This Article is written by Bhanu Pratap Parashar ( pursuing my BALLB degree from National Law University and judicial academy Assam)
The Ganges is the holiest river in India and one of the largest rivers in Asia. It rises In the Himalayan mountains and flows over 2500 km through Indian and Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. It is the lifeline of half of the population of India. It originates from a glacier named Gangotri in Uttarakhand. An ancient mythology river Ganga used to flow in heaven and it was believed that saint Bhagirathi brought Ganga on earth by the blessing of Lord Shiva. People believe that bathing in Ganga will purify their soul and if someone dies on the bank of the river Ganga will get into heaven. But in today’s time, a crisis is emerging on the existence of this river. As India’s population is growing, the pollution created by them is threatening the existence of the lifeline of half of the population that is the river Ganga. Each year millions of people especially children are getting ill by drinking or using the water of this river. Today this river is considered the holiest river in India is no longer much pure as it was.
No river like Ganga has much influence on its people as this river has. Millions of people are dependent on this river physically as well as spiritually. Hindus believe that the river Ganga is an earthly form of the goddess Ganga. They believe that just a drop of Ganga water can purify their soul and exterminate all the sins committed by them. Hindus believe that the river Ganga is like a mother who grants maternal salvation. But in recent times there comes a serious danger to its existence. The quality and quantity of the water of river Ganga are threatened by population and pollution created by them. The Himalayan glaciers which is the source of water in the river Ganga are melting and retreating due to global warming and other kinds of environmental changes due to pollution. As the pollution level is rising day by day the condition of this river is also deteriorating at the same pace. In future, the river might cease to exist.
Today the greatest challenge in front of the people of India and Bangladesh in the history of the river Ganga is how to control the pollution and purify this river.
All the rivers in India are considered to be holy but there is a different place of the Ganga in the hearts of the people in India. Millions of Hindus follow a daily ritual of pouring Ganga water over them to purify the impurities that have been accumulated over the course of a day. From its emergence in the Himalayans to its delta basin Bangladesh ( where the river Ganga is called the Padma), it is the life source of millions of people in both countries. Some reports say this river supports a one-tenth population of the world.
It is believed that the river Ganga originates from the place in the foothills of the Himalayas called Gomukh and Gangotri is the first town through which the Ganges flows on its course. In winters Gangotri is covered with snow and inaccessible because of snowbound. But in summer as soon as ice melts and the place is accessible, thousands of pilgrims come from different parts of the world for worshipping and for tour purpose. Some pilgrims with help of some priests conduct ceremonies for themselves or for their family members by offering many types of items directly to the river and this is also a great cause of pollution in the river Ganga. Before the settlement of this town, Gangotri was a place of flora and fauna and covered in the arms of nature but as this place encroached by humans and their activities this wonderful spot of nature got disappeared to great extent. It is estimated according to scientific studies that each year Gangotri glacier shrink by 25 metres. The shrinking of glaciers is not only because of global warming but also due to the activities of pilgrims. For sustaining the tourism industry here thousand of trees are being cut down for fuel and building causing soil erosion and debilitating the glacier walls. Due to deforestation and hot weather many wildlife are being killed and this glacier is receding. Some experts believe that at this rate Gangotri glacier will disappear by 2035. the effects of such occurrence will be disastrous and there will be a great danger on the lives of millions of people who are dependent on this river.
It is considered that Haridwar is a place where Ganga leaves mountains and enters the plain. According to some reports and estimations, it is believed that each year around 20 million people visit Haridwar for the celebration of the Kumbh Mela and other festivals. These pilgrims conduct many ceremonies which are the major cause of pollution.
It is believed that Ganga water can remain fresh for much time and it can not be adulterated by mosquitoes and other bacteria or viruses. According to some scientists, it is due to the high level of oxygen dissolved in the water of the Ganga. The high level of dissolved oxygen makes it difficult for the survival of mosquitoes and other bacteria or viruses. But the construction of dams over rivers and water diversions projects make the flow and turbulence of water slowly and this causes less dissolution of oxygen into the water. And it makes a fertile condition for making water impure.
The continuous growth of the population in India is a serious problem because it is the major cause of environmental pollution. The growth of population is threatening the very existence of the Ganga river. The urban development is harming the river. Kanpur city in Uttar Pradesh is a good example of poor planning of urban development. The poor planning in Kanpur means there is no effective system for waste management. The sulphurous gases released from the factories are creating serious health problems for the people. These waste product released from factories not only cause air pollution but it is a major contributor to the pollution in Ganga. Most of the byproducts of the tanning industry land up in the Ganges. As per the guidelines of the supreme court and the central pollution control board, It is mandatory for tanneries to have their own effluent treatment plant but more than half do not have. All the waste from animal carcasses to toxic waste pour directly into the river. And this causes serious health risks for the people who are dependent on this river. As the toxic level in the river rises it has destroyed the aquatic life. Due to the pollution, many aquatic animals like fish have disappeared or left very few in this river. Today the water of Ganga in Kanpur is not suitable for irrigation purposes because the high level of toxicity makes it impossible to cultivate crops. People are now more dependant on the groundwater but it is not unlimited.
The poor planning in the city is also responsible for the discharge of sewage directly into the river. Today this river in Kanpur has become a deadly threat to the people who depend on it.
It is believed by some Hindus that in Allahabad gods and demons fought for the nectar that will make them immortal and during this war, some nectar was spilled into this river. During Kumbh Mela, millions of pilgrims gather here for cleansing their sins into this river. But in 2007 Kumbh Mela millions of sadhus and other people boycotted this Kumbh festival because of impure and polluted water. Due to this mass boycott authorities have to take steps for improving the condition of this river.
Varanasi is the most important pilgrimage site in India. Varanasi is the only place in the course of Ganga where this river runs northward in direction. But according to some studies, Varanasi is the place where the river Ganga is facing the most serious crises. Hindus believed that if some will die in Varanasi and his ashes were thrown into Ganga, he will go into heaven. When people die here the ashes are thrown into the river but pregnant women and children are not cremated and their bodies are floated directly on the water. At Varanasi, it is common to see floating corpses. And this is the major cause of pollution in the river. But people driven by an unshakable belief in the river’s purity gather here daily to bathe. People say bathing in the river and using its water is not a matter of belief but a matter of faith.
According to local activists, fecal coliform which is present in human sewage is an important cause of pollution and if it is ingested it can cause deadly diseases like typhoid, cholera and hepatitis. According to some research, the amount of fecal coliform present in drinking water should be 500 or less but fecal coliform present in the water of Ganga in Varanasi is around 40000 to 80000 and the biggest reason for this is sewage. Due to poor infrastructure and poor waste management system, Millions of litre of sewage is poured into Ganga every day.
The river Ganga is considered the holiest river in India and Hindus consider this river as the mother which exterminate all the sins committed by them in their life. But in today’s time, the river Ganga is suffering from serious problems. Pollution and global warming are the major cause of the critical condition of the Ganga. The untreated waste from factories and other effluent substances are causing serious damage to the river. If this rate of pollution in Ganga goes on at the same rate as of today then Ganga is going extinct soon. [ii]
The responsibility lies not only on the government but also on the people. we need to organize our waste product in such a way that it does not pollute the environment. We need to work considering the international environmental principles. we need to protect this environment not only for us but also for future generations. And for that, we need to take responsibility together.
[i]Valerie Bodden, Environmental law (Creative Education) (2011)
[iii] Purifying the Ganga Downtoearth.org.in, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/indepth/purifying-the-ganga-30178 (last visited Oct 19, 2021)