By Dhanuja T from School of Excellence in Law, Chennai
Ganga, known as Ganges in British Rule is one of the most revered waterways in the World but also one of the most polluted. It provides water and is a true lifeline for nearly 450 million people, more than any other river in the world. Ganga is the largest river (2074 km) in India which stretches from Gangotri Glacier of Western Himalayas in Uttarkhand and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of India & Bangladesh, and eventually empties into the Bay of Bengal. This river is now threatened by severe pollution. In turn, this severe pollution poses a threat to the life of humans, animals and many marine species. Let us discuss about the causes and steps taken for the pollution of River Ganga in this article.
The polluted Mother Ganga:
In Hinduism, the Ganga is a sacred river that has nourished the ancient civilisations and cultures since its beginning. Today, the Ganges basin, the river and its tributaries flow through 11 states including the capital region of Delhi. In all, some 400 million people on farms, in factories and in households rely on it for life, livelihood and spiritual sustenance. In the holy city of Varanasi, Rishikesh and Haridwar, temples draw a large crowd of believers who float oil lamps and marigolds into the river. These believers usually take ritualistic baths, dips, and even small sips while reciting prayers to heal the body and the soul. So the river is a source of happiness and contentment since they believe the river has the power to end all the sufferings. Many believers seek to have their ashes sprinkles in the river. Thousands of bodies are burnt here. Many, however, are not fully cremated. These practices stress the river but they are only a small part of the whole pollution issue. The most toxic pollution of this river is much less visible if we do not pay attention to the drainage canals like the one which discharges millions of gallons of raw and untreated sewage every day. Experts link pollution in the Ganga and other rivers in India to the reason for high rate of waterborne illnesses which kill an estimated 1.5 million children each year. Researchers have also discovered the emergence of so-called superbugs (antibiotic resistant bacteria and fungi) in Ganges water samples, which have developed the ability to resist most commonly used medications.
Causes for pollution:
1. Direct sewage disposal into the river.
2. Disposal of untreated industrial waste into the river.
3. Discharge of Domestic Wastes, faeces and urine by the people living on the banks and basins of the river. Coliform bacteria found in human colon is highly hazardous when found in water and is a major reason for the pollution.
4. Throwing of unburned or half burned dead bodies, as well as animal carcasses into the river.
5. Discharge of harmful pesticides and fertilisers used in agriculture.
6. Pollution caused by religious practices.
Ganga Action Plan:
The Ganga Action Plan, India’s flagship programme to save Ganga, was launched by the then Prime Minister Shri Rajeev Gandhi on 14 January 1986. The main objectives of this plan are:
Pollution abatement and water quality improvement by Interception and Diversion of five drains merging into the Saryu river, one of the tributary of the Ganga which is in Ayodhya.
Treatment of the sewage and present toxic and industrial-chemical effluents from identified gross polluting units entering into the river.
Control of contamination because of agricultural runoff, human excrement, cattle wallowing and throwing of unburned and half burned human bodies into the river.
Research and development to conserve the biotic diversity of the river by increasing its productivity.
New technology of sewage treatment like Up-flow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) and sewage treatment has been successfully implemented.
Rehabilitation of soft-shelled turtles for pollution abatement of river has been discovered and demonstrated successfully.
Resource recovery options such as production of methane for energy generation and use of aquaculture for revenue generation have been demonstrated.
To act as a trendsetter for taking up similar action plans in other highly polluted rivers in other areas.
To have approach of integrated river basin management considering the various dynamic inter-actions between abiotic and biotic eco-system.
In M.C. Mehta V Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 467, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of tanneries at Jajmau near Kanpur, polluting the Ganga. The matter was brought before the Court by the petitioner M.C. Mehta, a social worker, through public interest litigation (PIL). The Court said that notwithstanding the comprehensive provisions contained in the Water (Prevention and Court of Pollution) Act and the Environmental (Protection) Act, no effective steps had been taken by the Indian Government to stop the grave public nuisance caused by the tanneries at Jajmau, Kanpur. In the circumstances, the Court was entitled to order the closure of the tanneries unless they took steps to set up treatment plants.
In M.C. Mehta (2) V Union of India, (1996) 4 SCC 750, the petitioner brought a public interest litigation requesting the Court to issue appropriate directions for the prevention of Ganga water pollution. The Supreme Court held: The petitioner although not a riparian owner (living on the river side) is entitled to move to the court for the enforcement of various statutory provisions which impose duties on the municipal and other authorities. He is a person interested in protecting the lives of the people who make use of the Ganga water. The nuisance caused by the pollution of the river Ganga is a public nuisance which is widespread and affecting the lives of large number of persons and therefore any particular person can take proceedings against anyone to stop such public nuisance. Accordingly, the Court directed the Kanpur Nagar Mahapalika to submit its proposals for effective prevention and control of water pollution within 6 months to the Board constituted under the Water Act. It also directed the Mahapalika to get the diaries shifted to the place outside the city and arrange for removal of wastes accumulated at the diaries to prevent it to reach the river Ganga, to lay sewerage line wherever not constructed, to construct public latrines and urinals for the use of poor people free of charge, to ensure that dead bodies were half burnt bodies were not thrown into the river Ganga and to take action against the industries responsible for pollution, licences to establish new industries should be granted only to those who made adequate provisions for the treatment of trade effluent flowing out of the factories.
The above directions apply mutatis mutandis (once the necessary changes have been made) to all other Mahapalikas and municipalities which have the jurisdiction over the areas through which the river Ganga flows.
Namami Ganga Programme is an Integrated Conservation Mission approved as ‘Flagship Programme’ by the Union Government in June, 2014, with a huge budget outlay of Rs.20,000 Crore to accomplish the Pollution control in River Ganga.
The main pillars of Namami Ganga Programme are:
1. Sewerage Treatment Infrastructure
2. River surface cleaning
4. Industrial Effluent Monitoring
The implementation of this mission is divided into three. They are:
1. Entry level Activities which is for immediate visible impact.
2. Medium term activities which is to be implemented within 5 years of time frame.
3. Long term activities which is to be implemented within 10 years.
1. 63 sewerage management projects under implementation and 12 new sewerage management projects are launched in various states.
2. 28 river front development projects and 33 entry level projects for construction, modernisation and renovation of 182 Ghats and 118 crematoria has been initiated.
3. River surface cleaning for collection of floating solid waste from the surface of the river and disposal points at 11 locations.
4. Biodiversity conservation projects namely (1) Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga rejuvenation (2) Fish and fishery conservation in Ganga river (3) GangesRiver Dolphin Conservation Education Programme has been initiated. Also 5 Biodiversity centres have been developed for restoration of identified priority species.
5. Forestry interventions for Ganga have been executed as per the Detailed Project Report prepared by Forest Institute, Dehradun for a period of five years (2016- 2021).
6. Various awareness programmes such as rallies, campaigns, exhibitions, cleanliness drives, plantation drives etc., were organised and also featured in mass mediums.
7. Action has been taken against 110 non complying GPIs and closure directions under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act.
The waterman of India, Rajendra Singh, on April 9, 2019 told the Indian Express, “The Ganga today is more polluted than before.” It was contended that Namami Ganga implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) does not really focus on cleaning and removing pollutants from the river rather focuses on beautifying the surroundings. Similarly, it was reported that nearly around 10% of pollution is only controlled even after spending a huge amount in various projects and plans.
In 2016, the National Ganga Council (NGC) was created and replaced the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) established in 2009. Prime Minister is the head of the Council and meeting of the Council is supposed to held once in every year. But it is reported that the council has not met even once since it was founded.
Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, who heads the Prime Minister’s National Clean Ganga Project, says, “There is no quick solution. National mission for clean Ganga is a long term thing.”
“Electric incinerators are built as an alternative to the traditional and low efficiency wood burning pyres. And also there are small campaigns to raise public awareness. Directly or indirectly tons of these chemically treated flowers find theirway into the river but they are now turned into incense sticks which are sold near the temples. However the most effective way to cleanse the river and also the biggest challenge would be to restore its natural flow. After dams, industrial and agricultural use, Mishra says there is a lot less water left for cities like Varanasi. Restoring the rivers natural flow will require sacrifice from all users. It’s a political challenge that will become even more difficult with the given climatechange. Because Himalayan glaciers that feed the majorrivers of this region are receding. Rainy seasons are getting shorter and dry spells longer.”-PBS NewsHour.
BOD stands for Biochemical Oxygen Demand. It refers to the required quantity of dissolved oxygen by the biological organisms present in water for the breakdown of non-essential organic material. If the BOD level of 2-3 mg/l is present in the water, it is not suitable for consumption (found in 36 sites out of 80 in 2017) and if it is more than 3 mg/l, then the water is not suitable even for bathing (found in 30 sites in 2017). Also, in some locations the bacteria count in the Ganges River is 3000 times more than the safe limit for bathers set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is the bitter reality of River Ganga.
Speaking about the health of river Ganges, at this point, the river is effectively dead. No one ever thought this would happen. All the rubbish and sewage from the cities goes straight into the river Ganges. More than 400 tanneries also drain their poisonous water into the Ganges. The water contains heavy metals, acids, dyes and other chemicals used by the tanneries. Tanneries claim the pollution is caused by the other towns and cities on the Ganges and not by them. Water and sanitation remains a colossal issue in India up to 600 million people here don’t have access to a toilet. This is exactly why regulations protecting the environment are so important. If it is convenient and profitable to pollute, it is sure the people will pollute. Not even a religious and cultural icon like the Ganges River can be safe. The Ganges and other Indian rivers are horrifically polluted and successive Indian Governments have failed to clean them up.
Now we have a Covid situation which may have created Havoc for the humans but has been a boon for the environment. Ganga can now be seen clear and recovering its health. Scientists have claimed that the water quality has seen a remarkable improvement and is now fit for drinking in various places which is not even fit for bathing before. Nature made it possible within very short span which could not be made possible by years of human effort the human. This is no less than a miracle. Dolphins and birds have started returning to mother Ganga. Hope this situation remains the same even after the lockdown ends and the river nurtures all form of life.