Ganga needs joint efforts to regain its old strength - Hindustan Times
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Ganga needs joint efforts to regain its old strength

Jun 23, 2024 10:24 PM IST

This river requires regular, phased dredging from Haridwar to Ganga Sagar.

A few days ago, I was at the Ganga Dussehra. As I stood there, chanting lines from Pandit Jagannath Shastri’s Ganga Lahri, an incident returned to memory. I was on board an Assam-bound Rajdhani Express crossing the bridge connecting Garhmukteshwar and Gajraula. When the coach I was in reached the middle of the bridge, I offered prayers to Ma Ganga.

Kolkata: The setting Sun on an evening, seen from the bank of the River Ganga, in Kolkata, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (PTI Photo/Swapan Mahapatra)(PTI06_23_2024_000213B)(PTI) PREMIUM
Kolkata: The setting Sun on an evening, seen from the bank of the River Ganga, in Kolkata, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (PTI Photo/Swapan Mahapatra)(PTI06_23_2024_000213B)(PTI)

When I was done with the prayers, my co-passengers, a White couple, wanted to know what I was doing. I told them the river we had just crossed was the Ganga and that I had been offering my prayers to it. The man seemed taken aback. “Ganges, the great Ganges,” he asked in amazement, while his companion made a statement that I will not repeat here for it pained me and may hurt the religious sentiments of others, too.

For ages, the Ganga for us has been a source of life, and salvation. When I see a river anywhere in the world, it reminds me of the rivers that run through Prayagraj, Kashi, and Mirzapur, where I spent my childhood. I see the Ganga as a metaphor for the innocence of childhood.

However, the river is no longer considered pure and pious in scientific terms.

According to studies on pollution in the Ganga conducted by BD Joshi, a professor at the Indian Academy of Environment Science in Haridwar, the current Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) level in the river is 7 mg/l, which is extremely unhealthy. Also, solid waste content in the river when it reaches the foothills, was found to be 1,460 mg/l, which exceeds the threshold. The rise in solid waste has reduced the Ganga’s transparency to 5%. Another study found that plastic trash in the river rose 25% between May and June 2024. From Rishikesh to Haridwar, fish numbers have dropped to 80%, and the number of species fell dramatically from 89 to 66%. Crocodile and alligator populations have also fallen.

People typically blame the growing number of tourists and pilgrims for the Ganga’s woes, but there are other causes, too, for this. These should be thoroughly debated in Parliament so that the government can develop an action plan.

There are various locations such as Kaushambi, just before Prayagraj, where people can now cross the Ganga on foot. This is happening even after the Yamuna, with all its waters, has been subsumed into the Ganga. Only 7,000 cusecs of water from the Ganga and the Yamuna together currently flow forward. Though several other rivers join the Ganga downstream, its water flows are dismal.

This is why I dread the fate of Kashi, where I spent my childhood playing on the Assi Ghat. Mounds of sand have started appearing between Dashaswamedh and Sakka ghats on the western edge. If the heatwaves continue, the situation could worsen. One reason behind this state of the Ganga is that it has not been dredged for quite some time.

This river requires regular, phased dredging from Haridwar to Ganga Sagar.

A lot of money has been spent to clean the Ganga at Varanasi, but what are the conditions today? Only 70 to 75 million litre per day (MLD) of the 467 MLD of sewage released by the city enters the Ganga untreated. But the Varuna river, the tributary from which Varanasi derives its name, brings with it 67 MLD of sewage discharged into it into the Ganga.

According to research conducted by a team from the Kashi Hindu University, all fish in the Ganga between Prayagraj and Buxar have been affected by pollution. Furthermore, vegetables and grains grown in the doab area (land between two rivers) irrigated by its waters are also contaminated. Hundreds of people, including myself, used to cross a pontoon bridge to reach Ramnagar, which used to be a good market to buy fresh vegetables and watermelons cultivated on the banks of the Ganga.

A lot can be written on this topic, and much has already been documented. About 40 years ago, I wrote a cover story on the Ganga for a famous magazine, and even then, the figures were similarly appalling. Nature has been sounding the alarm for a long time, urging us to wake up. The fertile land of north India is unimaginable without the Ganga, the Yamuna, and their tributaries. Yet, despite changes in government, the situation has continued to deteriorate. The Ganga will be protected not by slogans, but by the collective efforts of society and the political system.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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