Despite the Union Government’s ambitious plan to clean the Ganga, the river continues to be as dirty as ever. Water of the river that flows through Patna, the capital of Bihar, has been declared unfit not just for drinking but also for a holy dip due to the indiscriminate discharge of untreated sewage into the river.
According to a study, Patna town, with a population of about 19 lakh, generates about 286 million litres of sewage every day. The Bihar Rajya Jal Parishad, the nodal agency which monitors sewage water, has the capacity to treat only 109 million litres of waste per day. The rest 177 million litres of untreated water goes into the river every day through different drains in the city.
“From the Ganga Action Plan in 1986 to Namami Gange project in 2016, I have seen it all. Nothing has changed. I have lost all hopes,” 60-year-old Malti Devi told DH, dwelling at length how the frenzy youths immersed Goddess Durga in the Ganga during Navaratri. Most of the residents of the town have the same opinion.
It is estimated that over 3,000 idols (small and big ones) from around 700 pandals in nine districts in Bihar are immersed in the Ganga every year.
Sometime back, the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) had written to all the nine district magistrates (DMs) to get temporary ponds constructed for idol immersion during Durga Puja. But, sources say, the order could not see the light of the day in the name of aastha (religious beliefs).
This year, the BSPCB issued an advisory asking not to use Plaster of Paris in making idols as it does not get dissolved. The board also disapproved the use of chemical paints. “The paints which are used for decorating idols contain harmful chemicals — mercury, lead, chromium, zinc oxide and they cause stress on the river, adversely affect quality of water and may eventually cause skin diseases, besides cancer,” A K Ghosh, Chairman of the BSPCB, told DH.
Earlier, a scientific investigation carried out by a team of Patna University research experts, headed by noted environmentalist R K Sinha, had found that Ganga water carries hundreds of pollutants. These pollutants include total coliform (TC) and faecal coliform (FC) bacteria, residues of chemical pesticides and heavy metals.
The team, therefore, concluded that Ganga was unfit for even bathing. “Water becomes unfit for bathing if the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) level exceeds 3 mg per litre. In case of Patna, the BOD level was found to be 6 mg per litre, thereby making it unfit for either bathing or human consumption,” opined Sinha, who has done extensive research in this field.
The water sample collected from Kurji Ghat in western Patna showed that TC and FC counts at 17,000 and 11,000/100 ml of Ganga water, while their permissible limit was just 2,500 and 500/100ml of water respectively.
In Uttar Pradesh, Ganga continues to suffer the most in the industrial town of Kanpur, about 90 kilometres from Varanasi, with as many as 264 tanneries pumping out around 30 crore litres of polluted water into the river every day.
Besides, there are around 23 open drains in the town, the biggest being in Sisamau locality, adding to the pollution in the river. The town also generates around 400 tonnes of solid waste. In Varanasi also around 250 MLD of polluted water is pumped into Ganga.
The tanneries, which have export business to the tune of around Rs 6,000 crore, however, remain the biggest source of pollution. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had recently ordered closure of five tanneries for discharging effluents in the river.
Delhi-based Centre for Science & Environment had in a recent report said that the Kanpur-Varanasi stretch of the river was the most polluted.
The UP government has ordered that no industrial effluents would be released into the river from December 15 to March 15 to keep the river clean during the ongoing Kumbh Mela.
In spite of the claims of progress, people feel that River Ganga is yet to get a healing touch.