Ganga is not an ordinary river. It is a life-line, a symbol of purity and virtue for countless people of India. Ganga is a representative of all other rivers in India. Millions of Ganga devotees and lovers still throng to the river just to have a holy dip, Aachman (Mouthful with holy water), and absolve themselves of sins. We Indians are raised to consider Ganga as a goddess, as sacred. We tell our children and grandchildren the stories of how she came down to Earth through a lock of Shiva’s hair.
The Ganga temples, countless rituals associated with Ganga and our belief that Ganga is a cleanser par excellence prove that Ganga has a status of a deity. Hundreds of verses have been used to extol her glory and greatness. Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu including great saints like Sri Swami Sivananda, Sri Ramakrishna and others have all glorified her. Map of India Showing River Ganga Ganga is a perennial river which originates as a stream called “Bhagirathi” from Gaumukh in the Gangotri glacier at 30 ° 55′ N, 79 ° 7′ E, some 4100 m above mean sea level.
Ganga river basin is the largest among river basins in India and the fourth largest in the world, with a basin (catchment area) covering 8, 61,404 sq km. It has a total length of 2,525 km, out of which 1,425 km is in Uttaranchal and UP, 475 km is in Bihar and 625 km is in West Bengal. Already half a billion people live within the river basin, at an average density of over 500 per sq km, and this population is projected to increase to over one billion people by the year 2030.
The Ganges plains were first settled by Aryans around 1200 BC and in subsequent 3,200 years of occupation, the landscape of the region has been completely transformed by generations of agriculturists and the more recent expansion of urban centres and industrial activities. The Ganga drains 9 states of India. Today, the 2,525 km long river supports 29 class I cities, 23 class II cities and 48 towns, plus thousands of villages. Nearly all the sewage, industrial effluent, runoff from chemical
fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture within the basin, and large quantities of solid waste, including thousands of animals’ carcasses and hundreds of human corpses are dumped in the river everyday. The inevitable result of this onslaught on the river’s capacity to receive and assimilate waste has been an erosion of river water quality, to the extent that, by 1970s, large stretches (over 600 km) of the river were virtually dead from an ecological point of view, and posed a considerable public health threat to the religious bathers using the river everyday.
The problem of river pollution is further compounded by the over-extraction and diversion of the river waters at various points (about 47 percent of the country’s irrigated land is in the Ganga basin). The situation is intolerable, primarily because it is a common practice for Indians to bathe in the ‘holy’ waters of Ganga. In addition, a large number of people living along the river use Ganga water for drinking and other household purposes. Livelihoods of many people (e. g. , fishermen, boatmen, priests etc. ) are also linked with the condition of the river.
Ganga Today The Ganga today is more polluted than when the Ganga Action Plan was first initiated by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. The fast shrinking glaciers, dams, barrages, canals and alarmingly high volume of pollution pose an ever increasing threat to the health and life of the river. The state of Uttar Pradesh alone is responsible for over 50% of the pollutants entering the river along its entire journey to the sea. The defilement of the river Ganga begins at Rishikesh when the river enters the plains.
The Ganga river water is brown or black in colour from Narora to Varanasi during the lean months. At Kanpur the water stinks even during the monsoon when the river is flooded. Since the launching of GAP, things have gone downhill in a big way in Kanpur. The amount of filth along and in the river still continues unabated. Polybags are tossed in publicly and casually; piles of refuse tumble down slopes to the river edge. The river is still the private garbage dump of industries and individuals alike.
During the lean period, the river is so shallow that one can walk through the black muddy waters of the river. The river is littered with human corpses and animal carcasses throughout its course and the sight is truly offensive, repulsive, irritating, and disgusting and the oily blue-black stench of tannery waste is unbearable. These are utmost insults to the holiness of the river and any idea of purity. Today there are more than 50 drains carrying raw sewage to the river Ganga and Yamuna at Allahabad while there were only 13 drains before GAP was launched in 1986.
Every Magh mela, Ardha-kumbha, and Kumbha, sadhus and saints protest in large numbers against the river pollution and boycott the ritual bathings. Nowhere in Varanasi the Ganga is worth taking a holy dip. The coliform and faecal coliform count is exceedingly high in the river water. The 84 bathing ghats are sandwiched between two tributaries, Assi and Varuna, which are now huge sewage drains. As the Ganga continues to wind its way down towards Kolkata she experiences dozens of similar assaults that leave her waters fetid and filled with toxins and diseases.
The situation is the same throughout the length of the river. Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Inertia in taking action to reduce the level of pollution stemmed largely from a widespread belief that the Ganga, as a holy river, had the ability to purify all that came into contact with it. Although there is some scientific evidence for the Ganga river’s high capacity to assimilate (i. e. biodegrade) a large level of organic waste input, including pathogens, but no river can sustain its self-purifying power with this kind of over-use, misuse and abuse of its waters.
The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) originated from the personal intervention and interest of our late Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi who had directed the Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, now Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to do a comprehensive survey of the situation in 1979. CPCB published two comprehensive reports which formed the base for GAP in Oct 1984 but was not presented to the nation formally due to assassination of Smt Indira Gandhi. In Feb 1985, the Central Ganga Authority
(CGA) with the PM as Chairman was formed, with an initial budget of Rs 350 crore to administer the cleaning of the Ganga and to restore it to pristine condition by our late PM Sh Rajiv Gandhi. In June 1985, the Ganga Project Directorate (GPD) was established as a wing of the Department of Environment. GAP was launched on June 14, 1986 by Sh Rajiv Gandhi at Varanasi. Failure of the GAP The Ganga Action Plan launched in 1986 by the Government of India has not achieved any success despite expenditure of approximately 2,000 crore rupees.
Even though the government claims that the schemes under the Ganga Action Plan have been successful, ground realities tell a different story. The failure of the GAP is evident but corrective action is lacking. GAP has been dubbed variously as Ganga Inaction Plan, Pumps and Pipes scheme, a Colossal Failure…Media report that there are GAPING HOLES in GAP and its a shocking tale of official apathy and corruption … All the money has gone down the drain, People are quick to offer their opinion of why GAP has been doomed to failure. Mismanagement, corruption, and incompetence all rank high on the lists of accusations.
While launching the GAP, our late PM Rajiv Gandhi said: “The purity of the Ganga has never been in doubt. Yet we have allowed the pollution of this river which is the symbol of our spirituality. The felling of trees has caused severe floods, and silt and mud now flow into the Ganga making the river shallow so that boats can not ply in it as they did before. Sewage and pollution from cities, industries and factories and dead animals are also being thrown into the Ganga. From now on, we shall put a stop to this. We shall see that the waters of the Ganga become clean once again. The Ganga Action Plan is not just a government plan.
It has not been prepared for the PWD or government officials alone. It is a plan for all the people of India; one in which they can come forward and participate. It is upto us to clean the whole of Ganga and refrain from polluting it. This programme, starting at Varanasi here today will reach out to every corner of our land and to all our rivers. In the years to come, not only the Ganga, but all our rivers will be clean and pure as they were thousands of years ago. ” Unfortunately, the statements/promises made by the late PM have been proven untrue. The expectations of the people have been belied and dazed to the ground.
The GAP I was extended as GAP II from 1993 onwards covering 4 major tributaries of Ganga, namely, Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahananda. The program was further broad-based in 1995 with the inclusion of other rivers and renamed as National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Ganga could not be cleaned but 34 other rivers have been taken up for cleaning with the same failed model of “GAP”. Various explanations abound as does speculation and apportionment of the blame for this failure. In the last 21 years, leadership and staff of GAP have come and gone, often without any vision and commitment.
There have been reviews and monitoring from time to time at different levels but the problems identified were never addressed and the decisions taken were never enforced. The lower level officials most often were unfamiliar with the work done by previous groups. GAP needs a critical examination, a thorough review and a complete overhaul. It has become so infamous and stale that it needs to be done away with completely. A new plan with a fresh name, more real and practical objectives, concrete action plans is needed to restore the health of the river Ganga.
A committed, visionary, dynamic and practical man needs to be given the charge of cleaning and restoring the ecological health of river Ganga. Serious and honest efforts are needed. Casual approach and cosmetic efforts will only worsen the condition of river Ganga. Objective of GAP The objectives of the GAP were broad: to abate pollution and improve water quality, to conserve biodiversity and develop an integrated river basin management approach, to conduct comprehensive research to further these objectives, and to gain experience for implementing similar river clean up programs in other polluted rivers in India.
A plan of action was developed in order to achieve these objectives, those actions that addressed the major, direct causes of pollution in the Ganga were identified as “core sector” schemes, and those that address indirect sources or sources deemed to be direct but of a lower impact were called “non-core sector”.
Core sector schemes included the interception and diversion of domestic wastewater including the construction and rehabilitation of sewers and pump houses, while non-core sector schemes consisted of the installation of crematoria, river front development and aesthetic improvement, implementation of low cost sanitation systems, and miscellaneous activities such as water quality monitoring, research programmes, and identification and management of waste from grossly polluting industries.