Researchers at the People's Science Institute (PSI) in Dehradun have found that the Ganga in Haridwar contains high concentration of faecal coliforms, a type of bacteria originating in faeces that can cause several health hazards.
Devotees converging here from across the globe have been taking dips in the river as the Jan 14-April 28 Maha Kumbh Mela has been drawing millions.
The water quality at Har-ki-Pauri, the ghat that attracts most pilgrims as it is considered the spiritual soul of Haridwar, did not meet the standards for outdoor bathing set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
"Bathing in the river definitely involves a great risk as you become vulnerable to infections by bacteria and other pathogens," Anil Gautam, head of the environmental quality monitoring group at PSI, told IANS Friday.
"Faecal coliform contamination may cause a number of waterborne pathogenic diseases. Once you come in contact with such bacteria, you become prone to develop skin or ear infections, dysentery, gastroenteritis and other health problems that may even turn serious," he added.
Days before the Maha Kumbh started here, PSI took samples from 10 drains discharging water into the Ganga at different locations in Haridwar along with samples of the river water at three locations including Har-ki-pauri, Jagjeetpur and Saptrishi.
According to the study, discharge of untreated waste from non-functioning sewage treatment plants (STPs) and effluents from different drains into the river was primarily responsible for the faecal contamination.
"Faecal coliform count of 500 MPN (maximum probable number) per 100 ml is considered standard by the CPCB for outdoor bathing. However, in our tests we observed that the count in the water samples exceeded the standard," said Gautam.
"At Har-ki-Pauri the count was 1,500 MPN per 100 ml. At Saptrishi the count was 1,000 MPN/100 ml. The worst condition was at the Jagjeetpur site where the count was recorded at around 7.5 million MPN/100 ml," he added.
According to PSI, the STP at Jagjeetpur alone releases about 129 million litres daily.
"The STPs including that of the Jagjeetpur are just not enough as their sewage treatment capacity is far less than the volumes of sewage they get for treatment," said Gautam.
The study has not yet been released but the researchers plan to send their findings to public representatives, including legislators of Uttarakhand soon.
Many of the pilgrims who have travelled here from different pars of the country were repulsed on hearing about the findings of the study.
"If you had told me about the study, I would not have opted for a bath at all. Probably I would have just sprinkled some drops of water," Nilesh Sinha, from Bihar's Motihari town, told IANS.
Dwarika Lal, who has come here from Nagpur, was equally shocked.
"If the findings of the study are publicised at a mass scale, there will surely be a considerable decline in the number of devotees opting for the holy bath here in the Ganga."