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Hey bhagwan, please save the Ganga

June 17, 2014 08:17 IST

Hey bhagwan, please save the Ganga

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Subir Roy

It is time to get seriously worried. There seems to be a move to “develop” the Ganga and as many as four Union ministries have joined hands to do it. The word “development” has not been mentioned, but all that has been said creates a sense of foreboding. Development of the wrong kind can lead to degradation and death of many forms of life.

Over the decades, as the waters of the Ganga have become dirtier, there has been anguish all around that this prime Indian symbol of purity (you sprinkle Ganga jal in any corner that you want to cleanse, not just physically but also spiritually) has itself become so obviously unclean. Therefore, action initiated to fulfil Narendra Modi’s election promise to clean up the Ganga can only be welcomed. But look what all is being proposed in the name of a clean-up.

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Image: A pandit takes a dip in the Ganga.
Photographs: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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Hey bhagwan, please save the Ganga

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Subir Roy

First, let’s appreciate the good ideas. It is great that liquid waste from towns and cities along the river -- which has till now has been freely dumped into the river, making it one big drain -- will now be recycled (not thrown out, but treated and reused) and treated in case it is let into the river. This is what the Ganga Action Plan, which owes its origins to Rajiv Gandhi, aimed to do. Money was distributed to states with municipalities along the river so that they could build water treatment plants for their sewage, but at the end of the day there is little to show by way of results.

What has not been mentioned in the news reports, but what should also follow, is a total ban on dumping solid waste into the Ganga. Carcasses of dead animals and dead bodies floating down the river immediately come to mind. This is not all. Idol immersion in the Ganga after a puja continues to take place, even though the chemicals that are used to make the paints for the idols are toxic and have no place in any river -- not to speak of a holy one mentioned in the puranas. Environmental groups have moved the Calcutta High Court on this as immersions in huge numbers take place in and around Kolkata, particularly after Durga Puja. But there is no end in sight so far.

It also seems very sensible to make the Ganga navigable with a bit of dredging, as has been stated in news reports, so long as this does not lead to new pressure points resulting in fresh river bank erosion. Much can be said about the environmental and cost benefits of river transport.

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Image: Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Uma Bharti performs prayers at the Ganga
Photographs: Raj Patidar/Reuters

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Hey bhagwan, please save the Ganga

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Subir Roy

But alarm bells start ringing when developing tourism -- religious and secular -- is also mentioned as a goal. It is the unchecked commercialism riding on the back of pilgrims visiting Kedarnath that lies at the root of the environmental degradation of those parts of the Garhwal hills. And this was the cause of so much of the loss that resulted from the flash floods of 2013. Tourism to natural destinations has to be strictly regulated or rationed for it to be sustainable. The idea of promoting limited tourism remains alien to our administrative culture.

Apart from that, the one big idea that is most perplexing and can be disastrous for the Ganga is to build barrages at every 100 kilometre across the Ganga for connectivity and transportation. What kind of connectivity, across or down the river? Roads over barrages connect the opposite banks, but barrages sound the death knell for a freely flowing river.  

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Image: In the backdrop of the setting sun, men take a dip in the holy Sangam during the Kumbh mela in Allahabad.
Photographs: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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Subir Roy

It is best to repeat what a religious leader has said on all these ideas. As Swami Avimukteshwaranand, a disciple of the Dwarka Shankaracharya, sees it, “Modi is doing the same thing what the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government did. They formulated plans and allocated crores of rupees for cleaning the river, but its condition deteriorated by each passing day. Ganga needs water, not money. So provide her with as much water as possible to resolve the issue.”

He added, “We urge Modi to let the river water flow freely from its top without any sort of obstructions and hurdles on its path, the various problems of the river will almost be resolved. The aviral Hindi for ‘continuous’ flow of river water will clean all the dirts of the river and will free it from all sorts of pollution. The only thing required is to stop construction of dams over the river and cancel all the proposed and ongoing hydro projects on the Ganga river and its tributaries. So there should be no dams on the Bhagirathi above Tehri.”

Is it that barrages that are not dams are OK below the Tehri dam? There is an urgent need to explain how a barrage does not affect the free flow of the river when what is needed foremost is a clean freely flowing river that is a source of every kind of life around it 

 


Image: Hoping to seek some respite from the heat, boys take a dip in the Ganga.
Photographs: Reuters

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