River Ganga or the Ganges has an undeniable position in Indian tradition and mythology. It is the most sacred of all rivers in India and has an indisputable position in the holy Scriptures and practices of Hinduism. Not just that, Ganges carries economic significance as well, considering the fact that the river irrigates 416,990 square miles of Northern Plains and it also generates a source of water for several hydro-power projects. The Ganges is home to several rare and diverse species like the Ganges River Dolphins. It is not just a water body that carries water but is also the life-source that ensures that the flora and fauna along its shores are also replenished over the course of time. In fact, Northern Plains without the Ganges would be a region comparable with the Thar Desert; all dry and no vegetation.
While human settlements started to develop around the river basin as early as the early years of civilization in India, the pollution of the sacred river aggravated in the 20th century following the establishment of several industries across the river basin. Most of these industries have grown in size and scale and today, they contribute the biggest share of pollution caused in the Ganges River. Along with this comes the practices of throwing the dead bodies into the river. The human factor is thus the single most important reason behind the pollution of the river. With the recent directive from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to declare the stretch of the river between Haridwar and Unnao as unfit for drinking and bathing came as a reminder for this aggravating problem of pollution. In its latest set of observations, the National Green Tribunal directed the National Mission for Clean Ganga to install warning boards at every 100 Kilometres, mentioning the health of water and whether it is fit for consumption and usage.
Four years ago in an election campaign, Narendra Modi made an emotional statement while addressing the gathering of several thousand of people. He said that he was called by ‘Mother Ganga’ and he crafted his words very carefully as he knew the extent of the influence the river and its religious significance held over the minds of people. One of the first things that he did after assuming the office was the creation of Ministry responsible to take care of Ganga as “Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation”. A National Ganga Council was proposed and established to take the mantle of the cleaning programme. National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was given the task for initiating the programmes and projects to make Ganges clean again. While the government took several positive steps, like shutting down of 251 Gross Polluting Industries (GPI) across the river basin, a huge share of allocated funds remain underutilized itself points to the fact that very less has been done to rescue the Ganges and its biodiversity from pollution. From an ambitious plan to make the Ganges as pure as it was before to a set of mere cleaning initiatives shows the failure of the initiative.
While the government claims that it can restore the river before 2019 March, it is a highly unlikely target, given the snail pace of the project. One of the underlying issues with the cleaning of the river is the fact that the river is too huge and enormous in size that small steps towards cleaning the river would be a nugatory practise. What is required is an overall, comprehensive, holistic approach towards cleaning the river. The government can start by curtailing the sources of the river pollution as a first step rather than going behind the polluted river. Proper projects and plans must be put into action to enable the industries working across the river basin to divert their industrial waste away from the river. Similarly, the government can also consider putting a ceiling on the number of people who visit the river basin for religious purposes, at least for few years so that we can reduce the pressure over the river and its vegetation. This may include putting restraints on practising certain religious customs for a brief period of time. While this is against the faith systems and religious traditions that many respect and adhere to, it is something that can be done out of consensus to save the ailing river in the long run.
As per the Hindu traditions, Ganges doesn’t belong to us; but we belong to the Ganges. And we cannot envisage an Indian society without the thriving Ganges.
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