Lockdown does what decades of schemes couldn’t: Clean Ganga
The nationwide 21-day lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is doing what ambitious schemes could not do over the decades—cleaning the Ganga.
Since 1986, when the Ganga Action Plan was conceived, the Central government has pumped in about Rs 5000 crore to clean a river considered holy by hundreds of millions of Indians, but with little impact.
Now, real time data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that the water quality of the river has improved considerably during the lockdown, notably in industrial towns through which it passes.
The deserted ghats also tell a whole new story as the river flows silently -- and bare, with no signs of bodies, human waste, old clothes or general garbage.
Pandit Narendra Tripathi, who attended to thronging pilgrims in Varanasi before the lockdown said: “On an average, 3000 to 4000 devotees take a dip in the river. Now they are home.”
Besides, funeral pyres at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi are not burning 24X7; many believe cremation here assures salvation to the dead.
Gulshan Kapoor, managing trustee, Baba Mahashamshan Nath Mandir, Manikarnika Ghat said: “Earlier, on average 80 to 100 bodies reached the ghat daily for their last rites. Ever since the lock-down has been enforced, the number has gone down to 15 -20.”
Experts say that if not for the presence of natural bacteria in the river, the water at this point of time is good enough to be consumed. such that it could be consumed. And after a long time, the river water has finally become fit for bathing, they add.
Kalika Singh, the regional officer at Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board at Varanasi, says the water has improved in terms of both colour and quality.
“The dissolved oxygen level upstream is 8.7mg per litre and it is 8.1 mg per litre downstream, which is good enough for bathing,” he says. It is widely accepted that healthy water has a dissolved oxygen level of at least 7 mg/litre, although CPCB’s bar is marginally lower.
CPCB has three real time monitoring stations in Kanpur. One is upstream of the Ganga Barrage, the second, downstream of the barrage, and the third is at Shuklagunj.
The CPCB monitors a range of parameters : dissolved oxygen (it should be more than 6 mg per litre), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD, less than 3 mg/ litre), ph (range between 6.5 and 8.5), ammonia (less than 1.2 mg/litre).
The monitoring station located upstream reported on March 28 that the dissolved oxygen level was 8 mg/litre, BOD was 2.1 mg/litre, ph was 7.90 and ammonia, 0.49 mg/litre.
At station number two downstream, dissolved oxygen level was 7.90 mg/litre, BOD, 1.21 mg/litre, ph, 7.91 and ammonia, 1.1 mg/litre. The third station reported a dissolved oxygen level of 8.51 mg/litre, BOD, 2.1 mg/litre, ph, 7.68 and ammonia, 0.79 mg/litre.
The chemical oxygen demand was less than nine at all the three monitoring points. It should be less than 10 mg per litre.
CPCB officials say the water quality has seen a significant improvement, particularly in industrial towns along the river, including Kanpur.
The city has a cluster of industries along the river. The leather industry, with nearly 400 units, is one. The river had been reduced to a dumping ground for industrial and domestic waste. According to a CPCB survey in 2013, Kanpur was home to 475 of the 764 grossly polluting industries around the river.
While 400 tanning units were assessed to be contributing 50 MLD (million litres per day) of hazardous waste in the river, seven drains, including the biggest Sisamau nullah, were carrying 140 MLD of domestic waste straight into the river.
The biggest success under Namami Gange project came when the Sisamau drain was tapped and its waste flow diverted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the achievement when he held the first ever meeting of the National Ganga Council in Kanpur in December 2019.
PK Mishra , a professor at the department of chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Techonology-Banaras Hindu University, says: “30% of the total BOD load is due to industries along the river Ganga, which amounts to 130 to 150 tons per day. The total effluent dumped into the Ganga is around 6500 to 6700 MLD (in) its UP stretch and onwards. Around 10% is toxic load from industries, which is equal to approximately 700 MLD. Since all the major grossly polluting industries are closed due to the lockdown, this toxic load is not entering the river now. As a result, one-third of the pollution load has been minimised. The only load now is due to sewage from major cities.”
Experts say the improvement in the Ganga’s water during the lockdown is a sign that the river can recover.
Rama Rauta, former member of National Ganga River Basin Authority, says the data is encouraging.
“This proves that dams and industries are the biggest enemy of the purity of the river water. If free flow of water in Ganga is restored and industrial pollution is checked, 75% of the river water will turn into “quality water” for human consumption,” she says.
Santosh Nigam, 27, who lives a few metres from the river bed in Kanpur’s Parmat, one of busiest and revered ghats, is elated.
“I have never seen the river looking so clean,” he says.
“It is beautiful.”