By Mani Mahesh Garg:
The life in the holy city of Benares starts from its ghats and it ends there only. The mother Ganges, revered by everyone, is flowing there even before people had started living in the city. In the morning a huge crowd converges at the ghats to take a dip in the holy river and offer prayers to their respective gods. And in evening, scores of dead bodies are cremated at the ManiKarnika ghat.
The river has been the life of the city and no one can ever envision Varanasi without the Ganga. But the poignant part of the narrative is that in the last few decades the story of the Ganga has changed a lot. It is no more the same. The river water once said to be purer than anything in this world is now no more pure. Her chastity has been played with in an unbridled way and such a large scale of human intervention has destroyed the natural balance of the river. But a concrete step has never been taken to contain the levels of pollution in the water.
The plight of Ganga is not new and this predicament has been persistent for many years now. The problem does not arise from the city itself. The river is contaminated from the various towns that have grown up on the banks of Ganga and every one of them is equally responsible for this. Industrial waste, untreated sewage, chemical and plastic wastes, human and animal remains etc have polluted the river beyond repair. Even, some of the ghats are now packed with thick layer of plastics. And the condition is deteriorating like never before at a very fast rate.
There are many apparent reasons that could be attributed to the problem. Let us try to understand the issues. Firstly, the population growth has been rampant and Varanasi has now more than 1 million residents. The sewage and waste of such a lot goes to the river — treated or untreated. Secondly, the demands and requirements of people have changed and hence the setting up of industries has created industrial waste to the tune that it has reversed the biological balance of the entity completely. And in the absence of a suitable waste disposal mechanism, a river flowing nearby is considered as the most economic solution by the industries. Thirdly, the natural ways of worshipping the river has been replaced by the use of non-biodegradable products which have further ruined the balance. Fourthly, the fresh water flow in the Ganga is not the same as it used to be. Due to construction of dams across various tributaries the normal flow of the river has been changed and the water remains almost stagnant for quite a long time period in a year.
The river is not able to bear the load of the increased population, increased industrial waste, increased non-biodegradable products and decreased fresh water input all at a time. When you talk to people, they talk about their emotions for the river — as their mother. They feel sad thinking about the slow demise of the river. But the problem is that people are unaware of the facts and realities. Their concern is genuine but they lack the knowledge of right path and the right implementation of the solutions to tackle the problem. And this isn’t true only about Ganga but the same sad story is true for all the other major rivers across India.
There is an urgent need to change our life style for the life of our rivers. The increased burden on every front will ultimately lead us to nowhere but to the time with no rivers. Imagine the time when you could never enjoy sitting on the ghats and banks, breathing the fresh breeze coming from the waters, drinking fresh water and hence living life with the river.
The decision is ours, only ours.