Cleaning the Ganges — Why the Supreme Court is angry
Cleaning the Ganges —Suggestions aplenty, but actions amiss
All governments at the centre, so far, have been high on promises, but low on action in the matter of restoring the heath of the Ganges. No wonder, the gap between the promise and performance has been deprecated by the Supreme Court. The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched in 1985 with grandiose intent and huge publicity. Sadly, in the 28 years that have gone by since then, the record of progress towards clean-up of the river has been abysmal.
Some facts about the state of the water of the Ganges are quite disconcerting. A survey conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2013 reveals that the level of faecal coliform recorded in different stretches of the river from Gangotri to Diamond Harbour are above acceptable limits. Only in the upper reaches, the water appeared to be relatively safe. The contamination of water in the rest of the Ganges shows how human callousness has sullied this mighty river. It takes no great effort to see the underlying causes of the high contamination levels.
The length of the Ganges running through Uttar Pradesh is nearly 1000 kilometers. As many as 600 industrial units dot the banks along this long stretch. Nearly 450 of them are tanneries which generate toxic wastes that are released in to the Ganges. With little regard to the rules pertaining to release of effluents to rivers, these units continue to drain their liquid wastes to the river.
A study group consisting of experts from the seven IITs had gone into the matter. Their report known as the Ganga River Basin Management Plan has underlined the futility of the existing legal and enforcement methods to rein the erring polluters.
It is heartening to note the new BJP government’s focus on resurrecting the Ganges which is a vital life line for millions of people, apart from being vital bedrock of Hinduism. Ganga was declared the status of the National River of India in 2008.
The National Ganga River Basin Authority has swung into action and has identified problem areas. It is trying to find ways to ensure that adequate amount of water flows in the river uninterruptedly round the year. The IIT study group has concluded that the dams and barrages at different points along the river obstruct smooth flow of water. Among the other contributing factors highlighted by the experts are industrial activity, human habitation, deforestation and almost no organized effort to treat the waste water before it runs into the river. All these have progressively imperiled the mighty river considered as the most sacred by Hindus. Ecological restoration of the river is the crying need of the hour.
The National Mission for Clean Ganga has proposed an action plan to ensure that by 2020 no untreated waste is discharged to the river. There seem to be no dearth of funds for the Clean Ganga effort as quite a few governments and international agencies have pledged funds for the purpose. But, bureaucratic drag seems to blunt any effort to expedite the effort. The Supreme Court has rightly expressed its displeasure over this man-made hurdle. The problem has been aggravated by new dams springing up along the river and its tributaries in an unplanned manner. These structures impede the flow of water.
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute has brought to light how the Tehri Dam has robbed the Ganges of its unique ability to cleanse itself. The Tehri Dam blocks the sediments, which leaves the water downstream water with little of the microorganisms which are held back in the sediments. Rampant felling of trees in Uttrakhand has contributed to the ecological imbalance of the Ganges. The arresting of water flow due to the multiple dams going to be built at almost every 25 kilometer distance is a major impediment to automatic flushing off of the pollutants. Even now, water remains stagnant in large stretches of the Ganges. The Supreme Court has been apprised of these facts by the expert body constituted by it in 2014.
As one can see, there have been a plethora of studies, reports and advices as to how best the Ganges can be kept clean. Regrettably, the inaction and foot-dragging by the authorities have so far defeated all well-meaning endeavours to achieve the objective.