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Mighty river, breathe easy

The Hindu – 9th December, 2012

By Anupma Jain

Standing on the banks of sacred Ganga, one could hear reverberations of a famous melancholic song by legendary Bhupen Hazarika wafting in the air. “Vistaar hai apaar, praja dono paar kare hahakar. O Ganga, tum behti ho kyun? (Your expanse is immense, people on both sides are wailing inconsolably. O Ganga, why do you flow?)

Wallowing in grief and sadness, one can feel the heart-wrenching wails of a wounded Ganga. Once worshipped as the ‘saviour Ganga’, the Nectar of God, harbinger of hope and purifier of souls, the mighty river is now struggling to survive and breathe freely, bemoaning and beseeching to save her from the garbage and filth littered all over it.

But amidst this pall of gloom and sadness, there is a ray of hope as a silent sanitation revolution is being undertaken on the holy banks of Ganga to put balm on its wounds and make her free from trash. Only then will the waves of the mighty Ganga dance and sing once again and the river will shower benedictions on the humanity with its divine ‘Ganga Jal’. Once purified, the river will again become the lifeline of the Planet Earth.

In an ambitious programme, around 5,000 zero-wastes, ‘bio-digester’ toilets would be installed in villages along the 2,500-km stretch of the Ganga basin. The project has been undertaken jointly by the Ganga Action Parivaar (GAP), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the patronage of Swami Chidanand Saraswati, founder and president of Rishikesh-based Parmarth Ashram Niketan. In a unique initiative taken by saints, politicians, industrialists and Bollywood stars, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between GAP, FICCI and DRDO at a recently-held conference on environment conservation and world peace, signalling the launch of the programme in Rishikesh.

While launching the programme, the Swamiji said: “We must learn to give, give, and give like the Sun and Mother Ganga – with no hesitation, no expectation, no vacation and no discrimination. Sadhvi Ma Bhagwati, US origin disciple of the Swamiji and powerful force behind this momentous event, termed this project as a “Silent Sanitation Movement’.Describing the Ganga as ‘the most sacred and worshipped river of the Hindus’, she lamented that it had now become one of the most polluted rivers of the country. “Today the Ganga is ailing, and it is our duty to spread unctuous balm on its wounds because we are responsible. The ‘Heal Ganga Movement’ will not only restore the pristine grandeur of Mother Ganga and Mother Earth but also send a powerful message of peace and glory to the entire humanity.”Actively associated with this ambitious project famous industrialist Prakash Hinduja and Ashok Hinduja said ‘we , as indebted children of mother gange , should feel heart wrenching wails of wounded mother Ganga , we all are guilty for her bruises and wounds , we must make an effort to heal sacred Ganga – saviour and purifier of our souls, GAP, in collaboration with FICCI and DRDO, has triggered hope that the river would be free from the frightening pollution and related threats to its biological diversity and environmental sustainability. “Most of the people living in the Ganga river basin have no sanitary facilities. They are forced to use the river for their ablution out of sheer necessity, fouling its water and turning it into a source for spreading diseases,” said Chidanand Saraswati.

According to the 2011 census, about 131 million households in India have no toilets in their premises, with eight million using public facilities and 123 million defecating in the open.

India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “The Ganga, to me, is the symbol of India’s memorable past which has been flowing into the present and continues to flow towards the ocean of the future.” But sadly, the symbol of that memorable past is ailing in the present and the future will be leak too if drastic curative steps are not taken. According to our holy scriptures, a river is called so because it has a ‘Nirmal’ (clean) and ‘Aviral’ (free and perennially flowing) water. Tragically enough, we have converted our holy Ganga into “maili Ganga” (dirty Ganga). In some places, it looks like a huge open cesspool. Today, a major chunk of the sewage, untreated industrial effluent, run-off from chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture and huge quantities of solid waste are dumped in the Ganga. Besides, thousands of animal carcasses and hundreds of human corpses are thrown into the river everyday, contributing to the pollution load that flows incessantly into it. But more than anything, it is the faecal matter or human waste that has become a major pollutant of the Ganga. It has therefore become a challenge for the entire humanity to cleanse free the river from its frightening pollution and related threats to its biological diversity and environmental sustainability.

Former rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had said that the government intended to rid the country of open defecation in the next 10 years . he said that the bio-toilets would also help in curbing manual scavenging which was still prevalent in about 15 lakh insanitary latrines. it may be recalled that Defence Ministry and Rural development Ministry have also signed MoUs for installing these toilets in over one lakh gram panchayats in next few years

Bio-digester’ toilets work by mixing self-multiplying bacteria with human waste in specially-made tanks. The technology helps turn human waste into biogas and odourless compost. The process involves tapping bacteria which feed on the faecal matter inside the bio-digester tank and degrade it for its release as methane gas. Bio-digesters combust this methane, ensuring it is not released into the atmosphere. Instead, it becomes useful as gas for cooking, lighting, heating and crop fertilization. It is also being used as a source for rural electrification. It is a safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology and has the potential to turn toilets in rural areas into an urban drainage system, which will not require handling human waste.

The eco-friendly toilet, or E-toilet, can be set up anywhere where there is no provision of sewer lines. Though it was meant for Indian combat troops deployed in Siachen, a 6,300-metre-high (20,800-feet-high) glacier in Kashmir where temperatures can fall up to minus 50 degree Celsius (minus 58 degree Fahrenheit), it is equally suitable for rail coaches, buses and highways. It is also 100 per cent maintenance-free and economically viable.

Initially, mobile bio-digester toilets, or Green Toilets, would be set up at various locations of the Kumbh Mela, the largest human congregation on the earth where around 130 million people are expected to visit. The installing of bio-digester toilets will send the message of hygiene, sanitation and purity both within the country and outside. The project will be later expanded from Har ki Paudi in Hardwar to the Char Dhams (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) and every school, bus stand, railway station, taxi stand etc. across the 2,500-km stretch of the Ganga basin.

A series of Ganga purification programmes have failed to produce results to the desired level because of poor implementation and lack of will power. One sincerely hopes that this time it is successful and we can say in chorus: “Don’t Cry Mother Ganga; Apko Ab Aur Mailee Nahee Karne Denge (we will not allow anyone you defile you any more).” Amen!

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