Save Ganga, Save Life

“The land where the Ganges does not flow is likened in a hymn to the sky without the sun, a home without a lamp, a Brahmin without the Veda.”
– Jean Tavernier, Travels in India

GANGA, the national river of India has been acknowledged in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures. .As soon as we hear the name Ganga we feel purity in our life. The first PM of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said: “The Ganga especially is the river of India age-long culture and civilization, ever changing. Ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga.” Ganga is both river and goddess.

Ganga arises from Gangotri Glacier which is located in Himalayas. The glacier is 30 kilometers long and 2 to 4 kilometers wide .It is located in the Uttarkashi district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, near the China border. Gomukh is deemed to be the precise source of the Bhagirathi River; the main channel which forms Ganga along with some other rivers. According to Indian mythological story of the descent of Ganges, King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva and was granted his wish that Goddess Ganga comes down on earth to bring to life his dead ancestors. It is believed that Lord Shiva’s locks contained the holy river, to save the earth from devastation. Gomukh near the Gangotri glacier resembles a cow’s head and strangely, the river gushes down at tremendous speed through this natural formation, without which it would’ve been difficult to contain and would have caused devastation. Due to its obvious important to Hinduism, Gangotri is one of the most famous pilgrimage spots in India. As Ganga flows it passes through uttarkhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal. It is the longest river of India.Ganga basin is thus the highly populated regions of the world. Today, over 29 cities, 70 towns, and thousands of villages extend along the Ganga banks It is said to be the life of millions of people who lives along it course and depend upon it. It is a very sacred river for Hindus. The Ganga is envisaged as the life-line of crores of our people and crores of our people consider her to be their divine mother.

Despite all the divinity of the GANGA ,it has come under ever-growing threat from humanity. It is  getting increasingly polluted from the inevitable human intervention in the pureness it carries as it exits from the womb of her mother. During its course, Ganga collects large amounts of human pollutants through highly populous areas. These populous areas, and other people downstream, are then exposed to these potentially hazardous accumulations. It does not end with this, the bacteria levels are more than 100 times higher than the limits set by the government. From washing clothes to dumping bodies, the river’s purity is assail every day and in spite of the alarming levels of pollution, people continue to use the water to drink and take a bath.
Nearly all of their sewage – over 1.3 billion litres per day – goes directly into the river, along with thousands of animal carcasses, particularly cattle. Another 260 million litres of industrial waste are added to this by hundreds of factories along the rivers banks. Municipal sewage constitutes 80 per cent by volume of the total waste dumped into the Ganga, and industries contribute about 15 percent. The majority of the Ganga pollution is organic waste, sewage, trash, food, and human and animal remains. Over the past century, city populations along the Ganga have grown at a tremendous rate, while waste-control infrastructure has remained relatively unchanged. In 2007,Ganga had been declared  in the five most polluted river because it had fecal coliform levels in the river near Varanasi accounting to about 50,000 bacteria per 100 milliliters of water, 10,000% higher than the government standard for safe river bathing. Ganga is getting contaminated day-by-day. Nearly 170 factories and tanneries located between Kannauj and Varanasi, covering an area of 450 km, were held  accountable for polluting the river by discharging wastes into it without treatment. . A total of 146 industries are reported to be located along the river Ganga between Rishikesh and Prayagraj. 144 of these are in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and 2 in Uttrakhand. The major contaminating industries on the Ganga are the leather industries, especially near Kanpur, which use large amounts of Chromium and other toxic chemical waste, and much of it finds its way into the meager flow of the Ganga.  From the plains to the sea, pharmaceutical companies, electronics plants, textile and paper industries, tanneries, fertilizer manufacturers and oil refineries discharge effluvium into the river. This  dangerous waste includes hydrochloric acid, mercury and other heavy metals, bleaches and dyes, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls and other highly toxic compounds that accumulate in animal and human tissue.

The tannery industry mushrooming in North India has converted the Ganga River into a dumping ground. The tanning industry discharges different types of waste into the environment, primarily in the form of liquid effluents containing organic matters, chromium, sulphide ammonium and other salts. However, industry is not the only source of pollution. Sheer volume of waste – estimated at nearly 1 billion litres per day – of mostly untreated raw sewage – is a significant factor.  Runoff from farms in the Ganga basin adds chemical fertilizers and pesticides such as DDT, which is banned in the United States because of its toxic and carcinogenic effects on humans and wildlife. Damming the river or diverting its water, mainly for irrigation purposes, is adding to the pollution crisis. Atmospheric deposition of heavy metals emitted from  vehicles and presence of industrial units adjoining the Ganges is adding to the pollution load on the river, researchers have found on May 2010. Catering for legal mining in and around the Haridwar, boulders adjoining the river are being removed for construction, thereby causing damage to the river’s banks and bed.

Four major tributaries of the Ganga on the Haridwar viz Pilee Nadhi, Barasati Nallah, Rawasan river and Kotawali river  are drying because of construction of dams, and destruction of the ecology, in upstream areas. According to information provided to Parliament on March 22, 2012, the fine collected from illegal miners of minor minerals was R115 crore in 2010-11, as compared to just R84 crore for major minerals. Around 4,640 cases of illegal mining have been reported in Uttarakhand alone. This pollution has resulted in an array of water-borne diseases including cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and amoebic dysentery. An estimated 80% of all health problems and one-third of deaths in India are attributable to water-borne diseases. The sacred practice of depositing human remains in the Ganga also poses health threats because of the unsustainable rate at which partially cremated corpse are dumped.  Hundreds of dead body are burnt on the line of wooden pyres. Soot-covered men bustle about, raking in the still-glowing ashes, sweeping them into the river.  Gray dust from the pyres floats atop the waves, mixed with flower garlands and foam. The dust and debris resurfaces some distance away, this time, intermixed with polythene bags, empty cans and dirty clothes.

The Ganga is also one of the rivers most threatened by climate change. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “  In the long run, the water flow in the Ganges could drop by two-thirds, affecting more than 400 million people who depend on it for drinking water. The report warns that in the short term the rapid melting of ice high up in the Himalayas might cause river swelling and floods. The formation of glacial lakes of melt-water creates the threat of outburst floods leading to devastation in lowland valleys. It is deeply painful and highly unfortunate that even though more than 3000 crores of rupees have been spent to clean the Ganga and the Yamuna, the rivers are grasping for breath under unbearable pollution, e. It is important to note that according to the report of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published on 20th March 2007, the Ganga,is among the 10 most endangered rivers of the world. Surely saving our national river Ganga, which constitute the lifeline of nearly 40 % of our country’s population, would be  a major step in the direction to save all our other great rivers which are also in the process of slow death: it will set an example for saving our all other great rivers. 

Recent history showcases some measures taken at the national level to curb the surging crisis.  In 1996, the Supreme Court had banned the discharge of effluents from various tanneries and factories located on its banks in Kanpur. The tanneries of Kanpur are responsible for  seven per cent pollution in the river. Swami Nigamanand’s (a member of Matri Sadan) sacrifice to save Ganga  is worth noting. He had kept fast for 115 days to protest against the illegal mining that was polluting Ganges before he succumbed to death.It is known that Matri Sadan has been struggling to save Ganga from illegal mining for the past 12 years. However for the most part, efforts are not yielding the way they were supposed to be considering the criticality of the situation.

Crores of rupees being spent on saving the Ganga from pollution does not seem to be working as bacterial contamination in India’s most sacred river has crossed the maximum permissible limit at several key cities due to discharge of sewage owing to the  lack of coordination between the Central and State agencies was affecting proper implementation of various projects, money is allotted for sewage treatment plants and for central effluent treatment plants. But unfortunately, all those plants do not work, perhaps, because of lack of electricity and perhaps, because the network of sewers is not connected to the central plants in that particular city. The government is implementing Ganga Action Plan (GAP)since 1985 for undertaking pollution abatement activities in the identified polluted stretches through implementation of works like interception and diversion of sewage and setting up treatment plants. The project, involving an estimated cost of Rs. 7,000 crore, has been approved under the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), while Rs. 1,441 crore has been released for the implementation of various pollution abatement works in towns along the Ganga, and sewage treatment capacity of 1,091 million litres per day has been created.

With all this , the need for continuous effort estimation and development is gaining weight as part of the higher aim to protect the Ganges. The following would probably serve as optimum measures to control the various aspects related to pollution and usage of the Ganges river.

1-The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) must take the full responsibility of the protection of our national river. Since the Ganga flows through many states, it would be the best if NGRBA takes the full responsibility of making and keeping the Ganga and its tributaries completely and permanently free from pollution through time-bound steps, leaving no scope for the central and state government authorities blaming each other for the failures.


2-Entry of hazardous chemicals from agricultural run-off into the rivers must be prevented through promotion of organic farming in a massive way. Methods of irrigation needs to be changed keeping in view of the E-flow requirements of our national river.   There is no scarcity of money, knowledge and skills with us to save our rivers including the Ganga. There is lack of will due to our moral bankruptcy which is at the root of our various deep rooted social evils including the problem of corruption.

 3-Environmental ethics must be taught as a part of the syllabus on ethics which must be taught as a compulsory subject, both at the school as well as at the college level.  To begin with, we must make Uttarakhand an absolutely eco-friendly ideal Himalayan state and must take time-bound decisive steps to make the Yamuna at Delhi completely and permanently free from pollution, which would set an example for the entire country. It is highly deplorable that our national capital Delhi is the greatest polluter of the River Yamuna, the largest tributary of our National River Ganga. In dry season no water is allowed to flow in the Yamuna River downstream to Hathnikund barrage in Haryana and what reaches the holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan is mainly the treated or untreated domestic and industrial waste water contributed by various drains joining the Yamuna at Delhi. 

4-An adequate flow of   natural fresh water must be allowed to flow on the Yamuna bed throughout the stretch of the river throughout the year not only to protect and preserve its ecology but also to meet the drinking water needs of the cities, towns and villages situated on its banks.  It is highly deplorable that our national capital Delhi is the greatest polluter of the River Yamuna, the largest tributary of our National River Ganga. In dry season no water is allowed to flow in the Yamuna River downstream to Hathnikund barrage in Haryana and what reaches the holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan is mainly the treated or untreated domestic and industrial waste water contributed by various drains joining the Yamuna at Delhi.

5-We should cooperate with government as our rivers are the source of drinking water for crores of people and STPs cannot convert sewage into potable water. We must discontinue the present policy of allowing treated sewage into our rivers. Sewers must be separated from rivers and sewage must be converted into natural manure for organic farming. Industrial effluents and hospital wastes, treated or untreated, must not be allowed to enter into the rivers and must not also be allowed to mix with the sewage. Industries must treat their effluents and use only the recycled water.

6-Treatment of the sewage for converting it into natural manure through “Pond System” and “Plant Based Management of Sewage and Waste Treatment”, which are the cheapest and durable and need least management and electricity, should be preferred wherever possible. A massive time-bound plantation programme on the banks of the river Ganga from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, along with the development of constructed wetlands for sewage treatment in major cities on the banks of the rivers needs to be carried out on a large scale.



We must  protect  and take loving care of  the delicate and holistic balance that exists in the  ecosystems of nature which are invaluable from the view point of utility, aesthetics as well as religion,  and try to restore wherever possible our degraded eco-systems. Protection of the Ganga- symbolizing all rivers and water bodies-should be accorded the highest priority in the scheme of our national development process.Its high time that we start visualising a land without the natural gush of water, let alone the pureness. Although seemingly harsh as a part of remedial measure, but at least this would create a sense of urgency to save the mother of multitude of water bodies and of humanity by its very nature.





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