Crores spent, but Ganga flows maili

Water not fit for even bathing

Waste strewn all around  the banks of the  Ganga river near Patna. Mohan Prasad

Thousands of people took a holy dip in the Ganga river at Patna on the occasion of one of the most auspicious festival Chhath this year, but an equal number avoided the sacred river in the wake of reports that the water was unfit even for bathing. As a consequence, many devotees opted for a makeshift arrangement on their rooftops and offered arghya (obeisance) to the Sun God on the occasion.

The reports that the Ganga  is still polluted appears to be disturbing given  that a whopping amount of Rs 916 crore was spent on cleaning it through an ambitious project-- Ganga Action Plan -- launched in 1985. As if that was not enough, the United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 decided to spend an additional Rs 15,000 crore to make the Ganga  pollution-free by the year 2020.

Despite spending huge amounts in the last two decades, the river still remains one of the most polluted one in the world.

There was a time when one could see a sea of humanity rubbing shoulders to offer “arghya” to the Sun God on the banks of the Ganga. After all, it is one of the most revered river. Until the reports pointed out the failing health of the Ganga River due to chemical wastes, sewage, idol immersion and even human and animal remains.

According to a report of the Central Pollution Control Board, the total coliform count in Patna downstream has been calculated at 1,60,000 most probable number (MPN)/100 ml, nearly 60 times higher than the permissible limit of just 2,500 MPN/100 ml. The faecal coliform count is also alarmingly high at 50,000 MPN/100 ml, 100 times more than the permissible limit of just 500.

“Forget drinking, the water is dangerous for even bathing,” said noted environmentalist RK Sinha. “To expect that the river retains the mythological traits intact, is sheer wishful thinking.”

Most Hindus consider the river as sacred and a large number of them believe that a dip in the river will help to wash of their sins. A few decades ago when the transport system had not improved, people would undertake arduous journey to have a dip in the holy river. Now, most people loathe the idea of taking a bath in the river.

To stem the rot, the Prime Minister constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) shortly after designating Ganga as the national river. The Chief Ministers of five states, including Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are members of the Authority.

The Ganga river basin is the largest in India, constituting 26 per cent of the country’s land mass and supporting 43 per cent of its population. It has an average population density of 523 people per sq km, making it one of the most congested river basins in the world. The basin covers 230 cities and towns.

The 2,510-km long Ganga, which originates from the Gangotri glacier in Uttarakhand in the Central Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal, enters Bihar at Buxar and leaves the State at Bhagalpur. Perceived to be one of the most sacred rivers, the Ganga enjoys the position of reverence for millions of Hindus who worship it in its personified form as the goddess.

But, of late, the river water near Patna has been declared unfit for drinking and even for a holy dip. Water samples tested in different research laboratories here have revealed that the high presence of coliform bacteria is mainly due to the indiscriminate discharge of untreated sewage into the river.

According to another research study, t Patna town, with a population of about 18 lakh, generates about 200 million litres of sewage every day. The Bihar Rajya Jal Parishad, the nodal agency, has the capacity to treat only 100 million litres of waste per day. The rest 100 million litres of untreated dirty water enters the river every day through 30 drains in the city.

Earlier this year, the then Union Minister for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh had pointed out that there was a sewage treatment capacity of only about 1,000 million litres per day (mld) as against 3,000 mld sewage being generated in the towns along the Ganga, “but no untreated industrial effluent and municipal sewage would be allowed to flow in the river after 2020.”

We have no option other than to wait and watch till then.

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