Rivers are guides to civilizations and in being so have reverent appeal in almost all religious scriptures of India. With the advent of industrialization, natural resources are depleted at more than ever increasing rates, with rivers bearing the brunt of every outlet there is; from factory waste to sewage and even agricultural run-offs. Therefore, the need to clean them is mandatory for sustenance, be it in our country or worldwide. Portfolios of rivers are available in segments over the internet or on hardbound books and their death has been recorded as memoirs. But the basic understanding of getting up and cleaning them has not reached all. Being a growing superpower and a nuclear one at that, India needs to realize there is more to tidy up than just the border disputes and corruption. Without genuine efforts, rivers have the capacity to be lost forever.
Some of the major polluted rivers in India are Ganga, Yamuna, Damodar, Gomti, Tapti, Hooghly, Oshiwara, Sabarmati, Musi etc. But the most polluted are the holy rivers of Ganges and Yamuna.
Ganga – Yamuna: Journey From Sacred to Polluted
Ganges has been known as the blessed river for Hindus, with many rituals associated to it from times immemorial. Ever since human habitation destroyed its pure banks, the holiness of this river has lost sheen. Plethora of biodiversity, such as the famous Gangetic Dolphin, in this river is being destroyed by unnecessary disposal of wastes, both solid and sewage, as well as by transportation routes carved through it. Thus, this beauty emerging from the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas has been left to rot. Sale of plastic materials around the ritual areas, bathing, washing clothes, cleaning animals are malpractices that has put Ganga in the throes of death. Same can be said for Yamuna, that finds its origin from the Yamnotri glacier. Experts are of the opinion that more than 3000 million litres of untreated sewage is being dumped into the Ganges and by the time it reaches Varanasi, the river turns into a sever placing it the 6th most polluted river in the world. Talking about Yamuna, the river is coined as being severely polluted after passing Wazirabad and Okhla barrage, where discharge of 15 drains pours into it.
Are Other Indian Rivers Worse?
It was debated that other than rivers of North India, mostly of Uttar Pradesh, South Indian rivers are much less polluted but the report from CPCB (2015) silenced all.
“Around 37,000 million litres per day (MLD) of untreated sewage water flows into the rivers across the country”
As per the report, as many as 302 river stretches on 275 rivers across the country, over the years, are polluted due to both municipal and industrial wastewater discharge. The report has also identified nearly 48 sites of pollution in southern India rivers in 5 states: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The damage is seen severely in about 95 cities and towns dependant on these rivers, concluding the argument, ‘Which is cleaner: north or south?’
Clean Ganga Project (2014): A Failure?
The NDA government’s record in implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Clean Ganga project has been very poor, and the national mission has been able to spend less than a quarter of the funds earmarked for the project in the last two financial years, said a report by the CAG.
“Out of ₹6,705 crore earmarked during 2015-16 and 2016-17, NMCG [National Mission for Clean Ganga] could spend only ₹1,665.41 crore, less than a quarter of the expected year-wise release of funds,” the CAG report said.
Not having an action plan also led to non-utilisation of any amount from the corpus of ₹198.14 crore available in the Clean Ganga Fund – created through voluntary donations by citizens and non-resident Indians.
The Nanami Gange Project (Under NMCG: National Mission for Clean Ganga)
This is an Integrated Conservation Mission, approved as Flagship Programme by the Union Government in June 2014 with budget outlay of ₹ 20,000 Crore to accomplish the twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the National River, Ganga.
Its implementation has been divided into Entry-Level Activities (for immediate visible impact), Medium-Term Activities (to be implemented within 5 years of time frame) and Long-Term Activities (to be implemented within 10 years).
The main pillars of this project and its achievements till date are:
Sewerage Treatment Infrastructure: 63 sewerage management projects are under implementation in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. 12 new sewerage management projects were launched in these states. Work is under construction for creating sewerage capacity of 1187.33 (MLD).
Industrial Effluent Monitoring: Real-time Effluent Monitoring Stations (EMS) have been installed in 572 out of 760 Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs). Closure notice have been issued to 135 GPIs so far and others have been given deadlines for compliance to stipulated norms and for installations of online EMS.
Afforestation: Forestry interventions for Ganga through Wildlife Institute of India, Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute and Centre for Environment Education have been initiated. Forestry interventions for Ganga have been executed as per the detailed project report prepared by Forest Research Institute, Dehradun for a period of 5 years (2016-2021) at project cost of ₹ 2300 Crores. Work has commenced in 7 districts of Uttarakahnd for medicinal plants.
River-Front development: 28 River-Front development projects and 33 entry level projects for construction, modernization and renovation of 182 Ghats and 118 crematoria have been initiated.
River-Surface cleaning: River Surface cleaning for collection of floating solid waste from the surface of ghats and rivers are pushed into service at 11 locations.
Biodiversity: Several Bio-Diversity conservation projects like Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation, Fish and Fishery Conservation in Ganga River, Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Education Programme have been initiated. 5 Bio-Diversity centres at Dehradun, Narora, Allahabad, Varanasi and Barrackpore have been developed for restoration of identified priority species.
Public Awareness: Various awareness activities through rallies, campaigns, exhibitions, shram daan, cleanliness drives, competitions, plantation drives and development and distribution of resource materials were organized. For wider publicity, the mass media such as TV/Radio, print media advertisements, and featured articles were published. “Gange Theme Song” was released widely and played on digital media to enhance the visibility of the programme. NMCG ensured presence at social media platforms too.
Ganga Gram: Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) identified 1674 Gram Panchayats situated on the bank of River Ganga in 5 states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal). Consortium of 7 IITs has been engaged in the preparation of Ganga River basin Plan and 65 villages have been adopted by 13 IITs to develop as model villages. ₹ 578 Crores has been released to Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) for construction of toilets in 1674 Gram Panchayats of 5 Ganga basin states. Out of the targeted 15, 27,105 units, MoDWS has completed construction of 8, 53,397 toilets. UNDP has been engaged as the executing agency for rural sanitation program and to develop Jharkhand as a model state at an estimated cost of ₹ 127 Crore.
India is yet far behind from the rest of the world in terms of sustainable development. It is because pollution affects every corner of this country where human population is more than the area’s carrying capacity. Although, the frequency of clean-up might differ but the overview as seen from a bird’s eye perspective shows much lackadaisical attitude among the general public regarding protection and cleaning of polluted rivers. Some efforts have been taken by authorities in European countries to clean rivers like Thames, which was disoriented since industrialization ate up most of it.
As far as pollution in the next larger water bodies is concerned, a lot has to be done to prevent and reclaim it in the long run. Oceans are the survival forces of our planet just like rivers and to inculcate a perspective to preserve their authenticity and ability to procreate should be our motto. That includes overall preservation and concern for each water resource, be it ground or surface, fresh or saline. Read more on the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans.
Adeela Hameed is pursuing Masters in Environmental Sciences from Amity University, Noida.