By Sadhan Mukherjee*
The Uttarakhand high court on 19 March recognised river Ganga as the “first living entity of India” along with Yamuna and qualified them as “minors” who by themselves cannot take care of themselves.
After chiding the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand (UK) for not cooperating with the central government for the “constitution of Ganga Management Board”, the court appointed the DG of Namami Ganga Project and the chief secretary and the advocate general of UK as the “legal parents” of the two rivers. As guardians, they will be able to take up any litigation on behalf of these rivers and the polluters can be sued directly. It is really a highly commendable instruction.
The court also directed the government to form a Ganga Administration Board for cleaning and better maintenance of the rivers. The innate meaning was that as a living being, these rivers deserve our care and their wellbeing should be our concern. We all cannot get away from our responsibilities towards our children.
It has been estimated that about 1.5 billion litres of untreated sewage end up in the Ganga every day. In Benares alone 32,000 human corpses and some 300 tons of half burnt human flesh are dumped in Ganga every year, according to The Times of India (March 23). Do these not cause pollution? It is believed that Ganga will take them directly to heaven.
Let us look at some facts: Ganga and Yamuna provide water to nearly 50% of India’s population. They are indeed our main means of sustenance. But how are they treated? The water is used for bathing of humans and animals, human wastes and sewage water are dumped and so also the industrial pollutants. The industrial pollutants, often toxic and non-biodegradable amounting to almost 12% of all effluents, are still reaching Ganga. During festival seasons, an estimated 70-80 million people take bath in Ganga and besides bathing they leave huge quantities of remains of food, leaves and other wastes in the water.
A study of pollution in 2006 had revealed that besides other pollutants, Ganga water had feacal coliform, a major cause of water-borne diseases, amounting to100,000,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml! This must have gone up manifold since then. Ganga today is the 8th most polluted rivers in the world.
Then there are structures built in the flowing waters of both the rivers. These are dams and other structures like bridges that slow down the rivers. The first dam on Ganga was built way back in 1854 by the British at Haridwar. Four major barrages have been since built – Bijnor, Narora, Kanpur and Farakka. Besides, there are many pumping stations as well as canals to divert the water for irrigation purposes.
Ganga cleaning has been an important issue for long. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1905 founded a Ganga Mahasabha and in 1914 the British rulers agreed to ensure Ganga’s uninterrupted flow. It was formalised in an agreement in 1916 but no government observed it though the agreement is legally valid. Developmental needs had overruled the sanctity of the agreement.
The Ganga cleaning does not only mean removing the causes that pollute it but also for improving its flow. This huge task has been undertaken but the results as yet are not very encouraging. Over Rs.20000 crore have been spent on it so far.
At official level, Ganga cleaning was initiated in 1985 and Rajiv Gandhi began the Save Ganga project in 1986. After spending over Rs.900 crore, the plan was deemed a failure and was abandoned in 2000. Meanwhile a Yamuna cleaning project was also started in 1993 with Japanese aid. However, at unofficial levels, efforts to clean Ganga and its tributaries including Yamuna continued. Many organisations had sought to clean Ganga. A Save Ganga movement was started in 1998 by National Women’s Organisation. Others also joined in. In 2009, the central government set up a National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).
In 2014 Narendra Modi initiated another plan that visualised an integrated plan, not only in terms of cleaning but also rejuvenating the Ganga and its tributaries. In 2015, Namami Ganga programme was initiated for unleashing a comprehensive plan. It includes the construction of sewage treatment plants, ghat developments, solid waste management, bio-diversity conservation, largescale tree plantation, making villages on the river banks open defecation free and other measures to prevent further pollution of the river. But these measures have not yet been able to stop pollution and rejuvenate the river.
And again this was not new. In 2011 Swami Nigamanand Saraswati went on fast protesting against mining in Ganga and after his death the same year his successor went on fast. The UK government then banned “the illegal mining” and a special committee was appointed to oversee it.
A noted environmentalist Prof. G D Agrawal went on a fast for nearly 107 days demanding removal of dams from Ganga. Anna Hazare supported the move and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to examine this demand. He asked the NGRBA to utilise the funds allocated to it “for creating sewer networks, sewage treatment plants, sewage pumping stations, electric crematoria, community toilets and development of river fronts.” But hardly anything was done. These were practical measures to improve the quality of life of Ganga and Yamuna.
The issue really is at what cost development. The fanatics do not bother with keeping Ganga clean. They feel Ganga is self-purifying and will take care of itself. Hence, they are interpreting the court’s observation to their own purpose. They are saying that the court observations mean that these rivers will now be entitled to all fundamental rights as are available to humans as per the Constitution of India.
So Ganga maiya (mother) will now become a human being! Isn’t she the wife of Lord Shiva and descended from his mated hair to bestow boons on India’s people? Isn’t she the daughter of the Himalayas? Similarly, legend has it that Yamuna is the daughter of Sun God Surya and sister of Yama, the God of Death. So you can do whatever you want to human beings. This is how myths become history and history becomes religious precepts in India!