“Ganga Mahotsav: Essence lost to pollution” by Times of India
“Ganga Mahotsav: Essence lost to pollution.” The Times of India. 16 November 2010.
The Times of India
November 16, 2010
VARANASI: The five-day cultural extravaganza– Ganga Mahotsav– will start on the banks of the Ganga at Rajendra Prasad Ghat from Wednesday. However, its true essence will be lost in absence of pure and pollution-free river water.
The Ganga Mahotsav, an annual feature of the city, is organised with the twin objective of attracting tourists– both domestic and foreign– and to create awareness about the holy Ganga, the lifeline of Indian civilisation. The UP Tourism has included the festival in its calendar, describing it as the only one of its kind that doubles the attraction of this city of temples, ghats and traditions. As classical music fills the atmosphere, a mystique seems to envelop the environs awaiting a mood, both celestial and soulful. Definitely, the essence of the festival is its message of faith and culture that increases with unique Dev Deepawali with innumerable earthen lamps in chain lit by devotees along the majestic riverfront.
But, the festival in the name of the Ganga has seemingly lost its meaning, as only singing in praise of the Ganga is not enough to end its miseries. One can see all kinds of polluting activities like washing linen, cattle washing and raw sewage discharge into the river even on the eve of the commencement of Ganga Mahotsav on Tuesday.
Though the Ganga is glorified and praised during the Ganga Mahotsav and other occasions, its water continues to become dirtier with every passing day. The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched decades ago to clean the river, but no improvement in the river’s health has been noticed so far.
According to the report of Nitish Priyadarshi, geologist working on different issues related to geology and environment at the department of environment and water management, Ranchi University, a recent study by Uttarakhand Environment Conservation and Pollution Control Board says the level of pollution in the holy river has reached alarming proportions. Things have come to such a pass that the Ganga water is at present not fit for drinking and bathing, but has also become unusable for agricultural purposes. As per the UECPCB study, while the level of coliform present in water should be below 50 for drinking purposes, less than 500 for bathing and below 5,000 for agricultural use, the present level of coliform in Ganga at Haridwar has reached 5,500.
Based on the level of coliform, dissolved oxygen and biochemical oxygen demand, the study put the water in A, B, C and D categories. While A category is considered fit for drinking, B for bathing, C for agriculture and D is for excessive pollution level.
According to the report, in Varanasi– one of the most sacred cities– the coliform bacterial count is at least 3,000 times higher than the standard established as safe by the World Health Organisation. Coliform are rod-shaped bacteria that are normally found in the colons of humans and animals and become a serious contaminant when found in the food or water supply. As Ganga enters Varanasi its water contains 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres, 120 times more than is considered safe for bathing.
The latest report of the Ganga Water Quality Trend prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in December 2009 clearly suggested that the water quality of the Ganga was not perfectly in compliance with the prescribed standards in Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur and Ghazipur.
River pollution has always been a subject for concern
At the 1981 session of the Indian Science Congress in Varanasi, scientists expressed concern on the growing pollution in the river Ganga in presence of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who inaugurated the session. At her instance, Dr MS Swaminathan, the then member Planning Commission, asked the Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, New Delhi to conduct studies on the state of the river Ganga. In collaboration with the State Pollution Control Boards of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal and the centre for study of Man and Environment Kolkata (Calcutta), studies were conducted on the sources of pollution including all human activities, land use pattern and water quality of the river at selected sites during 1981-82. The report Basin, sub-basin inventory of water pollution in the Ganga basin part-II was published in 1984. According to that report, sewage of 27 class I cities and towns and effluents from 137 major industries were the main source of pollution of the river. In addition cremation of dead human bodies and dumping of carcasses aggravated the pollution of the river.
Later, the then PM Rajiv Gandhi launched the GAP from Varanasi on June 14, 1986 from the very place where Ganga Mahotsav is organised today.
In 2004, the 62nd report of the Public Accounts Committee headed by Buta Singh expressed concern that GAP even after more than 18 years of its operation, is still in its trial and error exercise which invariably suggest that the GAP has been formulated without proper assessment of actual ground realities. The committee observed that not only the parameters had been fixed for selection of towns under GAP-II, the estimation of sewage generated along the towns had also been done based on an inaccurate methodology leading to many cases of overloading and under loading of sewage in the sewage treatment plants (STPs). The committee also deplored the actions of the ministry and participating state governments for having failed to work in tandem as per the mutual agreement. The committee noticed that the cause of the pollution of Ganga at Varanasi was due to different activities along the ghats like bathing, washing of clothes, open defecation, cattle wallowing, disposal of dead bodies, dust and garbage and disposal of flowers and leaves and other puja articles from various temples, which is estimated to be nearly 10 tons per day.