river is in spate now. “The degradation of bodies (human/animal) is bound to produce bacteria putting townships on the banks of Ganga and Yamuna at risk. It is, therefore, time to monitor levels of pollution of the Ganga and its tributaries,” he said.
Pollutants, Joshi warned, can also seep through the riverbed to contaminate groundwater.
BD Tripathi, member of National Ganga River Basin, said accumulation of deposits could reduce the river’s water carrying capacity.