No My Friend, The River Ganga Is Not So Pure Anymore

Posted on January 18, 2013 in Environment

By Pooja Baburaj:

Last year, I flew down to my homeland mid-way of my yearly vacation and spent the rest of it ‘chilling in the Indian summer’. My brief stint included pilgrimages to the holy rivers, a cleverly drafted strategy devised by my family to produce a revolutionary alteration to my current state of atheism. I’m not sure if it was my malfunctioning optic nerve or my prejudiced perception that my observation of the holy expanse was restricted to a lot of garbage meandering through the waters in a fascinating collection of colours, shapes and sizes. The stench that accompanied the sight chocked my pipes so bad until my chanting sounded Swahili. Yes, I am raving about The Ganga, the largest river in India with an extraordinary religious importance for Hindus. Along its banks are some of the world’s oldest inhabited places like Varanasi and Patna. The highlight, however, remains our method of expressing reverence and awe – discharging an estimated 2.9 billion liters or more of human sewage into the Ganges daily.


The famed rivers of Indo-Gangetic plains are turning into “sewage system“, threatening the life and health of millions of people dependent on them, warned a team of 11 environmental activists who cycled through the region covering around 1,800km in 27 days. These activists are a part of a project called ‘Yatra’ that aims to raise awareness about the need for keeping an account of India’s natural resources. “Not one river was fit to bathe in. The water at many places resembled sewage water. Among the most polluted rivers we came across was the Yamuna in western UP, Varuna and Gandak,” said team leader Anil P Joshi, a Padma Shri Awardee who heads a Dehra Dun-based environmental NGO, HESCO.

The Ganga Action Plan or GAP was a program launched by Rajiv Gandhi in April 1986 in order to reduce the pollution load on the river. However, the inability to translate the crores of capital invested into an effective programme lead to the withdrawal of the programme in 2000. Since then several NGOs have walked the lead in continuing the cleaning programs that were originally initiated by the government.

It isn’t just the rivers that they are worried about. They said none of the states they travelled through had achieved even half of India’s target of 33% area under forests. Forests are vanishing in these states. And even the ones that survive are grade C forests, consisting of bushes rather than broad-leaved trees,” Joshi said. The team travelled through 31 districts, held 300 meetings and reached out to around 10,000 people. “We will compile a report of our observations, which will be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and to all chief ministers,” Joshi said. (Times of India)

As far as I see it, the Mayans were not wrong. Maybe the world is not going to have an overly-exaggerated apocalyptic end as the movie depicted. But the fact that we are gradually killing the existence of Mother Nature isn’t something to be left unnoticed. The ominous signs have been set in live action. In my city, we step out with a shawl wrapped around us like that of a mummy in Cairo Museum just so that our skin does not shed like that of a reptile, the hair follicles does not get clogged with dirt and our lungs don’t burst with all that green-house gases that we take in. Away from the cities and into the poles, an iceberg melts every instant, melting away part of our future life with it into the deep blue sea, into the void.

Twenty years ago the news of the pollution hit headlines of all the top magazines and predicted possible death of the planet population in twenty years. Today we are still talking about it, now more accelerated by the rapid industrialization. Our landscapes have changed radically; the forest soil now grows commercial crops and has roads, highways and skyscrapers running over it. Pollution is a global issue, as we often hear about it on radio and TV, generally followed by strong and convincing call for action. We all desire to act for another hour and then slowly calm down, switching TV to another channel. I guess it’s time that we stop switching channels and join in the effort to save our home planet — Mars isn’t ready for us as of now.